OMG!!! I’m going to use that 6-letter word!
H E L M E T
Stop reading. Go directly to comments. Rant.
Did you catch Elisabeth Rosenthal’s op-ed in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times today?
I have a great deal of sympathy for the argument that helmet wearing makes bicycling look dangerous. Sympathy does not equal agreement. It’s more like the foundation of agreement. I need more evidence before I get to agreement.
Be that as it may, my own helmet issue has evolved over the years (something of a summary here) to the point where I do not wear one very often, although there are some circumstances in which I do want a helmet on my head. Here’s the latest iteration:
- Poor road conditions
- Bad weather
- After happy hour
In the (more than) eight years I’ve been driving a bicycle as basic transportation — i.e. nearly every one of those 3,000+ days — I have fallen from a bicycle exactly once, and one of the conditions listed above played a key role.
Care to guess?
I’ve heard many how-a-helmet-saved-me stories since I began this blog. All but one of the plots involved crashes that were entirely preventable, i.e. the riders were doing things they should not have been doing. Two examples: One story involved riding through dark puddles on curves on a multi-purpose trail, and the other involved targeting what appeared to be a foam cup but turned out to be an aerosol can. Well, duh. Don’t ride through dark puddles. Could be slick mud there. And why would you intentionally run over anything with your front tire?
Now, if you have a bona-fide helmet-saved-me story, that’s cool. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me about it. And I’m happy you’re OK.
As I have said/written many times before: Adults ought to make the helmet-wearing decision for themselves and allow other adults to do the same. All I’m asking: Let’s not kid ourselves about the dangers of bicycling. It happens to be a very safe activity compared to a lot of other things we do everyday without agonizing over helmets. Like taking a shower, ferinstance.
Now, about the premise of the article: To encourage bicycling, cities must relax on the whole helmet thing. Well, OK. I can get down with that. My own daughter declared at age 14 that she would no longer use a helmet. You know – teen-aged girls and their hair. I allowed it because, frankly, I’m not that worried about her riding in Springfield, and I know her life will be better for understanding and using a bicycle as a normal vehicle for transportation.
Today? She’s 18. No driver’s license. Has no interest in driving a car. And she’s actively thinking about the the kinds of places she’d like to live where she’ll be able to avoid ever having to use a car.
Yo! Springfield! Did you catch that? She’s looking for a place to live where she can avoid having to own/drive a car. She’s actually fairly typical for her generation.
Oh, and she has no need for bicycle lanes. She’s quite comfortable driving her bicycle in traffic. So more painted lines are not the answer. Some stabs at answers may be found in the Our Urban Challenge series (now linked on the sidebar!), but they can be boiled down to three concepts: density, diversity, and jobs. And, no. Not the funky, low-skill minimum-wage jobs Springfield seems to fond of attracting (e.g. this list).
Here’s what we need to see more of in Springfield: Girls on bicycles with no need for helmets or lanes. Figure out how to make this scene normal and you’ve figured out one way to attract and retain young people.
I’ve published this picture before. I took it a couple of years ago in the early fall on Pickwick near the intersection with Grand.
OK, so I’m rambling now and wondering what the point of all this is. How about this: I want to find a way to make that picture (and all it represents) utterly normal. I care, dagummit! Just people riding bicycles. Nothing fancy. Nothing special. Just people riding bicycles. Especially girls riding bicycles
Apparently that’s the oddest thing in the world.