Follow @theurbancountry on Twitter Find us on Facebook Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via e-mail Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via RSS
Follow @theurbancountry on Twitter Find us on Facebook Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via e-mail Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via RSS

Barriers to Cycling: Debunking the Myths 68

Cycling-Amsterdam

Photo courtesy of sindändùne

Cycling is a great way to get around. It’s healthy, efficient, fun and sustainable. As such I’m always perplexed when people in North America find every excuse to avoid utilitarian cycling.

It’s not necessarily that people here are inherently lazy; in fact in many cases it’s on the contrary – many of these people who avoid cycling spend hours in the gym several times a week.

I am baffled as to why people would be willing to pay a monthly fee to sit on an exercise bicycle in the gym when they could instead be cycling outdoors for their daily commute or for running errands.

As someone who is fascinated by our addiction to the automobile, I wanted to find out what the rationale is for avoiding cycling in North America. My observations on this topic has resulted in the following list of 7 barriers to cycling in North America.

Barrier #7 – Perception of Danger

In North America there is a perception of danger whenever cycling is discussed. Just last week I rode my bike to a restaurant to meet up with an old friend. She saw me pull up on my bicycle and when I inquired to her if she ever cycled in the city, she responded that there was no way on earth she would ever ride a bicycle on the same roads as cars – far too dangerous.

A major contributor to this disinformation and fear-mongering in the media. Many of those who rely on automobiles in our cities feel threatened by the rise in interest in cycling and as a result they try to deter people from cycling by playing up the inherent dangers of cycling.

The truth is, you are probably safer riding a bicycle in our city alongside automobiles than you are driving an automobile on the highway. But nobody would ever question driving their cars on the highway, nor would they respond “it’s far too dangerous” when asked about driving.

A 1994 study by the Consumer Products Safety Commission concludes that there are about 13.3 cycling fatalities per million versus 156.8 motor vehicle fatalities per million. Mighk Wilson points out in his essay that an average cyclist would need to ride non-stop for 456 years before experiencing a fatal crash. Over the last 5 years in Toronto, there have only been 13 fatal cycling collisions with motor vehicles.

Barrier #6 – Theft

In 2003 I pushed my bicycle home 3 kilometres – without a rear wheel – somebody had swiped my wheel in the Little Italy area of Toronto. In 2005 I had a bicycle stolen on the first day I rode it to work shortly after I purchased it.

Bicycle theft has plagued many cities in North America. It is in part due to the police not taking bicycle theft as seriously as they perhaps could.

Bicycle theft creates a barrier to cycling that can’t be ignored.

The last several years however have seen an enormous improvement in technology. Built-in GPS devices for theft prevention aren’t too far off, and lock technology is constantly being upgraded while police services are improving their bicycle tracking systems.

The best approach to deterring theft is to spend some money on a good quality lock – it’s worth the investment.

Barrier #5 – Accessibility

It may shock you, but if I obeyed my condo building rules my car would be more easily accessible than my bike. In my building bicycles aren’t allowed on our patios, in our units, or locked up in our parking spaces behind our automobiles.

This is a major deterrent to the cycling culture. If I obeyed the rules, it would take me close to 10 minutes just to get my bike out of the bicycle storage room. That turns a 15 minute jaunt to work into a 25 minute expedition.

Thankfully my building generally turns a blind eye to the official “rules” and allows me to keep my bicycle inside my condo unit.

One less barrier to worry about.

Barrier #4 -  Weather

There is a common misconception – especially in Canada – that there are only a few months of good cycling weather due to our long, cold winter. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In Toronto, there are only 2 months of the year where the average temperature is below freezing – January and February.

For the other 10 months of the year, cycling is very feasible. On colder days, cycling can help keep your body warm. In fact, I find it more comfortable to cycle in cooler weather (say 5-10 degrees Celsius) than in the middle of the summer.

Barrier #3 – Distance

Most cities in North America have experienced urban sprawl due to the proliferation of cheap land in surrounding areas and the constant need for bigger, cheaper houses on large plots of land.

Therefore, commuting via bicycle isn’t always a feasible option. Nobody wants to cycle 50 kilometres each way to work. But who says you need to cycle the entire distance to work?

You could cycle to the sleepy commuter train station from your home, or you could cycle from the train station to your office. You could even ride your bike to your carpooling friend’s house. There are many occasions for using a bicycle.

Starting with small steps can help make cycling more of a habit that becomes more integrated into your lifestyle. It’s liberating – trust me.

Barrier #2 – Lack of Infrastructure

Many potential cyclists demand better cycling infrastructure before they would be willing to ride a bicycle to work. At the same time, cycling opponents are saying existing cycling infrastructure is under-utilized. It’s the classic cart before the horse problem.

Urban cycling is already relatively safe, and the best way to make it even more safe is to achieve a critical mass of daily cyclists. If enough people ride, the infrastructure will follow – but we shouldn’t be sitting around waiting for it to come before we take to our pedals.

Barrier #1 – Helmets

Helmets are a major barrier to cycling in North America. They are awkward to carry around, they mess up your hair, they usually stink, they often look quirky.

To make matters worse, the right wing media often tries to instil fear with the public that riding a bicycle without a helmet is dangerous and that helmets should be mandatory. More often than not, those who call for mandatory helmets are not cyclists.

The truth is, helmets are not as useful as you might think. For many people, they only provide a false sense of security. In serious cases of head injury, bicycle helmets won’t do much for you.

Bicycle helmets also tend to lead drivers to be more careless with cyclists. I find many drivers are a bit more careful when I am helmetless – it’s human nature to be more cautious when other people are more at risk (this doesn’t apply to all humans mind you).

There’s a reason why millions of people around the world safely ride bicycles without a helmet.

Copenhagenize, (the “bike culture blog”) frequently comments that anyone who pushes for mandatory bicycle helmets must also support mandatory driving helmets – it’s only fair.

MotoristHeadwear

Photo courtesy of Copenhagenize.com 

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country and appears on most Sundays and Thursdays, and sometimes in between. View all of James’ articles here.

  • Anonymous

    Riding without a helmet is utterly foolish. At the age of 18 I’d already had 2 accidents where a helmet had saved me from death or disfigurement. In one case, I hit the ground at about 35-40 kph (22-25 mph), smashing my helmet and giving me concussion even through the foam.

    To advise people not to wear helmets is completely irresponsible.

  • Anonymous

    Irresponsible is when someone makes a biased decision based on beliefs without analyzing some facts. This is a long debated issue, specially in countries where cycling is an every day practice. There are no clear benefits from wearing helmets (I mean REAL ones, not just personal opinions) and there are clear disadvantages, like less people willing to bike. I think that what can be brought into light is that mandatory helmet use is in no case a good solution. The problem must be addressed in other way.
    A.K. *riding a bike in Spain

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    The first anonymous commenter seems surprised that they received a concussion “even through the foam”.

    I think this proves the point that is being debated… of course the foam didn’t prevent you from receiving a concussion… it’s foam.

    To advise people that your foam helmet saved you from death or disfigurement is completely irresponsible.

  • Anonymous

    Wearing a helmet will protect you to a degree if you land on your helmet. It may or may not save your life. Your life may or may not be worth saving. Advising people to do anything and taking responsibility for THEIR actions is the height of arrogance. Anyone capable of maintaining balance and riding a bicycle on a city street is capable of making their own decision. Make your own decisions, let others make theirs. In the meantime, get out of your car and get out on your bike and enjoy it.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, this is a lot of conjecture (and bad conjecture at that). Concussions are not the only injury you get from landing on your head. Wearing a helmet allows you to survive many accidents with ONLY a concussion. You could easily hit your head on a curb, windshield or one of many other painful, sharp or protruding objects that could cause severe cuts or trauma. It will also prevent your naked head from being dragged along the asphalt.

    Note that the only person with professed experience is the one being derided for not knowing anything. Hopefully some statistics will set you straight.
    http://www.bhsi.org/stats.htm

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    These are very valuable statistics. I like this one especially:

    “Even a low-speed fall on a bicycle path can scramble your brains”

    Scramble your brains – very scientific, very factual.

    Or the disclaimer at the top of the page:

    “They (the statistics) do not always agree, indicating that some of them could be less than totally accurate”

    This line is funny too:

    “You always need a helmet wherever you ride. You can expect to crash in your next 4,500 miles of riding, or maybe much sooner than that!”

    On a more serious note, the statistics on the page say nothing about the effectiveness of helmets.

    There are only 2 “statistics” on helmet effectiveness:

    “Non-helmeted riders are 14 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than helmeted riders”

    and

    “A very high percentage of cyclists’ brain injuries can be prevented by a helmet, estimated at anywhere from 45 to 88 per cent.”

    Both of these claims are more guilty of conjecture than anything else that has been mentioned on this thread. And yes, I traced the source of these “statistics” and there are no facts behind them whatsoever.

  • Anonymous

    More importantly, what is she doing with her right hand?

    I’ll cycle with you anywhere Euro-Girl.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01044832333717299796 Gary

    Don’t be retarded, wear your helmet. There’s a reason every bicycle racing organization requires them… even in the parking lots. I’ve broken three in crashes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05884312153072762750 Deaf258

    I also noticed when people ride bicycles without a helmet, they’re more alert and cautious. Whenever someone dons a helmet, they get a little bit of that careless sense or attitude of “oh, I am safer and it is alright if I crash from daydreaming! The helmet would surely save my brain!” *cue this song* I think helmeted people attract more accidents than those without the helmets.

    Regardless if you are wearing a helmet or not, it is a good advice to learn a skill on how to roll with a fall or crash to minimize injuries.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06520421432481263783 jeff

    for those who haven’t read it…

    Cycle Helmets and Other Religious Symbols

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2008/07/cycle-helmets-and-other-religious.html

  • Anonymous

    Despite what the crash statistics say or to what degree a helmet will save your head this is my theory.

    A helmet between your head and road is better then your head directly on the road any day.

    Has you ever bumped your head while wearing your helmet? I’m willing to bet that it hurt a lot less (if at all) then bumping your naked head into the same surface.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11402658495502373585 GuitarBizarre

    http://www.anweald.co.uk/cyclehelmets.html

    READ THE (Quite well stated and academically referenced) FACTS!

    Helmets make you absolutely no safer at all, and in fact in some instances INCREASE the risk you will be treated without due care by motorists.

  • Anonymous

    Helmets – no good.

    Better tell the nfl,nhl,nascar,mlb, construction unions, motorcyclists, rock climbers, white-water rafters, skiers and snowboarders and oh yeah.. better tell road cyclists also.

    Haha, boy oh boy. Did you know even a mild concussion will follow you around the rest of your life… then again I guess ignorance follows you around also.

  • Anonymous

    being a pedestrian, regular driving, and even venturing into your bathroom are all more statistically dangerous than everyday utilitarian cycling. perhaps you might want to wear a helmet for these activities as well.
    (source) http://cyclehelmets.org/1026.html

  • Anonymous

    Helmets reduce head injury by 35% and cause no increase in neck injury

    Statistics can be made to say anything though, maybe i should ride my bicycle in the shower just to be safe. How many of those recreational cyclists in that study were wearing helmets! A friend works in the ER doing cat scan and they see a lot of falls coming in, many are cyclists. A lot of elderly die from falls, including in the shower… yet those fragile elderly don’t cycle… were those statistics taken out of the study? Do you even question these studies or just accept them because it supports what you want to believe.

    Do you know which cycling sport has the lowest rate of head injury? Mountain biking!! The most aggressive and dangerous one out there… Do you know why mountain bikers don’t all have head injuries? because they don’t crash and break bones? wrong!! because they all wear a proper helmet, every time!

  • Anonymous

    i will take statistical over anecdotal evidence any day of the week. I noticed you did not address pedestrians or car drivers. both have dramatically higher accident rates no matter where you look to. bring on walking and driving helmets, wrap yourself in plastic and live in fear.

  • Anonymous

    further interesting points from a European perspective.
    http://www.trentobike.org/Countries/Europe/ECF/Helmets.html

  • Anonymous

    your link also refers to skiing and snowboarding. a drastically different activity than utilitarian cycling.

  • Anonymous

    by the way my point was maybe we should mandate wearing a helmet in the shower not riding a bike. I thought that was pretty obvious.

  • Anonymous

    Helmet would have saved his life
    I can think of other people who have had serious brain injury riding helmet-less(note not fatalities and not covered by your stats).

    Live how you want, if a helmet cramps your style and cool factor u probably just need to get over yourself. You won’t look cool with spinal fluid coming out your ears convulsing on the road after a minor collision and you should feel pretty guilty for recommending to somebody else that a helmet is no good.

    Statistics aren’t a substitute for thinking for yourself. If i told you your chances of being hit by lightning were one in a million you’d probably run out into a field during a lightning storm and fly a kite with a key attached to it thinking it was statistically safe. If your brain can’t figure out a way to increase it’s safety then it probably isn’t thinking straight.

  • Anonymous

    no i just wouldn’t live terrified about being struck by lightning and hide in my basement.

  • Anonymous

    sorry. the disadvantages of helmet laws outweigh the risks. just as with driving or walking helmets. if you feel you need a helmet by all means wear one. the law has no place in this.

  • Anonymous

    “You won’t look cool with spinal fluid coming out your ears convulsing on the road after a minor collision and you should feel pretty guilty for recommending to somebody else that a helmet is no good.

    In that case, would you also recommend I wear a helmet while walking along the sidewalk as well? Plenty of pedestrians die of head trauma every year. I assume you wear full body armour and a helmet while walking on the sidewalk, yes?

  • Anonymous

    i am sorry debate with you is pointless if you cannot understand this. I will spell it out for you without the confusing irony and big people words. making laws that people must wear helmets while driving, walking, or taking a shower(all unequivocally proven more dangerous than utilitarian cycling) would be completely absurd. One could just as easily speak of dripping spinal fluid from car drivers or pedestrians or people in the shower in accidents. it doesn’t mean it will happen to every driver or pedestrian or person in the shower but maybe there should be a law that they must all wear helmets just in case. this would be stupid I am sure you agree. bike helmet laws are no less so. If you think a silly bit of styrofoam is going to save you if you are plowed by a truck going 60 i have some magic beans for sale quite cheap.

  • Anonymous

    My position is not that helmets stop dump-trucks, please don’t think it is so absolute. I know helmets prevent some head injury, you won’t convince me otherwise. I have too many experiences and tragic “anecdotal evidence” to take what you say on faith.

    Anyways, i’m not turning this comment section into a war-zone anymore than we have, sorry to the blog author.

    Take care and be safe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05478429427426420498 Functional Cycling

    Why is it that almost all (if not all) pro-helmet comments are from anonymous?

    I used to wear a helmet every time I rode a bike. This was not because I felt I needed it but because my wife asked me to. I agreed because if something horrible happened I did not want her to feel bad because she thought there was something her or I could have done differently to prevent a serious accident.

    I stopped wearing a helmet (every time I rode) for two reasons. Firstly, my wife discovered many studies that wearing a helmet during urban commuting actually increased the chance of getting into an accident and hinted that I should stop wearing a helmet. I would much rather not be in an accident than to have a small foam buffer between my head and the hood of a car. Secondly, the promotion of helmets decreases ridership and that negates my favorite and probably most effective safety tool, numbers. As in “safety in numbers.”

    I do still wear my helmet in two situations, bike polo and racing. This is because it actually does what it is designed to do in those examples. In bike polo it protects my head from hitting someone else at about 5mph, very similar to a football helmet. In racing it protects my head from hitting the ground if I unexpectedly fall of my own accord. The force it absorbs is not the force of me going 30mph hour (note “fall” not crash into brick wall.) Most of the force would be absorbed by my body sliding on the ground. The helmet in this case is only suited to protect my head from a similar trauma that would happen if one fainted cracked one’s head on the pavement.

    I believe it is up to the individual to decide, but I think it is wrong to spread fear.

  • Anonymous

    you’re a complete dumbass to say helmets don’t do anything.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12119210762041896848 Para

    If I was riding my bike in Amsterdam in the middle of city with many bike paths with not much speed I would not wear a helmet either. But… I am a roadbike cyclist and I ride very fast, at times I go down hills above 40-50 mph, I would no way want to be without a helmet at that speed no matter what, last year I had a 30mph crash and I broke my ribs and my $175 Giro helmet cracked open but saved my head, I appreciated helmets after that event. Wear your helmet if you are a fast rider.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t believe helmets are even being debated. How can anyone say they don’t make riding safer or that they actually could make it less safe. Comparing riding a bike with a helmet to driving a car with a helmet is possibly the dumbest analogy ever. In a car you are surrounded by a steel shell design to absorb enormous amounts of force in an accident and then they add airbags. On a bike; nothing. I am not saying helmets are the one thing that saves lives but it surely increases ones odds of less head injuries from a fall or accident. And to the person who said they only help if you fall or land on the helmet; that is the point if the helmet idiot. If not, it would be your skull. I can’t even believe I am still typing trying to explain this, it;s like 2+2=4. That’s it; fact. Same goes for helmets and wearing one is safer. Fact.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07489945020832101962 Matt

    I take a dislike to the use of the word ‘FACT’ being banded around by various posters, especially the gross imagery some feel they need to include to add the ‘fear factor’ and emphasise their opinion. There is so much information and several studies contrasting with said ‘FACT’ on both sides of the argument, regardless of personal experience.

    I agree with the safety and potentially life saving element of wearing a helmet having been saved by one myself, but conversly also subscribe to the idea that in doing so creates attitude ‘deficiencies’ such as apathy to themselves and surrounding envronment, impaired judgement and false confidence in riders. This is based on sweating and overheating (sweat beads dripping down your face or into eyes is rather distracting!) even with the best helmets, never mind factors such as reduced field of vision and drivers’ perception of cyclist.

    I cycled with a helmet for 3 years and without for 20 to date, although I suppose I should now know better after my experience!

    Having adopted the helmet-less and more cautious, aware cyclist approach, I have been given more clearance by drivers and been involved in no-near miss incidents which where common place when helmeted.

    Conclusion therefore being ‘FACT’ as stated by many cannot be such, merely personal opinion and don’t even get me started on statistics!

    Great debate though, happy cycling all.

  • kfg

    “In a car you are surrounded by a steel shell . . .”

    . . . to bang your head against; which is one of the reasons there are so many head injury fatalities in car accidents.

    Mike “The Bike” Hailwood (who died in street car crash while taking his kids out for some chips), veteran of motor cycle and auto racing, was once asked in an interview whether cars or bikes were the more dangerous. Hailwood noted that it is more intuitive that bikes should be more dangerous because in car you are “protected” by a shell, but that in fact cars are more dangerous because it is your own car that kills you.

  • Anonymous

    In Australia, once cycle helmet wearing became law the number of cycle trips decreased by 50% overnight. In the UK it has been shown that cycle helmets are only effective in low impact collisions.
    The British Medical Association also recommend that in the UK cycle helmet wearing should not become law as the long term effects of people doing less excercise would have far greater negative impacts on people’s health. That’s my two-pennies worth.

  • Anonymous

    Mandatory helmet people: please explain why all your arguments shouldn’t be applied to pedestrians. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Clearly helmets reduce the risk of injury while cycling, to argue that is ridiculous. They may not save you every-time but nothing can. I’ve been biking without a helmet for years but plan to start in the new year, atleast for long trips.

    But mandatory helmet laws are also ridiculous. Like what all ready been said mandatory helmet laws will only decrease the amount cyclists on the roads and in turn make it more dangerous. If you are over 18 there is no reason you should be forced to wear a helmet, we all have to take some personal responsibility.

    Building proper infrastructure and a strong cycling population is the way to make cycling safer and enjoyable. Cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin have already shown this to be true and there is no reason why the principles they’ve used can’t be repurposed in North American cities.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12583564428711476409 Matthew

    You lost all credibility once you started in with the Copenhagenize propaganda. They area militantly anti-helmet to the point where they don’t just argue against mandatory helmet laws but attack those who choose to wear helmets.

    I want to wear a helmet. I don’t care if it clashes with your sense of style. I don’t tell you what to wear on your head, stop trying to tell me what to wear on mine.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13157039097007336240 ATX Bikette

    I don’t think Copenhagenize is against helmets at all. They acknowledge that there are times and places you need them. The author is looking at very specific situation- riding around a city. He’s not talking about doing tricks, training for a competition, or a bike game.

    And it is evident by the passion on this thread that someone out there needs to stick up for those of us who choose to look at things with a balanced eye.

    Helmets are the quick easy solutions Americans love. Teaching people how to ride their bikes, know what dangerous situations they could be up against out on the road and how to deal would take time and effort.

    I choose to educate myself. That is my helmet.

  • http://www.carfreeamerican.com/ carfree American

    Should children wear helmets?

  • Anonymous

    This is just silly! No helmets means drivers will be more careful? How does that help you when you are startled by an animal or hit a pothole or debris that you didn’t see in advance?

    I live along a major bike path and I see them scraping up bicyclists all of the time after collisions with pedestrians, motorists, debris, animals and due to mechanical failures (a topic for another day).

    In regards to the comparison to helmet wearing in vehicles (comment by author: it’s only fair), it just doesn’t work. Helmets are the same protection to bicyclists (and anyone else openly exposed on wheels e.g. skateboarders, rollerbladers) as seat-belts are to motorists.

    Bicyclists can actually carry the same speeds as motorcyclists, and they are required to wear helmets by law. Should motorcyclists stop wearing their helmets to “increase awareness” of drivers around them?

    Should everyone in a motor vehicle stop wearing their seat-belts and advertise it on a bumper sticker “Caution: No Seat-belts on Board”.

    People, please use your heads (and common sense) and put a helmet on!!

  • Anonymous

    Ok, new social contract for those are “educated” and hate people infringing on their “rights” to not wear a helmet because they are aware and responsible.

    There is a reason we call them accidents, injuries occur even to the most preventive and aware as accidents are never 100% preventable!!

    If a paramedic ever has to scrape you up off the road (and I truly hope this never happens), if you suffer head injuries and it can be shown that it is related to not wearing your helmet – you agree to foot your own medical bills for life, not the taxpayer. That’s your premium for freedom.

    Isn’t that ridiculous? The reality is that many people insisting on riding their bicycle while not wearing their helmet could never manage that financial burden on their own so act, it is passed on the taxpayers.

    Those funds would be better spent on more bike paths and services than cleaning up after people who insist on their rights even when it jeopardizes the common good and overall community enjoyment.

    There is a reason behind smoking bans and seatbelt laws, otherwise individuals would exercise their freedoms and alot of innocent community members would suffer from those acts.

    So please act like a responsible citizen, be community-minded, do your part and wear your helmet!

  • Peter

    Those who like stories of “Helmet saved my life” should google “surfing helmet saved my life”. The same stories are told about surfing helmets. Last time I checked water was still soft and yet we have polititians here in Australia calling for mandatory surfing helmets. This helps get things into perspective.
    Have we gone mad?

  • Peter

    Those who like stories of “Helmet saved my life” should google “surfing helmet saved my life”. The same stories are told about surfing helmets. Last time I checked water was still soft and yet we have polititians here in Australia calling for mandatory surfing helmets. This helps get things into perspective.
    Have we gone mad?

  • Episodic

    Hi. I was struck (rear ended) by a vehicle doing highway speeds (45MPH ‘at least’) I was thrown at least 100 feet. My helmet had cracks in multiple places. My bike were totaled. I suffered a broken backbone (thank goodness a minor break with no spinal cord injury) and lots of road rash. It is likely that I’m typing this due to my helmet. Sure they are not perfect – but I would probably be dead without mine. I do respect the decision not to wear a helmet – but I know I won’t take a single trip without mine.

  • Episodic

    Hi. I was struck (rear ended) by a vehicle doing highway speeds (45MPH ‘at least’) I was thrown at least 100 feet. My helmet had cracks in multiple places. My bike were totaled. I suffered a broken backbone (thank goodness a minor break with no spinal cord injury) and lots of road rash. It is likely that I’m typing this due to my helmet. Sure they are not perfect – but I would probably be dead without mine. I do respect the decision not to wear a helmet – but I know I won’t take a single trip without mine.

  • Anonymous

    Typical rightly thinking – simple solutions to complicated problems. Helmets shouldn’t even be an issue for urban cycling. If you’re racing, MTB, BMX, road, by all means this is what helmets are designed for – wear it. Cycling in the city I have 0 chance of falling or crashing on my own. If a car runs me over, I’m dead anyway helmet or no. The is growing scientific evidence that cycling with a helmet is more dangerous than without one. The reason? Cars leave more space. Yes someone tested this using an experimental design (apparently it also helps to be female – cars keep more distance). No mandatory helmets, they only serve drive people back into their cars, which is what the righty holier-than-thou types want anyway.

  • Anonymous

    Typical rightly thinking – simple solutions to complicated problems. Helmets shouldn’t even be an issue for urban cycling. If you’re racing, MTB, BMX, road, by all means this is what helmets are designed for – wear it. Cycling in the city I have 0 chance of falling or crashing on my own. If a car runs me over, I’m dead anyway helmet or no. The is growing scientific evidence that cycling with a helmet is more dangerous than without one. The reason? Cars leave more space. Yes someone tested this using an experimental design (apparently it also helps to be female – cars keep more distance). No mandatory helmets, they only serve drive people back into their cars, which is what the righty holier-than-thou types want anyway.

  • http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?cat=9 Kim

    Barrier #2 – Lack of Infrastructure. Um, so you are saying that the Dutch got it wrong? They say the reason they have so many cyclist is because they put in the infrastructure not the other way around (check here). If cycling infrastructure is under-utilized, then there is a problem with the quality of the infrastructure, this is very common in the UK where I am.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      No, the Dutch didn’t get it wrong. The Dutch were able to get the infrastructure because they already had a significant number of people cycling. They didn’t just build their infrastructure at a time when only 1% of trips are by bike (which is what we are trying to do here).

      Infrastructure is very important, but we’ll never get infrastructure like the Dutch if only 1% of trips are by bike.

      Cultivating the culture will expedite the infrastructure. When the politicians and city builders ride bikes to work, we will see much better infrastructure, which will bring even more people on to bikes.

      The Dutch just didn’t wake up one morning with great infrastructure and everybody all of the sudden started riding. The culture will help bring the infrastructure, and the infrastructure will expand the culture.

      • http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?cat=9 Kim

        The number of people cycling in the Netherlands was in sharp decline and the death rate rising, the difference is that they didn’t stand back and say “Oh we just need to get more people cycling and then we will get great infrastructure”, they protested and demanded better infrastructure.

        I can think of a single example of where number of cyclist increased significantly and then the infrastructure followed. As far as I know, it is always the other way around.

        • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

          The key here is that they didn’t wait until the rate of cycling declined to 1%. They addressed the issue before car culture took over. They protested and demanded better infrastructure. But in order to protest for better infrastructure, they needed enough people to care about it for politicians to actually care. If only 1% of trips were by bicycle when they were demanding better infrastructure, they probably would have gotten about as far as we are getting in our cities.

          I would love to get great infrastructure of course. But I’m a realist, and I don’t think politicians and city builder will give a shit until there is enough people demanding better infrastructure that it would actually hurt their career to ignore our needs.

          I think advocates tend to put too much emphasis on the infrastructure while ignoring the culture, and then we end up spinning our wheels and not getting anywhere (in Toronto they are ripping out bike lanes because the majority of people in the Toronto area drive cars and don’t want bike lanes).

          If we can change people’s perceptions, and get drivers to support bike infrastructure (in other words, change the societal culture), then we will make much better progress than we are now.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      I’d like to do a careful study of the Dutch model sometime and put it into an article. My perspective is that the Dutch cultivated bicycling culture as car culture was increasing. They didn’t start building bike infrastructure at a time when very few people were riding bicycles. In a democracy you need public support in order to change things.

      In North America (and UK & Australia), car culture took over and it’s extremely hard to get public support for anything outside of car transportation because car culture is so deeply ingrained in our society.

      That’s why I try to focus just as much on the culture & society’s perspective as I do on pushing for infrastructure. When people start to look at transportation as more than just “cars”, they will see the benefits of having other options and politicians will eventually have no choice but to listen.

  • http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?cat=9 Kim

    Barrier #2 – Lack of Infrastructure. Um, so you are saying that the Dutch got it wrong? They say the reason they have so many cyclist is because they put in the infrastructure not the other way around (check here). If cycling infrastructure is under-utilized, then there is a problem with the quality of the infrastructure, this is very common in the UK where I am.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    No, the Dutch didn’t get it wrong. The Dutch were able to get the infrastructure because they already had a significant number of people cycling. They didn’t just build their infrastructure at a time when only 1% of trips are by bike (which is what we are trying to do here).

    Infrastructure is very important, but we’ll never get infrastructure like the Dutch if only 1% of trips are by bike.

    Cultivating the culture will expedite the infrastructure. When the politicians and city builders ride bikes to work, we will see much better infrastructure, which will bring even more people on to bikes.

    The Dutch just didn’t wake up one morning with great infrastructure and everybody all of the sudden started riding. The culture will help bring the infrastructure, and the infrastructure will expand the culture.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    I’d like to do a careful study of the Dutch model sometime and put it into an article. My perspective is that the Dutch cultivated bicycling culture as car culture was increasing. They didn’t start building bike infrastructure at a time when very few people were riding bicycles. In a democracy you need public support in order to change things.

    In North America (and UK & Australia), car culture took over and it’s extremely hard to get public support for anything outside of car transportation because car culture is so deeply ingrained in our society.

    That’s why I try to focus just as much on the culture & society’s perspective as I do on pushing for infrastructure. When people start to look at transportation as more than just “cars”, they will see the benefits of having other options and politicians will eventually have no choice but to listen.

  • http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?cat=9 Kim

    The number of people cycling in the Netherlands was in sharp decline and the death rate rising, the difference is that they didn’t stand back and say “Oh we just need to get more people cycling and then we will get great infrastructure”, they protested and demanded better infrastructure.

    I can think of a single example of where number of cyclist increased significantly and then the infrastructure followed. As far as I know, it is always the other way around.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    The key here is that they didn’t wait until the rate of cycling declined to 1%. They addressed the issue before car culture took over. They protested and demanded better infrastructure. But in order to protest for better infrastructure, they needed enough people to care about it for politicians to actually care. If only 1% of trips were by bicycle when they were demanding better infrastructure, they probably would have gotten about as far as we are getting in our cities.

    I would love to get great infrastructure of course. But I’m a realist, and I don’t think politicians and city builder will give a shit until there is enough people demanding better infrastructure that it would actually hurt their career to ignore our needs.

    I think advocates tend to put too much emphasis on the infrastructure while ignoring the culture, and then we end up spinning our wheels and not getting anywhere (in Toronto they are ripping out bike lanes because the majority of people in the Toronto area drive cars and don’t want bike lanes).

    If we can change people’s perceptions, and get drivers to support bike infrastructure (in other words, change the societal culture), then we will make much better progress than we are now.

  • Steven

    you couldn’t drag out a source for that 50% drop stat, post-helmet, here in Australia?

  • Steven

    you couldn’t drag out a source for that 50% drop stat, post-helmet, here in Australia?

  • bobfairlane

    I consider myself educated and an experienced rider, and still wear helmets. I don’t believe in mandatory helmet laws though. American driver education is BS though, esp regarding bicycles. I call the cops on wrong way cyclists any time I see them. I asked one why he was riding the wrong way. He said “so I can see the cars coming.”

  • bobfairlane

    I consider myself educated and an experienced rider, and still wear helmets. I don’t believe in mandatory helmet laws though. American driver education is BS though, esp regarding bicycles. I call the cops on wrong way cyclists any time I see them. I asked one why he was riding the wrong way. He said “so I can see the cars coming.”

  • bobfairlane

    More pictures of pretty women on bicycles please! I think plastering images of freindly, lovely ladies on bicycles everywhere will increase ridership.

  • bobfairlane

    More pictures of pretty women on bicycles please! I think plastering images of freindly, lovely ladies on bicycles everywhere will increase ridership.

  • Tallycyclist

    I’ll be much more willing to accept that expectation of me, as a cyclist, if the same expectation is applied to all people who drive/ride in any type of motor vehicles. More than 2/3rd’s of fatalities involving auto accidents are from people who were inside cars, not to mention all the serious and non-serious injuries every year. Are all these victims (who were in cars) not similarly inducing a cost to the taxpayer, to the insurance agencies, to society? Why should cyclist be held to a higher standard when it’s inattentive drivers who cause the majority of the damage in collisions, and who make our roads and cities so dangerous and user-unfriendly?

    I think I have the answer: it’s a pain, is inconvenient and uncomfortable having to wear a helmet as a driver, passenger, or cyclist at all times. But I guess since >80% of the population drives or rides in motor vehicles it’s okay to not hold them to that standard. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of the negative response that that would incite in the general population. But cyclist, that 1% of the population that dares to challenge the auto-centric culture in North America, make them responsible for their own safety. And make them take all the blame if they don’t wear that $15 foam encased in plastic bought from Target.
    Oh I just wonder what would happen if someone tried to mandate that pedestrians wear helmets at all times when outdoors. Given that just about everyone is one in such situations, I don’t think it would go too well…

  • Tallycyclist

    I’ll be much more willing to accept that expectation of me, as a cyclist, if the same expectation is applied to all people who drive/ride in any type of motor vehicles. More than 2/3rd’s of fatalities involving auto accidents are from people who were inside cars, not to mention all the serious and non-serious injuries every year. Are all these victims (who were in cars) not similarly inducing a cost to the taxpayer, to the insurance agencies, to society? Why should cyclist be held to a higher standard when it’s inattentive drivers who cause the majority of the damage in collisions, and who make our roads and cities so dangerous and user-unfriendly?

    I think I have the answer: it’s a pain, is inconvenient and uncomfortable having to wear a helmet as a driver, passenger, or cyclist at all times. But I guess since >80% of the population drives or rides in motor vehicles it’s okay to not hold them to that standard. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of the negative response that that would incite in the general population. But cyclist, that 1% of the population that dares to challenge the auto-centric culture in North America, make them responsible for their own safety. And make them take all the blame if they don’t wear that $15 foam encased in plastic bought from Target.
    Oh I just wonder what would happen if someone tried to mandate that pedestrians wear helmets at all times when outdoors. Given that just about everyone is one in such situations, I don’t think it would go too well…

  • JesusFreak

    Why would you force something upon people if the only person it will hurt is themselves? It might be smarter to wear a helmet and it might also be smarter to wear a life jacket in a boat. Should life jackets be mandatory? I think not. Maybe we should all wear mattresses duct taped to ourselves, you know, for our own good. Just another tentacle of socialism creeping into our society.

  • JesusFreak

    Why would you force something upon people if the only person it will hurt is themselves? It might be smarter to wear a helmet and it might also be smarter to wear a life jacket in a boat. Should life jackets be mandatory? I think not. Maybe we should all wear mattresses duct taped to ourselves, you know, for our own good. Just another tentacle of socialism creeping into our society.

  • Pingback: Making Bicycling Easy: 10 Things I’ve Learned ← The Urban Country

  • Pingback: Americans Work 2 Hours Each Day To Pay For Their Cars ← The Urban Country

  • Pingback: Bicycling in the Winter ← The Urban Country