Happenings with Helmets
An article was posted in the New York Times by Elisabeth Rosenthal last week about helmet usage. In the article she relays a recent experience of partaking in the bike sharing program of Paris, France and how seemingly no rider utilizes a helmet. The same observation holds true across continental Europe’s cycle sharing initiatives. Even in places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam where it is not a bicycle sharing initiative but the sheer success of urban cycling as transit, this same trend is observed.
She cites examples widely from as far as Mexico City and Dublin of bicycle sharing programs that succeed when helmet wearing is not enforced or mandatory. In places where it is, ridership suffers. For New York’s upcoming program helmets will not be required. Cities making this policy decision fear lack of participation if helmets are required.
Individuals who are quoted in comments for the article point out the idea that people would like to look at this as something anyone can do, that no special equipment is required. Helmets make people think it must be dangerous. In so many of these cities it is commonplace for people to not wear helmets, it seems foreign to the concept of cycling.
Here in the Boston area the bike sharing program, Hubway, has been around for more than a year, experienced it’s 100,000th ride before even a few months had elapsed since it’s launch. It has been so successful that it has been expanded into neighboring cities of Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville with more to come.
The user agreement of Hubway says that in undertaking the use of this bicycle the rider is agreeing to wear a helmet. Yet casual observation of ridership across four towns shows that most do not wear one. Helmets are not available at the bike share stations, but there are directories of where to find one. So while users are agreeing to comply with the helmet requirement of the bike share program, they still ride without helmets. Either way this does not seem to have stopped the success of Boston’s bike sharing program.
Here at Montague Bikes we are of the opinion to wear a helmet. The article quotes a statistic about a cyclist being about as likely to be in an accident as a pedestrian, but the thing is accidents happen – by definition when you least expect them. In many of these European cities cycling is much more commonplace than in many of the places in the U.S. where these bicycle sharing programs that mandate helmet use are being introduced. So many of the riders using these new bike sharing programs are just that, new, and when venturing out into city traffic, which is often not yet as calm as urban planning advocates seek, are not yet as skillful in dealing with the vagaries of city auto traffic. Helmets help to ensure a greater modicum of safety as more cyclists take to the streets, more drivers adjust to the presence of more bikes on the roads, and cities find the way to keep bike share users safe.
There are a lot of opinions about helmet usage, and many studies have been completed in search of just how to address this for the best of all. As our cities change cycling will change from what it is now, a transportation method in transition, to something more commonplace. As traffic calms and cycle tracks become more abundant, what is currently the commonsense of EU cycling may come to the US. For the moment though our cities are very much still geared toward automobile traffic and we should take care of ourselves and each other no matter which way we move.