Saturday, September 3, 2011

Complex Landscape of Bicycle Safety

My Google "news alert" for news items on the Internet about bicycles brings a strange collection of cycling safety-related items this morning.

A short article in the Economist takes the lesson from commuter cyclist Michael Wang's fatal accident in Seattle (actually, from three recent fatal cyclist acidents in the Seattle area) that, "with a very few exceptions, America is no place for cyclists" because it isn't safe - "dying while cycling is three to five times more likely in America than in Denmark, Germany or the Netherlands."

The article concludes that traffic calming, dedicated cycle tracks, and stop lights and traffic laws that favor cyclists work together to create a safer environment for cycling. Portland, Oregon is given credit for following this approach while Seattle flunks - "Nearly 6% of commuters bike to work in Portland, the highest proportion in America. But in five out of the past ten years there have been no cycling deaths there. In the nearby Seattle area, where cycling is popular but traffic calming is not, three cyclists have been killed in the past few weeks."

Meanwhile a Danish design award, in the category of "play," was given to the Hovding "airbag helmet," from Sweden. (I did a short blog post about this helmet earlier when it garnered attention for its unusual approach.) The designers of this "helmet" (that inflates on impact from a collar) won 100,000 Euros! The problem this "helmet" solves is that, "people would rather get hurt than mess up their hair." And a typical helmet may be "too sporty" for the rider's particular sense of style. The theory is that a significant number of these helmet-refuseniks will then buy these 500 dollar helmet-substitute collars (that appear to require recharging, among other issues). Some statistics related to head injuries and fatalities in western Europe are tossed in to support the need for this product. (For the same countries that the Economist says are safe.)

The Danish design committee seems completely at odds with the Dutch cyclists interviewed in this 2011 video who were asked about cycling and helmets - they seem to regard their everyday cycling as entirely safe, and most state they would refuse to wear helmets if required to (much less a rechargable helmet-like collar that costs as much as ten helmets). They are asked when they started cycling (typically, at age three-four), why they use a bicycle for transport (a not-very-surprising list, from "good for the environment" to "less expensive" etc.), how many days per week (typically five to seven), and "why don't you wear a helmet." The answers to this question are much more varied, but do include "because I look like crap" but also (my favorite) "because only Germans do that" and "it's safe without" and "it's very safe."

The last question is whether the person would wear a helmet if it became required by law in Holland - the typical answer is "no" with some explanations such as "you really don't need one" and "you (the typical cyclist) are not traveling very fast." One commented (after indicating she would follow the law) that "I don't think I would ride so often then." (The Australian doing the interview also asked if a Dutch cyclist, visiting Australia, would follow their helmet law - but the answers weren't so interesting to that one.)

This is a somewhat disjoint post, I realize - but then so is much of my thinking about this topic. No more disjoint than the reality of cycling safety, I suspect.

No comments:

Post a Comment