Get ready for the great helmet debate, round 243. If you’re just joining us, Momentum Magazine has the best article summarizing the reasons for and against helmet laws, and explaining why we’re still arguing about it.
Today, the NDP government in Manitoba announced that soon it will be illegal for anyone under 18 to ride a bike without a helmet. I couldn’t be more disappointed. I have nothing against helmets, I wear one every day, but mandating their use won’t make cycling safer, it will just discourage some people from cycling at all.
I learned to ride in the mean streets of Winnipeg and often biked around the city, including to my co-op job when I was 19 – from Meadows West to the Exchange District. For a large portion of that ride I used the sidewalks because there were no bike lanes and biking along Keewatin was (and likely still is) suicide. Most cyclists I know in the Peg (other than my hardcore Aunt) ride on the sidewalk sometimes. Everyone knows it’s a bad idea (including Ryan fu*king Gosling), but helmeted or not, Winnipeg lacks safe bike routes.
Only hours before the Manitoba government announced it’s new helmet law, a cyclist was killed biking to work in Winnipeg. No word if she was wearing a helmet, but it likely wouldn’t have mattered. She was hit by a car and pushed under a semi-trailer that crushed her without even noticing. The area where it happened is a bike lane deadzone. There is a bike route (the laziest form of bike infrastructure – a sharrows) for a few blocks on Higgins, but it disappears before it gets to Main (where she was hit). Bike routes in Winnipeg frequently just stop. There is not network or grid.
The lack of infrastructure is the biggest safety problem, not lack of helmet use. If the Manitoba government was serious about cyclist safety, it would help the City of Winnipeg fix the damn bike lanes. There’s only so much a styrofoam lid can do when you are hit by several tonnes of steel.
Here in Vancouver, we have a good grid of bike routes, separated lanes downtown, and cycling is relatively safe. There’s a push to get rid of the mandatory helmet law, or at least add exceptions to it, because it is making a public bike share system unworkable. It’s not going to be an easy change to make, and I’m pissed off that Manitoba is falling into the same trap.
It’s a ‘feel good’ law for people and politicians IMO. Proper bike lanes and even speed reduction within cities are the only way cyclists are going to be safer on the roads.
For all my gripes about my local police department (NRP), I will give them credit on one thing…On a daily basis they pass kids (well under 18) riding without a helmet and turn a blind eye.
Out of curiosity which party put in BC’s helmet law? It seems to me it’s always the NDP that does these sorts of things. In Ontario back in the early 90’s (under Bob Rae), an all ages helmet law was going to be passed. Fortunately before it took hold, the PC’s took over and eliminated the requirement for adults.
I remember seeing a video on cycling in Winnipeg a few years ago and it made me jump out of my skin. People who ride on the road there have my full respect because even I’d be on the sidewalk (which I never ride on)…I have heard that it has (slowly) gotten better over the past little while.
One thing I try to stress to people when I talk helmets is I’m not against people choosing to wear them…I am dead against it being law and using fear to promote it’s usage.
Unfortunately, support for helmet laws spans political boundaries. In Ontario, it was introduced by a Dianne Cunningham (Progressive Conservative) as a private members bill and supported by the NDP in 1990. In BC, the NDP government brought in the helmet law in 1996. In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, it was a Liberal governments who introduced their helmet laws in 1995 and 1997. In Manitoba, the Liberal and Tory opposition members have been introducing private member bills for helmet laws for years, and the NDP kept rejecting them. I’m not sure why they suddenly changed their mind.
Sadly, helmet laws are a feel-good motherhood issue and are generally supported by the public. In both BC and Ontario, the laws were introduced as a knee-jerk reactions to someone’s child dying in a tragic accident. Emotions tend to win over rationality. In almost every case the person pushing the helmet law is not a cyclist.
I should also point out that the situation in Winnipeg isn’t horrible. A friend sent me a link to a story about Winnipeg’s first separated bike lane, to be constructed on Pembina Highway this summer. http://www.cjob.com/News/Local/Story.aspx?ID=1709285
Here’s an interesting article from NPR about bike-share and helmets.
Like I said about Winnipeg I did hear it was getting better. It’s great to see them getting a separated bike lane. Although Toronto has a larger cycling community, Winnipeg will be light years ahead in infrastructure now!
Everyone’s favourite mayor was at it again today…Rob Ford was at a meeting under the Gardiner Expressway and someone (I believe another councilor) said something to the effect of watching out for crumbling pieces of the Gardiner landing on a Bixi station. Ford’s response?
“Oh my god, I never want to hurt a bike. That’s the last thing I want to do, precious little bikes.”
Thanks for the info on the helmet legislation. I never knew in Ontario is was a PC member who put forth the bill…Makes me wonder why when the PC’s took over they wouldn’t support their own members bill.
I don’t think bike helmets have ever come up under McGuinty, though he did say he would not support or put in a helmet law for skiers a year or two ago, so hopefully it would be the same with bikes.