Fear of Cycling
October 5, 2009 8:25 PM   Subscribe

Fear of Cycling, an essay in five parts: introduction, constructing fear of cycling, helmet promotion campaigns, new cycling spaces, making cycling strange.
posted by parudox (204 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Surely not.
posted by grobstein at 8:52 PM on October 5, 2009


Horses, the solution is horses.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:03 PM on October 5, 2009


Of all the things I like about Mikael's blog; this anti-helmet thing is one that I don't. There's a certain....sense that I get from his articles on the subject that seem to say "People who wear helmets while riding bikes are part of the problem, that problem being; people don't ride bikes enough."
posted by Severian at 9:15 PM on October 5, 2009


Because cycling tends to be safest where there are many cyclists (Jacobsen 2003), and most dangerous in places with few cyclists, and because helmet promotion campaigns reduce the overall numbers of cyclists, helmet promotion increases the risk of cycling.
I'm not convinced on that last bit. I'd rather be helmeted in a bike-unfriendly city, than unhelmeted in a bike-friendly city. From Thompson, et al 1996:
Bicycle helmets, regardless of type, provide substantial protection against head injuries for cyclists of all ages involved in crashes, including crashes involving motor vehicles.
and from Macpherson, et al 2002:
The strong protective association between helmet legislation and head injuries supports the adoption of helmet legislation as an effective tool in the prevention of childhood bicycle-related head injuries.
posted by bergeycm at 9:17 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Both of those say that helmets make accidents less bad. but they do not address the number of accidents that bicyclists have.
Something to remember is that all of this is referring to casual or commuter cycling not performance cycling. No one is pushing the limits of grip or pushing themselves to exhaustion in these examples so the risk of a fall on the bicycle is reduced to major mechanical failure, collision with something else moving, and freak road conditions (ice, lots of gravel on a blind turn).
posted by TheJoven at 9:28 PM on October 5, 2009


bergeycm/Severian: the helmet issue (for people like this) isn't so much that helmets aren't helpful (at least in some circumstances) but rather that if we applied the same logic and statistics to other daily activities, we should also be advocating that all pedestrians and car occupants wear helmets (yes, that's helmet *and* seatbelt!) because the rates of head injury are comparable (or greater depending on the study). But we only advocate them for bicyclists, making cycling seem to be unfairly dangerous by comparison.

Also, there was a very good post recently in a Florida cycling blog.
posted by R343L at 9:28 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Helmets (or "foam hats") are a seriously Religious Issue. Arguments include:
- Bike helmets are not robust enough to protect your head anyway.
- Bike helmets, though useless, make you seem more "serious" to motorists, who then treat you more respectfully.
- Bike helmets increase the likelihood of brain injury because they increase the twisting leverage when your head hits the ground (causing the skull to bump the brain, like a boxer getting KOd).

My own self, I wear one, mainly because I don't wear glasses and I like my helmet mirror (oh god, let's not argue about rearview mirrors now).

And I dunno about this existential vulnerability business. Mainly what scares the everlasting fuck out of me is the cars. Yeah, sometimes I'm on a narrow bridge going fast along a railing with a big drop inches to my right... but I wouldn't be that close to the edge if it weren't for the cars.

And the biggest reason people think I'm crazy to commute by bicycle is the cars. It's always the first thing out of anyone's mouth when the topic comes up. Including, come to think of it, the cyclist I was chatting with at the red light the other day.
posted by Rat Spatula at 9:32 PM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


What about gloves? I don't have a bicycle right now (and it's a bit late to get one this year), but when I get one I was sort of planning on getting motorcycle-style gloves to protect my wrists, because I'm scared of wrist injuries. In fact, I'd probably want to dork out and get the full bmx-style gear, with body armor and full-face mask.

This is because: 1) I once saw a bicyclist, on the new bike lanes in Montreal, go over his handlebars and fall on his head, unconscious (other people were helping him). 2) A coworker of mine ran into a cable that was used to close a parking lot; she hurt her should blade bad.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:46 PM on October 5, 2009


I'd rather be helmeted in a bike-unfriendly city, than unhelmeted in a bike-friendly city.

But the discussion has to be about risk and risk is statistical. Obviously, there comes a point where the increased risk of accidents in a bike-unfriendly city outweighs the increased risk of injury that comes with not wearing a helmet. I'm pretty sure you are worse off with a helmet in most American cities than you are without a helmet in Copenhagen.
posted by ssg at 9:48 PM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


- Bike helmets are not robust enough to protect your head anyway.

Oh, but they are. I don't think I'd be typing this today if not for a helmet, which a few days later I found was cracked through in two different places.

I really get sick of the reactionary cycling fundamentalists who blame the shortcomings they perceive with concerning cycling on other people. They should just ride and shut the heck up. "Be the change you want to see in the world."*

I live in what is perceived as a bike unfriendly city, a city where cyclists are relatively rare. I regularly take the lane and get very few hassles about it (and far more friendly waves and thumbs up).


... but I wouldn't be that close to the edge if it weren't for the cars.

Then take the lane! Ride in the left tire track, or maybe just to the right of it. You are much safer when you communicate to other vehicles that it is NOT okay to try to squeeze by you when there isn't enough room to do so safely. Make them change lanes, or if there is no lane to change into, make them (horror of horrors!) wait until after you cross the bridge to let them pass. As long as you're plainly visible (lights, hi-visibility vest or jacket), the cars won't hit you.

Act like a vehicle and surprisingly you will get a lot more respect from the other vehicles. I was skeptical until I tried it. There are some real good tips for vehicular cycling at CommuteOrlando Blog. There are some great tips on their main page, especially at the links under "On The Road" in the left sidebar, and "Smart Moves" in the right side bar.


*Gandhi, of course
posted by Doohickie at 10:04 PM on October 5, 2009 [19 favorites]


Because cycling tends to be safest where there are many cyclists (Jacobsen 2003), and most dangerous in places with few cyclists, and because helmet promotion campaigns reduce the overall numbers of cyclists, helmet promotion increases the risk of cycling.

This sounds like one of those spot the fallacy in the argument types of questions.

It's funny timing, since just this evening I was walking home and someone rode by me from behind on the sidewalk (again), and I thought of the various MeFi threads on cycling that have come up recently.

Carry on.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:09 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Living in a relatively bike unfriendly city, I've really reached the point where I realize that my helmet isn't even going to make my body more identifiable if some crazed little old lady decides to run my ass over rather than just getting right up behind me on a two lane road and leaning on her horn. (Sadly, I'm not making this up.)

From a purely safety standpoint, I'm thinking about ditching the helmet in lieu of a tactical nuke with a dead man's switch.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:12 PM on October 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


- Bike helmets, though useless, make you seem more "serious" to motorists, who then treat you more respectfully.

Well, this one at least has been proven false (depending on your definition of 'respect' I guess).
posted by knave at 10:14 PM on October 5, 2009


The one time I fell off and banged my head, it was doing a low speed turn where there was a very unexpected bump in the tarmac. I was very grateful for my helmet then, I can tell you.

Now I'm going to read the links - I'll be back later.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:16 PM on October 5, 2009


I have to say, helmet issue aside, bicycling really does seem quite dangerous in America. As Kid Charlemagne says, we're pretty unfriendly to it. I've been shouted at, had things thrown at me, and once been vehicularly assaulted by a couple teenagers. The average driver seems to be blissfully ignorant of the rules and etiquette of driving around bicyclists, and many are openly hostile to it.

The fear of cycling is completely rational. The infrastructure and culture badly need to change in order for cycling to become more common. Unfortunately, it's kind of a chicken and egg problem, if very few care to ride in the first place. I still ride because it's good for my health and good for the environment, but I'm paranoid the entire time and definitely risking physical injury every time. I say this as a motorcyclist who has much, much less fear about riding when it's something that can simply out-accelerate the jerks around me (and commands a lot more respect as a vehicle "worthy" of the road).
posted by knave at 10:22 PM on October 5, 2009


"Like road safety education, campaigns to promote the wearing of cycle helmets effectively construct cycling as a dangerous practice about which to be fearful."

I think this guy is reading _way_ too much into helmet campaigns. The only association I've ever gotten from helmet ads is "Hey, if ya fall off your bike, wearing a helmet might prevent serious head trauma."
I mean, suggesting that helmet campaigns make people think bicycling is dangerous makes about as much sense as claiming that "Click it or Ticket" makes driving dangerous.

Australia, the first country to make cycle helmets compulsory, witnessed a post-compulsion fall in levels of cycling of between 15 and 40 per cent

I wonder why this would be. Could people really not afford a helmet? Couldn't bother to get one?

Before continuing on the theme of fear of the cyclist, I want briefly to summarise this section. The road safety industry, helmet promotion campaigns and anyone responsible for marketing off-road cycling facilities all have a vested interest in constructing cycling - particularly cycling on the road - as a dangerous practice.

There's a real persecution complex going on here.
Sometimes people trying to improve conditions are just trying to improve conditions.
posted by madajb at 10:45 PM on October 5, 2009


I know this is anecdotal, but I have two stories of people who didn't think they hit their head in a bicycle accident, but found their helmets cracked afterward, and one that I witnessed where the helmetless rider fell, did a baseball-like slide and -- I would tell you to this day he didn't hit his head -- curled into a fetal position and started convulsing and moaning with what was clearly a pretty scary head injury.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:46 PM on October 5, 2009


Consider the horrible reaction toward Critical Mass rides, where drivers are suddenly confronted with enough bicyclists that they can't threaten them. The drivers act as if being forced to share the road is an existential affront to their very being. Perhaps it is, since being an ass is a big part of being a driver to so many.

Being afraid of drivers is good sense, but you shouldn't let mere good sense prevent you from doing something that is so good on so many levels as riding. Be afraid, be careful, but be out there.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:47 PM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


my helmet isn't even going to make my body more identifiable if some crazed little old lady decides to run my ass

Yeah, but there are all kinds of ways, really billions and billions, that you can just fall over and hit your head on the hard concrete road below, and end up with permanent brain damage. You don't even have to be cycling--you can be just sitting on your bike, not moving (this was told to me by someone who fell off a bike and now has a permanent slow shuffle in his walk).
posted by eye of newt at 10:47 PM on October 5, 2009


The fourth essay, on new cycling spaces, really resonates with me. While I'm often glad to see a paved path, it is easy to see how these paths can make it less likely for commuters to use bikes. For example, in Ottawa, there is a fairly extensive network of recreational paths that look just like your standard bike path. They seem like a great way to get from point A to point B safely on your bike, but when you actually try to do so, you find that the paths are used heavily by people walking with dogs and strollers, rollerbladers in the wrong lane, and all manner of obstacles. Not only are the paths often blocked by folks who don't seem to notice the bright yellow line painted down the middle, but the paths have a 20km/h speed limit. 20km/h is fine for someone out on a leisurely bike ride on a Saturday afternoon, but it is far too slow for a commuter. However, if you decide to hop off the path and onto nearby roads, you'll find that there is no shoulder at all, forcing you out into 70km/h traffic. You can just imagine the planners deciding that there need not be any provisions for bikes on the roads, because there is a recreational path nearby.
posted by ssg at 10:52 PM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I wanted to say this in the 'number of girl cyclists is an indicator of bike friendliness' post but I was too late.

The enforced wearing of helmets may reduce cycling a bit, but as I just stated they are much more of a benefit than a loss--I don't buy the author's arguments.

But there's something else that has an almost unspoken but real influence --spandex. The more people riding bikes without wearing spandex, then more bike friendly the area is. Lots of spandex in a town means that biking is considered a sport for the elite, not for the the common. I think it ends up sending an indirect but influential message against casual biking.

(And yes, it is some of these spandex wearing bikers who try to enforce this social construct through ridicule--I've seen it more than once).
posted by eye of newt at 10:56 PM on October 5, 2009 [19 favorites]


Bike helmets increase the likelihood of brain injury

This is BS in 99.99% of all falls which involved the helmet striking the ground hard (ie, doing its job). You hear the same argument about motorcycle helmets from the "no lids" crowd, that a full face helmet is dangerous because in the 1 in 62,375,442 accidents that involve a guardrail, the helmet could act as some sort of salad shooter or something and your head will come right off, whereas without it you only have horribly disfiguring injuries and permanent paralysis, assuming you survive anyway.

Frankly, if riders don't want to wear a helmet, fine, just say so, but don't make up easily refuted pseudo-scientific bullshit to try and make a case for it.
posted by maxwelton at 11:12 PM on October 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


There's a real persecution complex going on here.

^ This.
posted by Doohickie at 11:17 PM on October 5, 2009


I don't like wearing a helmet when I ride my bike. But I really like all the things my brain helps me to do. So I wear the helmet.

Also, the worst wreck I ever had on a bike was when I was not wearing a helmet, and I have no idea how I made it out of that without a head injury - just a broken frame, a shirt torn nearly off, bloody shoulders, back, neck, arms, and hands. That was the moment when the invincible feeling of early-20s left me. Well, really the moment was about 5 minutes after the wreck, when I realized that I was so disoriented by the crash that I had got back on the bike without saying anything to any of the people who were trying to help me and rode off, bloody, on a broken bike. I couldn't figure out why the bike felt so strange. Then I looked down and realized that the frame was broken. It had never occurred to me until then that one "benefit" of toe clips is that, when you run into something big going flat-out as fast as you can down a hill, the whole bike goes head-over-heels with you and lands on top of you. Good stuff. So I wear the helmet now.
posted by The World Famous at 11:25 PM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Huh. I read a couple of the links, and I can't help but feel he's inappropriately attributing causality to helmet laws (or helmet use), when there's not strong evidence that it is the helmet laws themselves that are reducing ridership (or even more tenuously, that the helmets are increasing the rate of head injuries). Also, I'd like to see the abstracts of these studies that claim such massive reductions in the number of cyclists when helmet laws are enacted.

I appriciated the clarity of information presented on this site (which was linked in one of the articles above), but even looking at specific studies, the strongest research-based argument that can be made seems to be: helmets probably aren't as protective as you think they are - which is a far cry from the idea that they do nothing or actually worsen injuries.

What I got out of reading this was, I should probably lay-off nagging my friends to wear their helmets. But I think focusing our road-safety energy on making cars behave more safely (and restricting their use generally) would be a better idea than campaigning against helmets.
posted by serazin at 11:26 PM on October 5, 2009


if we applied the same logic and statistics to other daily activities, we should also be advocating that all pedestrians and car occupants wear helmets (yes, that's helmet *and* seatbelt!) because the rates of head injury are comparable (or greater depending on the study). But we only advocate them for bicyclists

Precisely! Well said.

Also - pedestrians are the biggest dickheads going around. Everyone forgets the pedestrians. Add moron points if they are in a group or have appendages such as a pram or a dog on a leash.

They a] cause accidents and near misses with bikes thanks to their rudeness and stupidity, and b] due to a] they cause cyclists to use the road when there's a perfect good shared [laughs loudly] bike/pedestrian path right next door.

b] causes angst, to wit: the recent Magda Szubanski controversy and her appallingly ignorant comments.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:29 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


(yes, that's helmet *and* seatbelt!)

I would totally be down for that, actually. It would make me seem less eccentric when wearing my Stig outfit on my morning commute.
posted by The World Famous at 11:32 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure you are worse off with a helmet in most American cities than you are without a helmet in Copenhagen.

For sure. I'm Dutch and I've been riding a bike since I could remember, for hours every day always without a helmet.

If I rode a bicycle at all in an American city (which I would probably not in most of them) I would sure as hell wear a helmet.
posted by atrazine at 11:35 PM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I honestly can't believe that the Helmet discussion is necessary. Let me sum up: wear your fucking helmet.

I've had two friends killed in bike-on-car accidents. The first one was actually wearing a helmet - it was a freak accident, and there was nothing that anyone could have done. It happened on a cross-country bike trip, when a number of people were in pace-line. One girl, not a particularly experienced biker, surged ahead and clipped the wheel of the rider in front of her; she lost control of her bike, swerved across both lanes, and, by completely shitty luck, was struck by an oncoming car. It wouldn't really matter where she was hit - the force of the impact killed her instantly.

The second friend, though, would be alive if he'd been wearing a helmet. About four weeks ago, he was turning across a road in NYC, and was struck on the side by oncoming traffic. He suffered serious head and neck injuries, and died a week later in the hospital, without ever fully regaining consciousness. Had he been wearing his helmet, he would have basically ricocheted off the car - instead, his head went through the windshield.

Reading through the article, I understand the point that fear-mongering helmet campaigns may be counterproductive. Agreed - fear campaigns never did much in Drivers Ed either. So lets take exactly the approach that we've taken with seatbelts - just make a fine (and a hefty one) for not wearing your helmet. Wearing your seatbelt isn't a personal choice - it's mandated for your own safety and for the massive cost to both the state and your family if you get yourself killed. So, let me reiterate: wear your fucking helmet.

And yes, car/bike culture in this country is massively screwed up. Yes, bikers can take part of the blame for that (although, helmets are a red herring if ever I saw one. How about bikers start by obeying traffic laws?). Yes, you'd be safer without a helmet in Copenhagen than with a helmet in NYC. But you know what? You'd be safest with a helmet in Copenhagen. To my mind, the biggest issues around the biking culture in the US are the antagonism between bikers and drivers and an infrastructure that, in all forms, prioritizes the automobile. In the face of that, the idea that it's somehow fear inspired by helmets making the streets unsafe for bikers is patently ridiculous.

To recap: don't make me come to your funeral, too. Wear your fucking helmet.
posted by TheRoach at 11:37 PM on October 5, 2009 [15 favorites]


I'd like to see the abstracts of these studies that claim such massive reductions in the number of cyclists when helmet laws are enacted.

Also this.

I was a regular rider when they got enacted where I lived. Mate, the howling and gnashing of teeth was something to behold! Some of my hard core friends resisted for a while, but they eventually all got helmets.

Not one person I know or knew of gave up cycling.

Bonus laffs: most of my cycling friends are "lycra Nazis" and sadly, what reeelly made them change their minds was when they realised helmets were yet another $200 plus snob cycling accessory where they could try and outdo each other, soggy SAO style

I've clocked up a brazillion cycling kms and never worn lycra. Nevarr.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:38 PM on October 5, 2009


Yeah, I'm basically pro-helmet. I've whacked my head on concrete hard enough to shatter the foam (wet pavement, and my front tire was an ultra-stupidly-designed Michelin Transworld model, with the long squirmy-ass longitudinal grooves). It's cheap compared to the rest of the gear, and I need a place for my mirror (come on guys, start telling me what a Fred I am for using a mirror...)

And I do take the lane when I need to, and wear bright colors and use lights. And I live in, for the U.S., a pretty bike-friendly area (and I tend to choose routes based on their popularity with other cyclists, figuring that motorists on those roads are more used to seeing us).

And even though I have been shouted at and swerved toward a few times (no projectiles yet), I'm more scared of just plain inattention or intoxication. People around here get creamed by cars all the time; just last month it was a 60-year-old pillar of the community who got nailed by some young woman making an illegal left.

I myself was driving on the highway one Sunday morning, around 7AM, and suddenly the sunroof was open and I was trying to keep my face off the steering wheel and Mrs. Spatula in the passenger seat was screaming. Because the kid in the old white sedan behind us had passed out and floored it. Luckily he rear-ended us dead square, so we didn't swerve and roll.

I know, anecdata and sampling bias. But the fear is real, and I think not totally irrational. And I think it leads to crap like badly-done bike paths which just cause more intersections to worry about while reinforcing the feeling that bikes are not first-class vehicles.

I really only see one thing causing people to begin regarding their cars as deadly weapons; gasoline has to become so expensive that bicycle commuting becomes respectable among the petite bourgeoisie. But they'll probably clutch at ever-smaller (but BADASS-LOOKING) economy cars, or private Hummer-buses.
posted by Rat Spatula at 11:38 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, to flesh out my helmet views a little better; it may well be true that a helmet does nothing of benefit in a head-on-pavement collision... but there are so many worse things my head could hit.

Also I use a helmet mirror.
posted by Rat Spatula at 11:41 PM on October 5, 2009


And yes, it is some of these spandex wearing bikers who try to enforce this social construct through ridicule

Something something glass houses.

I wear a suit on my bike when I'm in the Netherlands, but:

a) Holland is quite cool most of the year.
b) It's flat, son.
c) Also: small

If you're going to have to shower and change after your commute anyway then I guess you might as well wear cycling specific clothes.
posted by atrazine at 11:41 PM on October 5, 2009


Oh, Christ... Pedestrians... You say "On your left" and they (A) glare at you (2) don't hear you because of the iPod (iii) jump a meter in a random direction while yanking their dog while their kid goes the other way. You notice they're walking right along the edge of the path, like a reasonable person, so you decelerate and roll past on the other edge, and get berated for not warning... you just can't fuckin' win...
posted by Rat Spatula at 11:44 PM on October 5, 2009 [8 favorites]


I would totally be down for that, actually. It would make me seem less eccentric when wearing my Stig outfit on my morning commute.

LMAO, love your work!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:45 PM on October 5, 2009


my helmet isn't even going to make my body more identifiable if some crazed little old lady decides to run my ass

I knew a guy who walked away from a collision with a car with only minor scrapes ... and a terrible brain injury. He wasn't wearing a helmet and will live the rest of his life with obvious mental disabilities. That alone is enough to scare me into wearing a helmet and I ride my bike in a mid-sized European city where just about everyone owns a bike, cars are considerate and careful around cyclists, and most bike paths are built into the sidewalk with pedestrians who carefully avoid walking in them.
posted by cmonkey at 11:46 PM on October 5, 2009


Also pedestrians and cyclists - like bicyles and cars - move at different enough speeds that they should be segregated. But I understand that it's hard enough getting adequate foot or bicycle paths built in the US and that it would be even harder to build both.
posted by atrazine at 11:47 PM on October 5, 2009


(iii) jump a meter in a random direction while yanking their dog while their kid goes the other way

Yes! it's the RANDOM PANIC OH NOES I HEARD A BIKE BELL! that's the killer. So much so that I don't use my bell [something you're supposed to do in my city]. It is safer - no matter what angle they are walking, incorrect side of the path or not - just to silently try and blaze past them.

There is a Monty Python skit: the 100 yards for people with no sense of direction [begins at ~0:20]. It's exactly like that when you ring your bell.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:54 PM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah, pedestrians on bike paths put a crimp on speed, but that's why I try to use paths only very early in the mornings when few people are around. If I'm stuck on a path at a time of day when there are more people around, then my ride turns from a speed trial to a cross between ballroom dancing and slalom. Seriously, I have to put myself in the mindset that I'm playing a whole different game.

My usual approach:

1) Slow the hell down as I get within 15 feet of the pedestrian.
2) Call out an appropriate greeting depending on the position of the sun. NO bell. No "on your left". Just a simple "Good morning!" or the like. "On your left" means dick-all to pedestrians, because the vast majority of them are not cyclists. And as a part time pedestrian who has been passed on a sidewalk -- at speed -- by cyclists, it is really no fun to have someone swoop past you, even with a quick verbal warning.
3) Pedestrians with unshielded ears may start slightly, but they usually return the greeting, then move over. If they can't hear me, then I just have to downright creep by them (feet on the ground if necessary) and I continue to chatter as if they're actually paying attention.
4) I thank them, move past slowly, and speed up if there's no one else in sight.

I give each pedestrian points based on alertness, cheerfulness, and a prompt and appropriate greeting in return. I deduct points from my score if, despite all my efforts, I really seem to startle somebody.

And this is why I'd rather cycle on the road with trucks and buses than stay on mixed use paths. There's only so much scorekeeping and slalom I can take in a day.
posted by maudlin at 11:59 PM on October 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


I live in a very humid part of the country, so I don't wear a bike helmet...but these stories make me think about it more. I have to weigh the benefit of some noggin protection against having my sight obscured by sweat.

At the moment, I work 20+ miles from home, with a mountain in the way, so biking to work isn't practical. I used to work seven miles away, and thought biking that would be practical, but the only rideable route involved crossing a freeway off-ramp with 60-mph asshats flying down it. I have a strong illusion of invulnerability, but it gave up the ghost after two weeks of trying.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:11 AM on October 6, 2009


Also pedestrians and cyclists - like bicyles and cars - move at different enough speeds that they should be segregated. But I understand that it's hard enough getting adequate foot or bicycle paths built in the US and that it would be even harder to build both.

The rule should be: When in doubt the object that can change direction / stop / accelerate to full pace the quickest has the least right of way.

Pedestrians give way to cyclists, cyclists give way to cars.

Pedestrians can stop and turn on a dime, and can go from zero to top speed in 2 or 3 strides. Yet in Perth they supposedly have the right of way on shared [still laughing] paths.

This rule has the unintended consequence of turning them into COMPLETE morons.

Hey, I'm not a total wanker. A bit of give and take, for sure. I'm especially forgiving on sunny weekends and little ones learning how to ride or running across the path without looking.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:13 AM on October 6, 2009


Good grief. A nuanced, interesting set of links to a serious of articles on the perception of cycling risk and it's effect on cycling as a normal activity and all you guys can do is obsess over whether cyclists should wear helmets or not.

You're exemplifying precisely the problem that the articles are describing! The social construction of ordinary day to day cycling as a "risky" activity when in reality it is no more risky than walking or driving.†

People get injured every single day. They trip over and hit their heads and they die. They fall down the stairs, they slip on spilled liquids in the kitchen & catch their heads on the worktop and break their necks. This stuff happens day in day out: being alive carries along with it the daily risk of death. If you're arguing for helmets for cyclists, then consistency requires that you insist that helmets should be worn the moment you get out of bed in the morning, together with crash helmets for all drivers. When you start doing that, I'll start believing that you're treating cyclists the same as everyone else.

Depending on which metric you choose the relative risk rates shift around, but the overall injury rates are very low for all forms of transport at this point in time.
posted by pharm at 12:16 AM on October 6, 2009 [12 favorites]


One thing to remember about helmets is that they're for all kinds of bicycling. I don't agree with the whole 'if a hummer runs me over, it's not going to help' angle, but I understand it. However, you really are an idiot if you don't wear a helmet mountain biking. There are a million ways to crash and hit your head in that sport, and many of the collisions are low-speed where the helmet can protect you completely.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:19 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


See, I told you helmets were contentious.

I think it's perfectly understandable that cycling is viewed as more dangerous than walking or driving, irrespective of whether it is rational or even statistically true.

Most pedestrians are not walking down the shoulder of a road with a 45MPH speed limit (one of the roads I ride, the limit is 65MPH). Many cars have airbags and other safety gizmos.

So you'll forgive me if I subscribe to the maxim that tonnage has its own right-of-way. Somebody getting a blowout at 60MPH and sliding into me... I can't do much about that. But I've lost count of the number of people that have backed down their driveways into my path, and then mouthed an apology.

Even in this cycling-heavy area, I'm enough of an anomaly that the burden of careful driving is on me. It's sort of like telling a black slave not to worry anymore, circa 1864; hasn't he heard of the Emancipation Proclamation? And really, lynchings make the news, but aren't that common.

Jesus, I really do have a persecution complex

Oh, and here's the requisite relevant Captain Bike link.
posted by Rat Spatula at 12:39 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pharm, I respectfully disagree. I agree with your statement that biking is no more risky than driving - but driving is pretty fucking risky. A quick google search found that there were 31,110 auto deaths in the US in the first 10 months of 2008. You're in 1000 pounds of steel, hurtling around at 65 mph. That's why we have legally enforced safety laws surrounding automotive use.

Bikes are vehicles. We shouldn't treat cyclists the same as everyone else because they aren't in the same position as everyone else: they are traveling at speeds up to and over 30 mph, with absolutely none of the enclosure given in a car. I'm sorry, but that is NOT the same thing as walking down steps, or tripping on wet floors. It is an activity of elevated risk, which is why it demands elevated safety precautions. Are you also going to argue we shouldn't use safety goggles in a wood shop, because we could get something in our eye while walking down the street?

I want cycling to be as widespread as possible, but that doesn't mean we should put our heads in the sand regarding its inherent dangers.
posted by TheRoach at 12:53 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


TheRoach: Like I said, life carries risk: Get used to it.

The question should no be, "is cycling risky": Of course it is. Living is risky. The question should be "Is cycling significantly more risky than other ordinary daily activities for which people do not bother to wear personal protective equipment". To which the answer (for utility cycling: mountain biking & extreme stuff carries a different risk profile) is no.
posted by pharm at 1:33 AM on October 6, 2009


Helmets are contentious but should not be. Who are you kidding? You fall down bump your head, you want it to be protected. Where's the debate? That's just silliness.

Full disclosure, I ride a bike somewhere between a lot and a whole lot and I, um, often am without a helmet. The kids, mind you, wear theirs every single time.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:41 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks to parudox for a very interesting post, the series was a great read. The rest of you guys, for the discussion, not so much. As Pharm says, you exhibiting exactly the behaviours that the author describes - I had hoped for better, despite previous disappointing cycling threads here in the blue.

The author himself says that his argument is about how helmets are promoted, not about whether helmets have any benefit.

For me, the most surprising fact in the article is that back in the 30s, British cyclists were arguing for the creation of highways in an effort to reclaim the existing roads for cyclists. Talk about unintentional consequences...
posted by pascal at 1:54 AM on October 6, 2009


pascal: I don't think anyone in the 30s predicted the massive rise in driving that occurred in the post war decades.
posted by pharm at 2:02 AM on October 6, 2009


>: Also - pedestrians are the biggest dickheads going around. Everyone forgets the pedestrians. Add moron points if they are in a group or have appendages such as a pram or a dog on a leash.
They a] cause accidents and near misses with bikes thanks to their rudeness and stupidity, and b] due to a] they cause cyclists to use the road when there's a perfect good shared [laughs loudly] bike/pedestrian path right next door.


YES

When I was living in Austria, it was incredibly bike-friendly, down to having seperate paths for cyclists and pedestrians. However, the pedestrians didn't respect this- particularly groups of Americans and Japanese. They would stand in the middle of the bike lane right around a blind corner, goggling off into the distance as bicyclists would come around and desperately swerve to avoid them. Never mind the big painted bike symbols with an arrow in the middle of the lane: They were either oblivious or didn't care.
Don't get me started on the dogs with long leashes.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:08 AM on October 6, 2009


I thought the last article was interesting: how drivers can be antagonistic towards cyclists because they're afraid they'll have to become one themselves.

To continue a bit of derailing though: as a frequent pedestrian who tries to be alert to cyclists on shared pathways, I'd appreciate a little noise before you overtake me. A bell, a shout, a "good morning", whatever - having a cyclist zoom silently past gives me a heart attack every time (I'd be one of the flinchers maudlin mentions), even if the rider didn't get that close to me. I rely on my hearing as well as my sight to keep myself out of the path of vehicles that can knock me over, and I don't have eyes in the back of my head.
posted by harriet vane at 2:52 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I live in London and cycle every day. I'm constantly surprised at some of the cyclists here - how rude they can be, and how little consideration they have for the drivers. The fact of our obvious vulnerability has a pretty weird effect - it seems to make us feel we can cut cars up, slide across red lights just about across the bonnet of oncoming traffic, without any concern. I don't really drive, but from what I've seen the drivers here seem to have a fairly polite code of giving way, letting other cars in etc, but the cyclists make no concessions, ever. Any time you talk to a car driver, and they're giving it 'bloody cyclists'. at the same time, they treat the swooping disregard of the rules by cyclists pretty fatalistically on the whole - although of course there are some who appear to believe that a cyclist on their inside is simply a mobile slalom post to brush past as they blithely sail left.
posted by YouRebelScum at 3:01 AM on October 6, 2009


Australia, the first country to make cycle helmets compulsory, witnessed a post-compulsion fall in levels of cycling of between 15 and 40 per cent

I wonder why this would be. Could people really not afford a helmet? Couldn't bother to get one?


As I recall, when the helmet laws were brought in, just about the only helmet available in Australia at the time was this monstrosity. My mum bought me one and I just flat out refused to wear it (I was living in Adelaide at time where helmet laws weren't brought in until much later than the rest of the country).

I mean seriously - what kid would put up with wearing one of those in public?
posted by awfurby at 3:37 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


>: I thought the last article was interesting: how drivers can be antagonistic towards cyclists because they're afraid they'll have to become one themselves.

I wonder if this same dynamic could be also be a cause for, say, homeless-bashing.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:44 AM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fear of Cycling resonates with me because I took a two year cycling hiatus when I moved to the UK after cycling thousands of km a year for at least 20 years back in Canada.

Before I moved I was excited by the mild climate that would give me the opportunity to ride all year round. Then I got here and hit the roads and instantly quit.

The roads are freaking narrow.
There are almost no other cyclists.
Roundabouts.
Brit car drivers accelerate like they are all Lewis Hamilton.
Lorry drivers are shockingly dumb.
There are cages at intersections that take away escape options
People park everywhere.
British University students can barely breath never mind looking before crossing the road.
There are bike paths that are 6 feet long or even better have poles right in the middle of them.

But all of that pales in comparison to the terror I felt when I realized that I couldn't read driver intention because I was always looking at the passenger and that my first instinct (go right) was always wrong.

I'm on the road now because I couldn't live without it but frankly this is the worst place I have ever cycled when it should be the best.

I'd appreciate a little noise before you overtake me. A bell, a shout, a "good morning", whatever - having a cyclist zoom silently past gives me a heart attack every time (I'd be one of the flinchers maudlin mentions), even if the rider didn't get that close to me. I rely on my hearing as well as my sight to keep myself out of the path of vehicles that can knock me over, and I don't have eyes in the back of my head.

I used to do this and stopped.

Pedestrians tend to move unpredictably and usually into the way when you make any noise at all to alert them to your presence. Dog walkers will call their dogs which makes them run across a cyclists path. It is better that you are startled after I am past you than you are startled and move into my path and we collide. I have your safety in mind because it correlates with mine. Also if you want to know what is going on around you so you are not startled then YOU need to pay more attention.
posted by srboisvert at 3:51 AM on October 6, 2009


Spiked had an interesting article on the risks of cycling in the UK:
So, how dangerous is cycling? According to the UK government’s road casualty statistics (3), in 2007 there was one fatality for every 32million kilometres cycled. That’s actually slightly fewer per kilometre than for pedestrians, who suffered one fatality every 36million kilometres. But because each cycle journey is, on average, longer than a walking journey, the chances of a cyclist being killed on a particular journey are 2.5 times higher, on average, than for a pedestrian. In turn, both these rates are considerably higher than for car drivers and passengers (one death per 400million kilometres travelled), and those on buses and trains (one death for every 3.3billion kilometres travelled). Nonetheless, it is clear that deaths are extremely unusual on our roads, even for those who aren’t wrapped in a ton or two of metal.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:18 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Safety is important. Everyone drive Hummers.
posted by ovvl at 4:58 AM on October 6, 2009


Also if you want to know what is going on around you so you are not startled then YOU need to pay more attention.

It takes such a short time for a cyclist to cover a lot of ground, I could look behind me every 10 seconds and still be startled by someone I didn't see earlier.

I suppose I could start walking backwards to keep an eye out for you, but that just causes problems for the cyclists coming the other way. Or I could get a helmet with a rear-vision mirror!

Besides, I've also got to watch out for traffic/driveways, random dudes shouting for me to get my tits out, other pedestrians who might be muggers but are probably just on their way to the train station, that dog that always jumps all over me because it's owner doesn't restrain it, and snotty-nosed kids on their way to school and taking up the entire footpath. Not as dangerous as what cyclists have to deal with, I'll admit, but still things I have to be aware of in addition to silent dudes on bikes. At least the dog barks as it starts it's run at me.

I *am* paying attention to what's going on around me, but I'm not omniscient. All I'm saying is, a little noise is useful and polite.
posted by harriet vane at 5:04 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I took a nasty fall off my Stunpy last month... I'm sure glad there was a helmet between that inch-minus, and my noggin.
posted by lobstah at 5:09 AM on October 6, 2009


Stumpy, even.
posted by lobstah at 5:10 AM on October 6, 2009


if you want to know what is going on around you so you are not startled then YOU need to pay more attention.

Then pedestrians and cyclists need to be moving opposite direction on the same side of paths. No ifs, ands, or buts.

I cycle and walk (with and without dog), and there is *no* way I can keep craning my neck to see if there is a (silent) bike approaching with enough frequency to always be able to take it into account. What do you do on a ski hill when there are stopped or slower people ahead? You're heading toward them, possibly at speed. It's your responsibility to clear those obstacles and warn them if need be.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:12 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


If it isn't implicit in my previous post, I empathize with comments about pedestrian panic, so I'm not saying you need to warn people. But to suggest that forward-facing pedestrians should be somehow aware of silent bikes approaching behind is utter nonsense.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:15 AM on October 6, 2009


There's one study that showed a 36% reduction in child cycling following a mandatory helmet law. However, there's another study that showed a 50% increase in child cycling following a mandatory helmet law. If anyone wants to cite the Halifax study that counted far fewer cyclists after a helmet law went into effect, don't. The authors wouldn't like it.

If it's anecdote time, a very close friend's dad got into a T-bone collision in a car, and ended up with a massive head injury. If only he'd been wearing a helmet...
posted by anthill at 5:25 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Then pedestrians and cyclists need to be moving opposite direction on the same side of paths. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Testify. And in my experience it's always the stupid pedestrians meandering along the incorrect side of the bike path. But, y'know, they've got the right of way, so why try harder?

I cycle and walk (with and without dog), and there is *no* way I can keep craning my neck to see if there is a (silent) bike approaching with enough frequency to always be able to take it into account.
???

Pro tip: If you want to SUDDENLY CHANGE DIRECTIONS then crane your neck. Otherwise it's all good. What are you implying? Why would a cyclist slam into the back of a pedestrian walking in a straight line and at a constant pace?

Just chillax. No need to keep craning your neck if you're not behaving like an imbecile.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:30 AM on October 6, 2009


What are you implying?

It's called a response. To this:
It is better that you are startled after I am past you than you are startled and move into my path and we collide. I have your safety in mind because it correlates with mine. Also if you want to know what is going on around you so you are not startled then YOU need to pay more attention.

This whole thread seems to be about better and not best. Helmet and roads or no helmet and bike paths... Oh I know! How about both? Erratic pedestrian behaviour or taking responsibility for alerting same direction traffic you're overtaking...

Pro tip: pedestrians -- especially with dogs -- have just as much cause for concern regarding overbearing, much faster traffic as bikes do on roads, not all of whom are acting rationally themselves. It amazes me that many cyclists apparently forget all that as soon as they become the dominant (not necessarily in number) form of traffic on a given path.

It is NOT "all good" if I do nothing erratic while walking my dog. #1 -- there's this odd language barrier between me and the beast. I can control him with a little warning but amazingly there's no mind meld there. #2 -- he's small, and cyclists, saints though they are, don't perceive everything either. Perhaps dogs need to wear those glowing orange cycling vests that about 1 in 20 cyclists wear. We will when you will.

Frankly, the #1 danger on mixed-use paths is attitude, and you have it in spades.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:40 AM on October 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


This, though, truth: And in my experience it's always the stupid pedestrians meandering along the incorrect side of the bike path. But, y'know, they've got the right of way, so why try harder?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:42 AM on October 6, 2009


Oh, one more thing to consider when you're waxing on about the abilities of cyclists to know what's best for pedestrians, you are far more likely to encounter young/inexperienced cyclists on a path than on roadways. Even on my neighbourhood streets I encounter few other cyclists that are children or teens. On the paths there are tons of them. I've had more than one bad experience on the paths in my area with these little maniacs overtaking.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:50 AM on October 6, 2009


What are you implying? Why would a cyclist slam into the back of a pedestrian walking in a straight line and at a constant pace?

I don't know. Why would the driver of a car do this to a bike, if the cyclist wasn't acting like an imbecile? Maybe you should stay on the road. You can chillax there.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:52 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


And just for the record, I'm a regular pedestrian along with my bike riding. Lucky enough to recently score a job ~2.5km from my house. But sadly I'm in the minority who:

* Doesn't expect a "warning" every time a cyclist overtakes me.
* Doesn't get "startled" every time a bike gets near me. In fact, it's to be expected. Paths are narrow.
* "Cranes my neck" every time I want to change direction.
* Stays on the correct side of the path.
* And this last one will blow your mind: if there's a big patch of grass [or similar] next to the shared bike path then I DON'T USE THE BIKE PATH! What, am I gonna get lost? Follow the yellow brick road?

It's so simple, it's mind boggling how many idiot pedestrians I see.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:56 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't wear a helmet. Don't intend to wear one because doing so makes me feel I'm doing something unsafe, and I believe the argument that mandatory helmets are a disincentive to more people adopting bicycling. I ride an upright bike with thick tires that doesn't move as fast as a racing bike. That's my concession to cycling safely in the city. I'm not concentrating on my cadence, and it's not a blow to my ego to apply the brakes, or to coast when I'm passing parked cars. I choose back streets with little traffic. I feel much less possibility of an accident when I'm cycling than when I'm driving, because the speed and openness of the bicycle is better suited to my simple human senses - it's much easier for me to be aware of what's happening around me, and to adapt to the situation. In a car you're always being pushed into quick decisions by other cars.

But every time I read one of these threads I start to doubt my decision. All these people with anecdotes about friends with cracked helmets, and such certainty that anyone who doesn't wear one is an irresponsible fool. It's feeding the fearmongering the footnote heavy articles speak of, but if an accident is part of a person's experience it will inform their belief in the sensibility of helmets. People in cars are required to wear seatbelts and people on motorcycles are required to wear helmets, if bicyclists are required to wear helmets then we'll adapt and I'll put one on, but I'll miss some of the casual quality that makes cycling enjoyable .

Our time likes experts and studies and fear. Last night on the national news there was a feature on hand washing and viruses that I suspect has turned 60% of its audience into Howard Hughes by this morning.
posted by TimTypeZed at 6:01 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


One thing I've noticed, with regard to pedestrians, is that a lot of them don't follow the rules of the road. Somehow, just because they're not on a vehicle, common sense and decency shouldn't apply to them. So you end up with people walking on the left side of the sidewalk (in America), people doing that awkward jostle where you don't know which side to pass (on the right!), slow walkers not staying right-most, meandering walkers doing the pedestrian equivalent of swerving between lanes, and three- or even four-wide groups forming a roadblock.

I mean, I could go on and on, but I'll leave that to a ranty website if I ever get around to making it. The point is, if you're walking in a straight line, on the right side, a faster walker, a jogger, or a bicyclist should all be able to pass you on a path without even coming close. You know, pass on the left, travel on the right, and all that goodness? Man, I really ought to register and develop walklikeyoudrive.com; apparently the need really is there.
posted by explosion at 6:02 AM on October 6, 2009


This, though, truth:

Hey thanks for keeping an open mind, Durn. I think I've said enough.

I should also add that I'm speaking from a Perth, Australia perspective. Lots of space and no reason not to share. London and Manhattan et al sound completely different.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:06 AM on October 6, 2009


I don't own a helmet, and I'm not sure I'd be able to get myself to wear one if I did. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit my reasons are particularly vain.

If I were to find a helmet I thought I looked cool/good/not bad in, I'd probably wear it.

Most of my riding is done on bike paths and not near cars, though, or else I think I'd be wearing one by now.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:06 AM on October 6, 2009


Ok, since we're stocking "the record", I'm a regular cyclist, so it's entirely for rec. But sadly I'm in the minority who:

* Doesn't assume that dog walkers have constant control of their dog *within* their leash range
* Does warn pedestrians regularly when I overtake -- oh no, occasional irrational behaviour, and I had to slow down! Grrr, I feel car-like rage!
* And this one will blow your mind: when there is level, dry terrain beside the path and there are parents with kids, people with dogs, or a crowd of pedestrians, hell, sometimes even just a lone pedestrian I don't feel like playing guessing games with, I DON'T USE THE MIXED-USE PATH! What, am I gonna hit a tree?

It's so simple, I -- oh, I don't even know why I bother, asshat.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:08 AM on October 6, 2009


Ottawa, Canada perspective here (in the boonies, not near the other paths people are probably referring to when they speak of the place). All I was reacting to was a statement that pedestrians should somehow be aware of silent overtaking bikes. I gave credit up front to those cyclists who decide not to warn pedestrians, but to suggest that they should have eyes in the back of their head was simply stretching things too far.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:10 AM on October 6, 2009


This is an issue I've thought a lot about, and which recently spilled over to the Letters page of The Irish Times. This contribution, I think, made the best point:
Madam, – It is understandable that those involved in emergency and head trauma medicine are firm believers in the efficacy of cycle helmets. It’s an area where prevention is far preferable to cure.

However, their confidence is misplaced. Unlike motorcycle helmets (solidly constructed, securely attached, but often insufficient) cycle helmets are flimsy constructions of polystyrene, covering the top of the head, and often insecurely attached.

Realistically, cycle helmets will protect only in low-speed impacts – they are designed for up to about 20 km/h (equivalent to a fall from a stopped position). At higher speeds, they are overwhelmed by the energy of the impact and offer negligible protection (double the speed and you quadruple the energy). Helmets are not airbags and are simply too small to protect at higher speeds, such as when motor vehicles are involved.

Protection at low speeds is perhaps desirable but, contra Conor Egleston (September 15th), the evidence that it makes much of a difference at the population level is weak.

Where helmet wearing has been made compulsory, the results have been disappointing. New Zealand’s experience of a legislation-driven rise from 40 per cent to 90 per cent helmet wearing was of no detectable change in the trend in cyclist head injury, and in other jurisdictions the fall in the numbers of injuries was less than the fall in cycling.

To take a broader view of public health, cycling is estimated to have health benefits that outweigh the dangers by at least 10 to one. It is much more valuable to get more people out on bikes, bareheaded or not, than it is to push for protective devices of limited value. – Yours, etc.

BRENDAN HALPIN,
Department of Sociology,
University of Limerick
Finally, we have to remember that this is a public health issue. Persuading people to weat helmets costs money—and is not conclusively shown to increase public health. However, building segregated lanes for bikes definitely works, as does banning heavy goods vehicles from city centres. (Over several years in Dublin, 8 from 11 bike deaths were a result of HGVs and they're now banned).

Lets spend where we'll get guaranteed results, and let people decide if they would like to wear a helmet themselves.
posted by stepheno at 6:13 AM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


But to suggest that forward-facing pedestrians should be somehow aware of silent bikes approaching behind is utter nonsense.

Utter nonsense?

Come off it. Accept a little responsibility.

I don't require that every car that passes me when I am cycling honk its horn to let me know it is there. That would be ridiculous. I know there is a good possibility they are there and accept the responsibility of checking if they are.

I'm not startled because I am aware.

If you want to walk around without the possibility of being startled while still being oblivious perhaps you should take up mall walking.
posted by srboisvert at 6:20 AM on October 6, 2009


* Doesn't assume that dog walkers have constant control of their dog *within* their leash range

OK, one last bite. Anyone who walks a dog on a shared bike/pedestrian path who expects EVERY cyclist to slow down just in case they can't control their dog is a selfish moran. Plus, I've seen enough responsible dog owners who are able to share.

Ever heard of the euphamism "keep on a short leash"? If not, what do you think it means? Take a guess.

The rest of your post is Ralphie "I swallowed my crayon" standard.

I've aready covered in this thread that I'm especially forgiving when it comes to kids.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:25 AM on October 6, 2009


If you want to walk around without the possibility of being startled while still being oblivious

If you want to post in bad faith perhaps you should take up Farking.

Responsibility /= magic. You're either constantly looking over your shoulder, facing opposing traffic (the paths in my area are not split for direction of travel, however), or doing what you can with the perceptual cues you have (if you're wearing an mp3 player, all bets are off and you shouldn't be on a mixed-use path).

You are overtaking. The responsibility is yours. You can warn or not warn, but to expect people to somehow "be aware" of you without is disingenuous and dangerous. Erratic pedestrians and erratic cyclists are not straw men. Acknowledge them both why don't you.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:26 AM on October 6, 2009


OK, one last bite. Anyone who walks a dog on a shared bike/pedestrian path who expects EVERY cyclist to slow down just in case they can't control their dog is a selfish moran.

Wow, the selective reading brigade is out in full force.

The point was *warning*. IF you choose to overtake a person with a dog without giving the owner warning so as to be able to account for you, then you are a dangerous moran.

I don't know what Ralphie crayon is all about, but your attitude was clear from word one. Anyone who says non-imbecilic pedestrians have *nothing* to worry about from (all) cyclists must agree that all non-imbecilic cyclists have nothing to worry about from cars, no?

I'm done here.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:28 AM on October 6, 2009


I don't require that every car that passes me when I am cycling honk its horn to let me know it is there. That would be ridiculous. I know there is a good possibility they are there and accept the responsibility of checking if they are.

Bugger!

I've used that analogy many times before. Slipped my mind for some reason in my numerous posts above.

It's a perfect analogy, wot?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:29 AM on October 6, 2009


"You are overtaking. The responsibility is yours."

This applies equally to joggers. At least in my area. I don't know what kind of mutant eyes-in-the-back-of-your-head population you're living in.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:30 AM on October 6, 2009


OK Durn, change my post from "slow down" to "warning." My point stands.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:31 AM on October 6, 2009


Empirical research can be found to prove anything. Parts of this report could be read as linking death with wearing a helmet. Brilliant! Ban the helmet.

Modern helmets are vented and cooler in the summer, and can be gore-tex capped/insulated in the winter. They no longer look like halved ping-pong balls either.

I'm outraged that fluff research like this continues to be proffered.
posted by buzzman at 6:35 AM on October 6, 2009


In terms of hours-per-injury, Bicycling actually has a better rate than even walking (Something like .25% rate of injury), and this is likely due to widespread helmet use (pedestrians don't wear helmets, generally.) So, a bike helmet will absolutely improve your chances... but your chances were already really, really good. It shouldn't be as much of a religious issue as it is, and it certainly shouldn't be as overhyped as it is. I don't think there's as much of a campaign to put motorcyclists in "brain buckets" - and they have a lot more riding on a good helmet than a bike commuter does.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:38 AM on October 6, 2009


Clearly a lot of you cyclists should look into bringing back the Walk Right movement.
posted by TedW at 6:40 AM on October 6, 2009


So your point would be: Anyone who walks a dog on a shared bike/pedestrian path who expects EVERY cyclist to slow down give warning just in case they can't control their dog is a selfish moran.

So your point is a straw man? I said from my *first post* that it's up to you. The point I made originally was that you cannot assume, without warning, that the pedestrian knows you're there. Dogs complicate things, sure, but there are no dog zones. Are you in one? I just don't think you're being realistic. What exactly is a short enough leash? I'm not talking 3 metres. If it's got enough leash to be off the path to the right, it's got enough to dart into the path to the left. Hello! It's a mixed use, dog permitted zone. People with enormous leashes or poorly trained, off-leash dogs are not in contention.

But anyone who rides mixed-use paths without being willing to -- what -- ring a bell? say hello? -- so as to avoid possibly dangerous situations is quite clearly the selfish moran. You want to disregard others, go ride a forest path by yourself. You want to ride a path with peds, strollers, dogs, and bladers, well that is your choice. Act appropriately. And again, if you are overtaking, the onus is on you. It's not rocket science.

disclaimer: I jog, bike, blade, snowboard, and drive, and only in the case of the car -- note the built-in rear view mirror -- do I assume anyone ahead knows I'm there. In fact, on the ski hill, an analogy no one has apparently seen fit to respond to, it's the rule that the responsibility to avoid those you're overtaking is yours.

Now, barring other quick responses, I must be off.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:44 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


TedW, that is hilarious! I won't comment on the less PC ones, but safe to say I'd agree with most of the 66 rules.

"No gesticulating while walking." Damn. The number of times I've almost been taken out by someone suddenly waving their arms about for whatever reason.

Paths are narrow. Sometimes if three selfish people are taking up 90% of the bike path [which happens often] and I want to overtake... I've got the skills to execute such a "startling" move... but random gesticulation is the last thing you need.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:51 AM on October 6, 2009


anthill: to a first approximation, it's almost impossible to say whether wearing a helmet would make any difference to any individual serious head injury.

I'll throw my own counter anecdote into the ring: my father was hit by a car on a roundabout in the UK. He had concussion & was off his feet for a few days, but made a full recovery. He was wearing a cycle helmet. Now, helmets work by being crushed, it's how the polystyrene absorbs the impact energy. I examined his helmet carefully afterwards & there was no sign of any crushing anywhere: instead there was a great big tear where the helmet had caught on the road.

Had I not seen the helmet, I might have assumed that it prevented a worse injury. As it is, I'm not so sure: It may be that the reason my father had concussion was due to his helmet catching on the ground and imparting a significant rotational impulse on his head.† Or the helmet might have prevented an unpleasant scalp wound, but made no difference to the brain injury. It's impossible to say with any certainty. The lack of any crushed polystyrene anwhere on the helmet suggests that it absorbed very little direct impact energy however.

A rotational impulse does more damage to the brain than a direct impact with the same energy does.
posted by pharm at 6:51 AM on October 6, 2009


"I ride an upright bike with thick tires that doesn't move as fast as a racing bike. That's my concession to cycling safely in the city."

...

"All these people with anecdotes about friends with cracked helmets, and such certainty that anyone who doesn't wear one is an irresponsible fool."


There is a misunderstanding here. A bike catalog details dozens of different bicycles for various purposes. You have chosen one with concessions in regard to risk. That is fine. I agree that not all cyclists require helmets, but disregarding that many people ride their bicycles at speeds and in traffic conditions which can result in traumatic injury is just as ignorant.

"But to suggest that forward-facing pedestrians should be somehow aware of silent bikes approaching behind is utter nonsense."

I installed a bell on my bicycle, but never used it in fear that the pedestrian would do something unpredictable when they heard it. On campus, about the only place I ever encounter this situation, I ride at walking pace and overtake pedestrians slowly when the opportunity arises.

Doohickey nailed this whole thread in regards to both cars and pedestrians:

"Act like a vehicle and surprisingly you will get a lot more respect from the other vehicles."

...not to mention minimizing encounters with pedestrians, dogs, and the like.
posted by clearly at 6:58 AM on October 6, 2009


I don't require that every car that passes me when I am cycling honk its horn to let me know it is there. That would be ridiculous.

Yeah, this. My little anti-pedestrian rant was written in the heat of the moment, but this is really the crux of it; it's a mixed-use path. If you're walking eight abreast or meandering all over hell's half-acre, then you're not just getting in the way of cyclists, but joggers, rollerskaters, skateboarders and other pedestrians who aren't fucking around.

I mean, if there's kids in strollers, or a bunch of children tossing a frisbee around and amusing themselves while the moms are out for a stroll, well hell, that's a perfectly legitimate use of a multi-use path (they are rarely really "bike paths"). But it's the moms that piss me off, not the kids. The moms have never lived in a city; they don't view walking as a means of transport, but a recreational activity (same as with cycling). On city sidewalks, people generally keep to the side, because they're just trying to get somewhere. In the 'burbs... people don't know what the hell they're doing.
posted by Rat Spatula at 7:03 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


And by the way, the paths themselves, while they typically go places I need to go (or I wouldn't use them), are in fact often created as an extension of city/county parks and open spaces. They are both utilitarian and recreational, further blurring the boundary. The motorists think I should be on the "bike path"; the meandering dolts on the "MULTI-USE path" think I should wear a clown suit and honk a big horn.
posted by Rat Spatula at 7:07 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Had I not seen the helmet, I might have assumed that it prevented a worse injury. As it is, I'm not so sure: It may be that the reason my father had concussion was due to his helmet catching on the ground and imparting a significant rotational impulse on his head."

I was browsing online for helmets last night looking for recommended models, and came across Helmets.org, the site for the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. In the linked article, they repeatedly stress that the outer shell of a helmet should be rounded and have no major "snag points" which can lead to the torsion injuries you describe.

In general, the site seems like a great resource for everything regarding bicycle helmets: cycling helmet standards, recommendations, fit, why helmets are a good idea... etc.
posted by clearly at 7:08 AM on October 6, 2009


This isn't about the merits of helmets. Really. It's about getting more people to willingly cycle — however they want to — instead of driving. Because overall, more people cycling and fewer driving carries significant public health and environmental advantages. If you force everyone to always be a vehicular cyclist, fewer people will cycle. If you enforce sidewalk riding bans, fewer will cycle. If you force everyone to wear a helmet, fewer will cycle. Those affected by these barriers are, by definition, not the hard-core cyclists, and are those most likely to switch back to a mode they find more comfortable — driving. Perhaps most importantly, with the barriers to entry and construction of cycling as dangerous, fewer people will even start cycling.

Wear your helmet if you like. But please don't scare those who don't want to back into driving.

Oh, and those of you arguing about what pedestrians should or shouldn't do? If that becomes part of public discourse like the cycling issues, fewer people will be willing to be pedestrians on shared paths.
posted by parudox at 7:14 AM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Helmets.org

cyclehelmets.org ...just for the sake of balance.
posted by normy at 7:17 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


clearly: Yet nearly every helmet you see in the shops or online is of this kind of aero shape, with significant fore and aft prominences. Given that everyone agrees that such a shape makes the helmet less safe, why is it the dominant one?
posted by pharm at 7:18 AM on October 6, 2009


I decided to start wearing a helmet when I cycled in my early thirties, after doing quite a bit of cycling on a big college campus. This is a place that was built for cyclists, but during my time there I witnessed:

- A city bus that ignored a cyclist at an intersection, going the same way, and made a right turn in front of them. The cyclist had nowhere to dodge to and jumped off their bike, which was pretzeled.

- Many people who used the designated cycle paths as sidewalks, and would play a game of chicken with oncoming cyclists. One young fellow even advocated knocking cyclists off their vehicles if they came too close, in a column that he wrote for the student newspaper.

- A cyclist who cut me off, resulting in my bike wheel becoming tacoed.

Note that none of these incidents involved automobiles. Ultimately, people are just too fucking stupid to trust the safety of your brain to.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:25 AM on October 6, 2009


I'm a helmet fan. I used to never wear a helmet. As a kid I rode on a banana seat bike, not one where your head is stuck out front like a hood ornament. Rode every day, everywhere. Lost some teeth going through wet leaves at age 12, hit the curb. Not a helmet thing, but served to tell me that biking is tricksy.

Then I bought a mountain bike in college. Still no helmet, but I had the whole Lake Shore Drive and not a lot of competition for the real estate south of McCormick Place.

Wake up call one: pedestrians, in the form of nine guys with bats (hey I counted, and its just a softball team, right?) who wanted my bike on the LSD. Only luck saved my noggin.

Wake up call two: pedestrians again, a series of wipeouts caused by trying not to hit people. One .

Then my bike got stolen and I forgot about biking. Took up horse riding years later, and helmets among European-style riders is pretty much 100%, minus some old-school dressage folks. The story in the equestrian field is that helmets are just as important when you are off the horse. Pretty easy to get kicked in the head if the horse spooks, etc.

So when I got back on a bike, the helmet just seemed normal. Doesn't make me feel more unsafe (sounds like condom args in the 80s). All the car doors, and sudden stops at slow speeds has paid for the helmet a few times over.

I wear one skiing too, in New England's ice bowls, the impact has rung my bell with a helmet on, hat to think what would happen without.

I just don't see any real reason not to wear one.
posted by drowsy at 7:26 AM on October 6, 2009


Let's get sensible about this!

Obviously, the first thing we need to do is to round up all those slow-moving, oblivious pedestrians, those meanderthals and corral them into re-education camps. I'm sure we could use TARP fund to sponsor a small cavalry of Segway-riding, yellow-helmeted pedeboys footwranglers to drive the meanderthals before them like a great fanny-packed herd into specially designed/copied from that Atari classic Spy Hunter big rigs which would then transport them to Walking ReEducation Camps (WRECs) in the countryside.

In the WRECs, the meanderthals would be fed a rich diet of calorie-laden gruel and would be taught over the course of a weekend how to perambulate in civilised society. In order to leave the camp and gain their Pedestrian Certification, the students would need to pass a series of road tests including, but not limited to:

* Walk down a busy sidewalk while having a conversation.
* Walk down a busy sidewalk and reverse direction without bumping in to anything.
* Get on and off a subway car or bus without stepping on anyone's foot
* Prove you know your left from your right

After passing basic certification, the meanderthals would be released with a basic walking license. They would then be required to take at least two elective courses on an out-patient, study-at-home basis as required by their caseworker. Elective courses would be offered in Advanced Techniques such as:

* Backpacks: They Actually Extend Farther Back Than You Think
* How To Tell If You Are The Third Wheel In A Conversation And Should Just Hang Back A Bit
* Revolving Doors: The Silent Killer
* What's That Over There? A History of Pointing at Things in the Modern Age

Once they pass their electives, they would be awarded the tentative status of "Almost Human" and would be accorded all the rights and privileges implied, including not being beaten within an inch of their life After maintaining that probationary status with no accidents for six months, they would move up to Fully Human and would be allowed to become tourists and visit other cities.

Participants over the age of 13 who fail to pass the basic course by the third try would be dyed bright pink, orange, or red with indelible, permanent ink and made to wear warning sirens at all times as a warning to others to watch out for unsafe or inconvenient behavior.

Please write your Congressperson and ask them to support HR 5862.

Together, we can make a difference.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:37 AM on October 6, 2009 [10 favorites]


I think people against helmets are the epitome of libertarianism out of control. Considering that the public will pay to clean up your remains or pay for rehab if you get a brain injury, it's not much to ask that people wear an inexpensive helmet if they want to cycle. And even though what I'm about to say flies in the face of Ayn Rand, I'm going to say it: I like policies that reduce suffering and death. Cycling is not a right, it's a privilege.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:39 AM on October 6, 2009


I wear helmet to silence people who mean well and so lecture me about how I should be wearing a helmet, despite that they don't understand the difference between actual and perceived risk and they trust anecdotes over whole population studies and that they last actually rode a bicycle themselves decades ago.
posted by normy at 7:41 AM on October 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


"why is it the dominant one?"

helmets.org types of helmet:
Road:

The original bike helmets were made for bicycling on roads and road racing. As they have evolved, they mostly had an elongated shape, always with vents, and are usually made with EPS foam covered by a thin plastic shell

Mountain:

An artificial distinction, actually a type of road helmet. The term has come to mean "has a visor" for most manufacturers.
Since helmets evolved from a road racing standpoint, and the distinction between mountain biking and road helmets is artificial, it seems like the aero shape developed for road racing has seeped into designs for other types of cycling. Road and mountain biking are probably the two largest genres of cycling, and initially it seems like mountain bikers had no choice but to go for a road helmet if they wanted a cycling specific helmet. As commuting and (sub)urban cycling has increased, I think the necessity of an aero shape has become somewhat unnecessary for many cyclists. It looks like many helmet manufacturers are embracing this and a rounder less aero helmet has emerged.
posted by clearly at 7:42 AM on October 6, 2009


mccarty.tim: "I think people against helmets are the epitome of libertarianism out of control. Considering that the public will pay to clean up your remains or pay for rehab if you get a brain injury, it's not much to ask that people wear an inexpensive helmet if they want to cycle walk. And even though what I'm about to say flies in the face of Ayn Rand, I'm going to say it: I like policies that reduce suffering and death. Cycling Walking is not a right, it's a privilege."

The injury rates are about the same after all. Lets mandate helmets for using staircases whilst we're at it: All dwellings should be required to maintain a stock of helmets at the top and bottom of their stairs lest any visitors find themselves helmetless and need to ascend or descend.
posted by pharm at 7:46 AM on October 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


clearly: That sounds completely out of line with my recollection. The earliest helmets were much more like skater helmets (plastic outer, polystyrene inner) that covered much more of the head. The aero-style helmets were a later design.
posted by pharm at 7:53 AM on October 6, 2009


I installed a bell on my bicycle, but never used it in fear that the pedestrian would do something unpredictable when they heard it.

It seems to me that pedestrian behavior in regards to signals like a bell or "passing on your left" would become more predictable with familiarity. Comparing bicycles to overtaking cars on this issue is foolish because cars make a lot more noise, while a well-maintained bicycle is almost silent.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:59 AM on October 6, 2009


Interesting how everyone seems to have an anecdote about a cyclist friend who got in an accident and had some terrible head injury. I'm sure most people in this thread also know someone who has been in a car accident and suffered a head injury.

And yet the response to the cyclist story is always Tsk, tsk! Should've worn a helmet! Sometimes it's even stronger -- you're a moron if you don't wear a helmet! -- but nobody would suggest that the driver or passenger with the head injury should have been wearing a helmet. Is this because cycling is seen as a dangerous activity, but driving a car is considered fairly safe in comparison? I'm inclined to think so.

In some ways, the helmet issue reminds me of the healthcare debate. There's a wonderful precedent in European cities, where cyclists rarely if ever wear helmets but are still quite safe. Some people have said that this is because there is better cycling infrastructure, more considerate drivers, whatever. But then I read something like this:
Yeah, but there are all kinds of ways, really billions and billions, that you can just fall over and hit your head on the hard concrete road below, and end up with permanent brain damage. You don't even have to be cycling--you can be just sitting on your bike, not moving (this was told to me by someone who fell off a bike and now has a permanent slow shuffle in his walk).
And I'm reminded of Americans who think public healthcare can't possibly work, never mind that it works great in most other countries. The concrete is just as hard in Amsterdam.
posted by smably at 8:08 AM on October 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


There's an odd contradiction underlying this thread: cycling is really quite safe, so much so that helmets aren't really beneficial; and cycling is very dangerous because everyone else is an asshole--cars, pedestrians, dogs. Every cycling thread we have is full of anecdotes about bikes and bikers destroyed, or near misses. But suddenly it's about what cyclists should do to increase safety, and statistics are trotted out to demonstrate that cycling is so safe that there's nothing more for the cyclist to do.

I wear a helmet for the same reason I use a seatbelt. I call it the Stupid Rule: If I suffered X for lack of doing Y, it would be really stupid because doing Y is pretty easy. I bike commute in Vancouver, and have found it to be very bike friendly, with a lot of separate paths, and passing cars giving me wide berth. I still wear my helmet.
posted by fatbird at 8:23 AM on October 6, 2009


I mean seriously - what kid would put up with wearing one of those in public?

True enough.

I'm honestly surprised that I see as many kids (of a certain age) and teenagers wearing helmets as I do.
I think the law around here is 16 and under.
posted by madajb at 8:25 AM on October 6, 2009


And yet the response to the cyclist story is always Tsk, tsk! Should've worn a helmet! Sometimes it's even stronger -- you're a moron if you don't wear a helmet! -- but nobody would suggest that the driver or passenger with the head injury should have been wearing a helmet. Is this because cycling is seen as a dangerous activity, but driving a car is considered fairly safe in comparison? I'm inclined to think so.

It's because the equivalent for a car driver is wearing his seatbelt. In both cases, helmet or seatbelt, severe injury is sometimes unavoidable. But wearing a seatbelt prevents a huge range of injuries in a car accident, and has made accidents demonstrably safer for drivers. The evidence might be equivocal in the case of helmets, but I err on the side of caution because intuitively, when I think of wiping out on my bike and smacking my head on the concrete, I'd prefer a layer of foam and plastic between my skull and the road.
posted by fatbird at 8:26 AM on October 6, 2009


fatbird: I recommend you also wear knee & elbow pads and a spine protector for good measure then. You can't be too careful...
posted by pharm at 8:34 AM on October 6, 2009


Really, pharm? You're actively discouraging a fairly basic and low impact safety measure?
posted by fatbird at 8:37 AM on October 6, 2009


There seem to be lots of very aware cyclists in this thread so perhaps I'm asking the wrong people- but why do some cyclists ignore stop signs and red lights? I noted up-thread someone describing 'no escape routes' while sitting at a red light. Can someone explain what this means to a noncyclist?

I understand that cyclists (and motorcyclists!) should be given their share of the road, that drivers should exercise extra care to avoid (relatively vulnerable) cyclists, and so forth. It's harder for me as a car driver to exercise due care, though, when cyclists ride through stop signs and red lights. Traffic signals make traffic more predictable, to everyone's benefit. Why do some cyclists ignore the traffic signals? Is there something I'm missing here?

posted by Monsters at 8:40 AM on October 6, 2009


It seems to me that pedestrian behavior in regards to signals like a bell or "passing on your left" would become more predictable with familiarity.

In my experience, it does. In Edmonton, the law requires that bikes have a bell and use it on mixed-use paths. Pedestrians can still be a bit unpredictable, but they generally have been conditioned to respond properly to bells. For whatever reason, the culture there has evolved so that sharing the path safely is the norm and you don't often see anyone riding or walking in the wrong lane, or letting their dog run all over.
posted by ssg at 8:43 AM on October 6, 2009


Monsters, please don't start the stop signs and stoplights argument again here. If you honestly are wondering you can surely find acres of comments on that subject in pretty much every previous cycling thread.
posted by ssg at 8:46 AM on October 6, 2009


Sorry, I didn't realize it was an ongoing issue. I did not intend to initiate a derail; please consider my comment above retracted. I extend my apologies.
posted by Monsters at 8:48 AM on October 6, 2009


Rounder helmets:
nutcase helmets
Bell citi

There are three perspectives about helmet wearing going on here. The first is of a bicycle rider, "Should I wear a helmet to be safer while riding?" The other is about public health, "How can we set policy and use our resources to maximize public health?" The third is the copenhagenize perspective, "How can we get more people to ride bicycles?"

The public health folks look at the number of injuries in cycling accidents that helmets mitigate and the long term health effects of cycling and find that the the health effects of cycling are so great that they offset any injury preventing effects of helmets. So they don't support helmet laws. That's cool with me but I'm already getting the health effects of cycling and I'm concerned with my safety. Can helmets help me?

The copenhagenize.com folks argue that more cyclists on the rode means a safer environment for cycling. Car drivers will have more interactions with cyclists, be more comfortable with cyclists on the road and make better judgments when they encounter cyclists. So they argue that anything that reduces the number of cyclists on the road is reducing the safety of all of the cyclists.

From here they argue that YOU wearing a helmet is sending the message to people who are on the fence about cycling that it is dangerous. Like rock climbing, working on a construction site, hockey, US football, or motorcycling since people wear helmets in these activities.

I'd love for more people to ride but I live in Ithaca, New York. It is a wet, very hilly town that is freezing half the year. We do a lot better then many towns but a Copenhagen like culture of cycling is unlikely to take hold here any time soon. I do think that I will get in an accident on my bicycle in the future and I do think that a helmet will help.

The main arguments to not wear a helmet are:
1 They don't work
2 They reduce the number of people who ride.
3 Car drivers pass closer to people wearing helmets.
4 Wearing a helmet is more dangerous than not in an accident.
5 Cyclists take more risks when wearing a helmet.
6 They are hot, ugly, expensive.

The main reason to wear a helmet is that they might prevent or mitigate a head injury.

I don't believe in 1, 3, 4. I don't care about 2. I feel that the reasons to wear a helmet out weigh 5 and 6.

It is interesting that other than seat belts most of the safety features of cars are hidden from view. Airbags, crumple zones, side impact bracing, shatter proof glass, ABS, traction control.

(Disclamer: I haven't used the helmets linked to. I commute to work by bike everyday. I ride fast some times. I tour by bicycle. I usually wear a helmet. I have crashed gotten up bloody and wished I had been wearing a helmet. I've crashed badly without a helmet and been okay. I assume that all pedestrians are walking along fantasizing about causing a cyclist to crash into them and then suing that cyclist into bankruptcy. I think multi-use paths are death traps for cyclists who want to get from a to b. I live in the USA. I think that the copenhagenize.com guy is a jack wad when it comes to helmets. I'd love to live in Copenhagen and tell people that they shouldn't wear helmets. I also ride motorcycles and have spine protection.)

Also, every post in this thread should end with:
"Copenhagenize the planet, good day."
posted by bdc34 at 8:55 AM on October 6, 2009


fatbird: "Really, pharm? You're actively discouraging a fairly basic and low impact safety measure?"

I'm suggesting that your risk assessment is a little inconsistent, that's all. Do you wear a helmet when in a car? Your risk of serious head injury (even with a seat belt and air bag) is fairly similar to that of a cyclist.

Monsters: "There seem to be lots of very aware cyclists in this thread so perhaps I'm asking the wrong people- but why do some cyclists ignore stop signs and red lights? I noted up-thread someone describing 'no escape routes' while sitting at a red light. Can someone explain what this means to a noncyclist?
[snip]
Why do some cyclists ignore the traffic signals? Is there something I'm missing here?
"

You ask a good question Monster. Now, personally I don't jump red lights, nor do I ignore stop signs, but I understand what motivates cyclists who do.

One reason is, as a previous poster alludes, safety: it's *much* safer for the cyclist if they can make sure that they are across a junction before any traffic that starts off from the lights: some drivers will simply turn left (right in the US) without looking & it's better to simply be out of their way before they get the chance. The other (safe) alternative is to sit in the middle of the traffic lane and prevent the traffic behind you from overtaking until you're crossed the junction. In cultures where the car is dominant, such behaviour is often seen as 'status challenging' by drivers who will react aggressively: fortunately where I work in the UK isn't like this, but stories I've heard about drivers in the US suggest that such behaviour is much more common there.

A second reason is simple physics: stopping costs energy, which has to be regained with physical effort, it saves a lot of energy to simply coast through. You could argue that this is a selfish reason to jump the lights & you'd be right, but consider that traffic lights are put there for the benefit of motorised traffic, not pedestrians or cyclists, and that jumping them is an exercise who's extra risk falls almost entirely on the cyclist themselves: if they believe it makes their trip both easier and safer overall, at the expense of a little extra risk from cross-traffic when crossing the junction, then the decision to jump the lights seems quite reasonable all of a sudden.
posted by pharm at 9:00 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pro tip: pedestrians -- especially with dogs -- have just as much cause for concern regarding overbearing, much faster traffic as bikes do on roads, not all of whom are acting rationally themselves. It amazes me that many cyclists apparently forget all that as soon as they become the dominant (not necessarily in number) form of traffic on a given path.

As a pedestrian in Manhattan, this!!! I can't tell you how bad Manhattan bikers are, people actually call them two-wheeled SUVs because of the same type of arrogance and sense of entitlement. If you are ped in Manhattan and expect human powered vehicular traffic (bikes) to stop at a red light you are deluded, if you expect human powered vehicular traffic to go the right way down a one way street you are seriously deluded.

I think at least in New York, if bikers showed the same sensitivity to pedestrians as they want cars to show to them, well the fear of cycling might be diminished. This gives urban cycling - and urban cyclists - a bad image. Those pedestrians will eventually rent a car or a moving van. They'll remember getting nailed by a cyclist running through a red light. They'll remember.

This might not apply in the rest of the country where pedestrian commuters are ever rarer than bike commuters.

I don't think bikers in Copenhagen act like SUV drivers in Texas. In New York they do.


PS - Sorry if I am sensitive to this, but I walk to work. Let me tell you it used to be nice, now it is less so.


Re: the helmet controversy, could this be a "moral hazard" issue that libertarian economists are so fond of? i.e. in Copenhagen or Amsterdam, you've an old beater and bike fairly slowly, but in USA you've a helmet which makes you less inhibited than you would be if you were helmetless?
posted by xetere at 9:01 AM on October 6, 2009


"It's harder for me as a car driver to exercise due care, though, when cyclists ride through stop signs and red lights."

I think there confusion among drivers and cyclists in relation to traffic rules. Yesterday, I approached an intersection to see a twentyish guy walking his bicycle across the cross walk, who then proceeded to ride his bike on the opposite sidewalk. Having just missed being able to use him as a blocker for cross traffic and waiting at intersection, a car who had just seen the guy walk his bike across the street stopped to let me cross while cars were still cruising by in the lane farthest from me.

The guy who walked his bike across the street and rode on the sidewalk was simultaneously a pedestrian and a cyclist, creating confusion for the driver when he saw me. When I see traffic yield to a cyclist walking across a sidewalk, part of me want to say, "well what does it matter if I'm on a bike or off of it?" while another part would rather be treated as another vehicle.

Another situation would be a cyclist sitting at a red light, and then crossing the intersection in the crosswalk. The law likely says that the cyclist has run a red light, but in the mind of a cyclist, it seems like mere jaywalking, I mean "what does it matter if I'm on the bike or off it?"
posted by clearly at 9:05 AM on October 6, 2009


I'm suggesting that your risk assessment is a little inconsistent, that's all. Do you wear a helmet when in a car? Your risk of serious head injury (even with a seat belt and air bag) is fairly similar to that of a cyclist.

I would have to see exactly how you equate head injury rates in bikes vs. cars, because (like the cite above about comparative rates for cyclists vs. pedestrians), the rate is very different based on what variables you consider. But from a common sense perspective, I find it difficult to imagine that a helmet will make the difference in a car accident when the airbags, crumple zones and seat belts didn't.

I (like you and everyone else) balances risk assessment against the personal cost. I could armor myself thoroughly and be nearly invulnerable on a bike, but it would be a lousy bike ride and the cost wouldn't be worth it. Wearing a helmet is very low cost, and offers significant incremental protection, other things being equal. That's why I do it. Elbow and knee pads are borderline for me, but in the end my decision is that I'll risk elbow or knee injury while I won't risk head injury because the potential consequences of the latter are so much greater.

What I don't understand is the cyclist culture that tells me I'm being a bad cyclist for doing so.
posted by fatbird at 9:13 AM on October 6, 2009


What about gloves? I don't have a bicycle right now (and it's a bit late to get one this year), but when I get one I was sort of planning on getting motorcycle-style gloves to protect my wrists, because I'm scared of wrist injuries. In fact, I'd probably want to dork out and get the full bmx-style gear, with body armor and full-face mask.

Thanks, Stormy Monday, for so brilliantly illustrating the author's thesis.
posted by pascal at 9:14 AM on October 6, 2009


Fatbird: there's a cyclist culture that does that? I'm in Vancouver too, wear a helmet, and I've yet to come across it. Where did you meet these people?

The culture I have a problem with is the "safety culture" where any measure that reduces some risk, however tiny the original risk was, comes to be seen as "common sense". This is how we end up with poor souls like Stormy Monday contemplating wearing a full face and body armour to ride to the supermarket, and every child being ferried to school in an SUV.
posted by pascal at 9:24 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


By coincidence, I wore a bike helmet this morning for the first time in ages.
While living in London I would wear a helmet... most of the time, before that in Oxford not at all. Even in London it didn't seem necessary - for the most part the traffic moves very slowly and I'm (usually!) a very alert, conscientious and pro-active cyclist.
Now having moved back to Canada I'd been commuting daily with just a baseball hat on my head if anything, and for all sorts of reasons hadn't bothered getting a helmet. But this is a city full of cautious, conservative people so most commuters wear a helmet, and I guess I felt that not wearing one was kind of an affront or a challenge to them, so a couple of weeks ago I figured I would start wearing one as well: to at least offer the perception that I was a responsible adult.
But I still wasn't convinced, and even after the helmet arrived (a very cool 'Catlike' model that I ordered through Wiggle in the UK) it sat in its box in my kitchen. Did I really want to start using this thing? Anyway, last night for reasons I'm not even sure of I said fuck it, and unwrapped it and tried it on, and as of today I guess I'm a helmet-wearer.
posted by Flashman at 9:24 AM on October 6, 2009


there's a cyclist culture that does that? I'm in Vancouver too, wear a helmet, and I've yet to come across it. Where did you meet these people?

I'm referring to the larger cyclist culture in evidence in this thread and others on MeFi about cycling, and the links provided.

I only started bike commuting about a month ago, after sporadic cycling around Stanley Park, and so far I've found Vancouver to be very bike friendly and very safe-feeling. The cumulative effect of these threads, though, had me imagining a Mad Max cycling world where pickup trucks full of people with spiked baseball bats were waiting for me to dare to set wheel to pavement.
posted by fatbird at 9:32 AM on October 6, 2009


Pascal: you can meet them on the internet, specifically in the copenhegenize.com blog this is linked in the post.
posted by bdc34 at 9:32 AM on October 6, 2009


Having read the article...

Can I, as both motorist and cyclist, urge cyclists to wear high-visibility something, or really good lights? Because I've been shocked as a motorist to realise how low light can affect visibility of cyclists, especially in urban areas where the eye becomes accustomed to seeing tail lights = all road traffic. Get those flashing LED ones, or wear a tabard. Even "good" drivers can kill you if they don't notice you.

I don't wear a helmet. If I understand the statistics correctly, I should wear a helmet - when I'm drunk and a pedestrian. Who's with me? No?
posted by alasdair at 9:36 AM on October 6, 2009


As if one or two posters on sites like Copenhagenize represent anything like a "larger cycling culture". Personally I don't really think there is a "cycling culture", just people who ride bikes. FWIW, I don't believe there is a "driving culture" either.
posted by pascal at 9:43 AM on October 6, 2009


Not even on Copenhagenize will you read anything telling you that you are a bad cyclist for wearing a helmet. You may find a lot of opposition to helmet legislation and fear-based promotion, but you won't find anything telling you that you are bad cyclist for wearing a helmet (e.g. For those who follow this blog it can hardly be a secret that we firmly believe that bicycle helmets should be a private matter and a personal choice ...).
posted by ssg at 9:47 AM on October 6, 2009


I think this guy is reading _way_ too much into helmet campaigns. The only association I've ever gotten from helmet ads is "Hey, if ya fall off your bike, wearing a helmet might prevent serious head trauma."
I mean, suggesting that helmet campaigns make people think bicycling is dangerous makes about as much sense as claiming that "Click it or Ticket" makes driving dangerous.


Really? The guy goes on to describe imagery similar to that used in anti-smoking campaigns, and you don't think that is meant to convey the message "this is dangerous"?
posted by Chuckles at 9:54 AM on October 6, 2009


PS: Fatbird - congratulations on starting commuting by bike, don't let the assholes (myself included) put you off.
posted by pascal at 9:56 AM on October 6, 2009


As if one or two posters on sites like Copenhagenize represent anything like a "larger cycling culture".

They're not the major axis of the culture. It's every thread on MeFi (and elsewhere that I've seen) that's chock full of complaints by cyclists about jerk drivers and jerk pedestrians and jerk safety laws; it's the endless anecdotes about bikes crushed and near-misses with clueless bus drivers; it's the palpable fear cyclists radiate in threads like the recent bike-courier death in Toronto, and the defensive tone of justifying blasting through red lights and stop signs as a safety measure; it's the Critical Mass threads where cyclists equate riding en masse to the great civil rights marches of the 60s; and it's the links above where the inherent danger of cycling is portrayed as a social construct who's purpose is to discourage cycling.
posted by fatbird at 9:57 AM on October 6, 2009


PS: Fatbird - congratulations on starting commuting by bike, don't let the assholes (myself included) put you off.

Thank you, I appreciate that, and I won't. It's just that, now that I'm a cyclist, I'm noticing an almost paranoid undercurrent in the larger cycling community that I find a bit strange.
posted by fatbird at 9:59 AM on October 6, 2009


You could argue that this is a selfish reason to jump the lights & you'd be right, but consider that traffic lights are put there for the benefit of motorised traffic, not pedestrians or cyclists, and that jumping them is an exercise who's extra risk falls almost entirely on the cyclist themselves:

I may have a different impression of lights than you do b/c New Yorkers walk so much, but I completely disagree that lights are not for pedestrians or cyclists and that jumping lights is a risk only to cyclists. When I'm crossing a street where I have the right of way, I don't expect a cyclist to go barreling through. Well, actually, I do expect that b/c I've lived and walked in New York long enough to know that too many cyclists are assholes. (Too many pedestrians are assholes too, but that's been beaten to death in this thread.)
posted by Mavri at 10:03 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's the cycle paths that really scare me.
posted by Kabanos at 10:11 AM on October 6, 2009


2 They reduce the number of people who ride.
... I don't care about 2.


You should.
The only factor that has been shown to unarguably reduce the rate of injury to road cyclists, the factor that nobody and no study disputes, is the number of cyclists on the road. The per cyclist reported injury rate always falls as the proportion of the population a locality increases. Any factor that is a possible disincentive to bicycling should therefore be considered detrimental to safety until convincingly demonstrated otherwise.
posted by normy at 10:13 AM on October 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


"a social construct who's purpose is to discourage cycling"

I think you are reading one step too far into the original article - I don't believe the author proposes that the current fear associated with cycling is a result of deliberate actions to create it, but instead is the accidental side effect of well meaning attempts to, well... save lives.

You mention the "inherent danger" of cycling - but here's the problem: in some parts of the world, cycling is a lot less dangerous than others. So based on this, the danger "inherent" in cycling itself must be the something less than the danger associated with cycling in, say, Amsterdam. So really, the thing we should be looking at is why some parts of the world are much more dangerous to cycle in. Why are North American cyclists so accident-prone? My suspicion is that the answer is not 100% to do with the cyclists.
posted by pascal at 10:13 AM on October 6, 2009


always falls as the proportion of the population a locality increases

always falls as the proportion of the population cycling in a locality increases

Sorry. Crappy netbook keyboard is my lame excuse.
posted by normy at 10:15 AM on October 6, 2009


Mainly what scares the everlasting fuck out of me is the cars.

Favorited for truth.

As someone who got hit by a taxi and broke my hip socket and elbow 6 months ago and is still recovering, I'd say that hip, knee and elbow pads are far more important than helmets. ;)

(Personally, I'm opposed to any mandatory helmet laws for cyclists (there's really no comparison between a motorcycle and bicycle helmet), but I wear one myself. I've been split on it forever, but I wear one mostly to make my wife and daughter feel happier.)

Anyway, I thought it was a great article, and got me to think about cycling issues in new ways.

I also had never seen the (most excellent) blog, so thanks for the post.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:22 AM on October 6, 2009


I understand the Copenhagenization argument, and agree with it insofar as it articulates a correlation between the number of cyclists and the safety of those cyclists on a municipal level. And it's not that I blame cyclists themselves for the dangers they face, except insofar as they directly court those dangers with reckless riding or cluelessness.
posted by fatbird at 10:26 AM on October 6, 2009


Thank you, I appreciate that, and I won't. It's just that, now that I'm a cyclist, I'm noticing an almost paranoid undercurrent in the larger cycling community that I find a bit strange.

You'll find out why soon enough.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:28 AM on October 6, 2009


Thanks for your serious helmet-risk answer pharm, I was just trying to make the same point as smably and the OP. A real risk-analysis approach to this issue would look at cascading causes, such as:

1 risk of collision/impact (e.g. per cyclist-mile, per hour)
2 average severity of collision/impact (e.g. kinetic energy, obstacles)
3 probability of injury types/severity (e.g. crushed chest cavity, scratched hand)
4 health effect of each type/grade of injury (e.g. band-aid or stretcher)

As mentioned above, helmets only reduce the health effect of a moderate-grade head injury, which is a subset of the lowest rung of the cascade. At motor vehicle impact speeds, your neck will snap anyhow, and car doors will still break your collar bone regardless.

Reducing collision risk, reducing severity of collisions, reducing the probability of severe types of injury... these are all opportunities for city street designers, traffic law designers, signage designers, education programs, bike designers, etc. etc. etc. And the effect of a small percentage improvement in each of them multiplies through, improving all causally-downstream conditions. Until you get to the bottom rung, where helmets have their effect. And that's without entertaining the "risk-homeostasis" idea that helmet use leads to more risky cycling or more efficient/aggressive driving behaviors.

The advantage of the bicycle is that you're maneuverable and immersed, and your monkey-brain reflexes make it surprisingly easy to not collide with most things (factor #1 in the tree). It's hard to imagine how rarely falls happen, but it's easy to imagine (or recall) how badly cyclists do after a crash takes place.

Malcom Gladwell (love him or hate him) has a great take on the psychology of safety. Very relevant here.
posted by anthill at 10:48 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


And, sorry to contribute to thread derail, but as a die-hard cyclist I heartily encourage NYC pedestrians to carry a cane or umbrella. Just poke it towards the cyclist's wheels as they go by, they'll get the point. It's easier than stopping a taxicab!
posted by anthill at 10:52 AM on October 6, 2009


I also had never seen the (most excellent) blog

Echoing this. The guy who runs the site (but didn't write the linked article) is a total mensch. He also oversees Copenhagen Cycle Chic. I was doing some research on urban planning in Copenhagen and dropped him a line. He found me a rental bike (from the excellent Baisikeli, which I can't recommend more highly), toured me around the whole city, shared a mountain of knowledge and anecdote - and, yes, treated me to a lengthy rant on the dubious benefits of helmets.

FWIW, I've been a fairly frequent urban cyclist and dedicated helmet wearer for a decade in two Canadian cities with mediocre to lousy cycling infrastructure (Calgary and Toronto), and I rode in Copenhagen without a helmet and felt perfectly safe. But of course it's got the best urban cycling infrastructure in the world, so it's hard to compare with other places. Bike lanes run alongside major commuter arteries, but with their own surfaces and little curbs, sometimes even more robust physical barriers (e.g. traffic islands planted with trees) to separate them from the cars. At major intersections, the stop line for bikes is a few metres in front of the one for cars, so that car drivers can see the bikes waiting there; bikes also get a green light on their own separate traffic lights a couple seconds ahead, so they're already into the intersection before anyone can even think about a right turn. The city's got a whole department dedicated to bike planning. Etc., etc.

Because of all this, a whole wide and varied swath of the general public cycles in Copenhagen with a frequency unseen in any North American city I've visited. Moms with three kids piled in their cargo bike's carrier. Business guys with briefcases strapped to the rear fender and cell phones in their hand. Septugenarians in sportcoats smoking pipes. (I shit you not.) The sheer volume of bike traffic makes it feel about as dangerous as a Sunday stroll down the boulevard. From that vantage point the quasi-professional protective gear worn in many North American cities does indeed look ridiculous.

Without a doubt, the single biggest variable in urban commuter biking safety is volume of cycle traffic, and Copenhagenize's point is that you can only get that volume if you find a way to get past the armoured, lycra'd, self-marginalized hardcore to the mainstream. And if you build a culture of fear around urban cycling it doesn't help. Add to that that the data doesn't conclusively (or even strongly suggestively) argue that a helmet's going to be effective in a serious collision anyway, and it does begin to take on the aspects of a cycling analogue to the security theatre of the contemporary airport.
posted by gompa at 10:53 AM on October 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


There is a Monty Python skit: the 100 yards for people with no sense of direction [begins at ~0:20]. It's exactly like that when you ring your bell.
Except in japan, where it's like this.
posted by anthill at 10:59 AM on October 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


Yeah, to flesh out my helmet views a little better; it may well be true that a helmet does nothing of benefit in a head-on-pavement collision...

Excuse me? I did a face plant after going over my handlebars right into concrete and walked away with mild scratches and a bruised jaw. The helmet did plenty in that head-on-pavement collision.


Yes! it's the RANDOM PANIC OH NOES I HEARD A BIKE BELL! that's the killer.

I have exactly the opposite reaction. I started out saying, "On your left!" and people inevitably were drawn to their left. But... I got a bell and no more problems whatsoever. I ring for EVERY pedestrian on the path. If they look like they are particularly clueless or have a dog, I ring from quite a distance off, then ping again as I come closer. If there is no indication they have a clue to my presence, I'll start pinging repeatedly until they react. With a bell, there is no social interaction or invitation to engage like there is when you speak the magic words, "On your left!" People don't change paths, they don't look around. They just wave a hand in acknowledgment and you know you're good.


I don't wear a helmet. Don't intend to wear one because doing so makes me feel I'm doing something unsafe

That's the same logic as closing your eyes as a dog attacks you because you're afraid of dogs. Not confronting the risk does not make the risk go away. It doesn't make cycling safer, it just makes you feel better.


However, building segregated lanes for bikes definitely works,

Incorrect. Sure, segregated lanes work while they are segregated, but they inevitably cross motor traffic lanes, usually at intersections when people already have lots of things to keep track of. Then you dump the bikes in. Not so good.


Interesting how everyone seems to have an anecdote about a cyclist friend who got in an accident and had some terrible head injury. I'm sure most people in this thread also know someone who has been in a car accident and suffered a head injury.

No, I don't. I have an anecdote about how my own noggin was protected by a helmet, and I have a story about a pretty terrible car accident my son was in. Three people were involved; they all walked away. No, of course they didn't have helmets, but they did have airbags. The point is that cars have many levels of protection that bikes don't; it's not just the frame around the occupant, it's the electronic stability control, the anti-lock brakes, the airbags, all working to protect the occupants of the vehicle. You don't have any of that on a bike. A helmet seems like a modest, sensible measure to take. And I'm glad I did.

My style of riding is best described as vehicular cycling. I wear a helment. I like to think that anyone who rides a lot will eventually come to the realization that these are good things to do; they are like common sense to me now. But I also realize that mandating vehicular cycling, helmet use, bicycle training or any other thing that is good for cyclists as individuals will keep lots of people off bikes. So I just try to do the best I can do and trust that others will find their way. And I recognize that their way might be different than mine. Whatever. Just ride.
posted by Doohickie at 11:01 AM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have vivid memories of a bicycle-helmet PSA where a kid on a bike runs into an old woman with a bag of groceries. One of them is carrying a watermelon and the camera fallows its trajectory through the air in slow-mo all the way to the inevitable conclusion. The kid, who is wearing a helmet, stops to consider the watermelon and then happily bikes on his way. The obvious messages from the PSA are that A) cycling is dangerous and B) a helmet will help reduce the danger. Telling people that cycling is dangerous is not the way to encourage them to cycle regularly.

In the Canadian cities I've lived in: Toronto, Waterloo and Winnipeg I've found drivers to be pretty willing to share the road as long as you ride like you drive (or at least ought to drive). Waterloo, perhaps due to the high percentage of university students was the most bike-friendly in terms of respect by other drivers. Toronto (416) is good, but once you go out into the suburbs (905) things start to suck, as does going past the on-ramps to the 401. In Winnipeg no one knows what they're doing, drivers or pedestrians, so within that context bicycles do alright. There's been a big debate here (Toronto) about adding bike lanes (which I personally don't see the value of, just ride like you drive) and the "war on the car" that the city is waging but the fact is it's an easy place to ride year-round and the more we can encourage people to do so the better off we'll be.

My only experience with cycling outside of Canada is in Japan, where nobody wears helmets and almost nobody rides on the road. Bikes are just a cheap, easy way to get around and people aren't caught up in the dangerousness of it all. I loved the fact that all kinds of people rode everywhere (old ladies going shopping, middle-aged men going to work, young couples double-riding on dates, ...) but missed the culture of riding on the road (because riding on the sidewalk with all the pedestrians and obstacles is slow).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:04 AM on October 6, 2009


From a dutch point of view most of this thread seems to be written in some sort of parallel universe where people wear helmets while taking a bath. They just might slip.

/Online culture shock.
posted by Sourisnoire at 11:13 AM on October 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


The problem with helmets is the *emphasis* on them, not that they aren't useful (in some circumstances). How often have you seen: (a) a PSA advocating helmet usage, vs (b) a PSA warning you not to bike against traffic or passing cars on the right or having lights on your bike? I bet you've seen a lot more of (a) than (b). And yet being a better cyclist (and that means knowing *how* to bike in traffic, being visible, having lights, knowing how to recover from sand or gravel) is statistically speaking more important than a helmet (that is, the majority of serious injury accidents occur to cyclists engaging in dangerous choices like riding at night without lights). Moreover, public projects to improve the flow and safety of city streets are also more likely to be important to cyclist (and pedestrian) safety than merely wearing a helmet.

The current state of bicycle safety programs in the US is seriously as if, during the 70s and 80s when severe drunk driving was routinely done by a lot more people, we just told everyone to buckle up, instead of trying to stop people from driving drunk in the first place. "Yep, nothing to be done to decrease the likelihood of a crash in the first place; you'll just have to wear head-to-toe body armor while cycling. Cheers!"
posted by R343L at 11:16 AM on October 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Mavri: Some people are just jerks whether they're on a bike or not.
posted by pharm at 11:24 AM on October 6, 2009


Less than 2/5 of that article (in whole) is about helmets. 90% of the posts here are about helmets.

This just proves the articles point about helmets (all 2/5 of it.)
posted by toekneebullard at 11:31 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Less than 1% of posts to MetaFilter are about beans. 90% of all discussions eventually involve beans.

I'm not sure what this proves.
posted by maudlin at 11:33 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The point is that cars have many levels of protection that bikes don't; it's not just the frame around the occupant, it's the electronic stability control, the anti-lock brakes, the airbags, all working to protect the occupants of the vehicle.

Some quick Googling gives me this:
In the United States traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death for persons under age 45. TBI occurs every 15 seconds. Approximately 5 million Americans currently suffer some form of TBI disability. The leading causes of TBI are motor vehicle accidents, falls, and sports injuries. ...
If there were some way to stabilize the head when driving - akin to wearing a mail suit from the Middle Ages - more people would walk away from automobile accidents without serious brain injury.
So despite all these safety features, vehicle accidents are still the leading cause of brain injury.

Maybe we can agree that drivers in vehicles without airbags or modern safety features should wear helmets?
posted by smably at 11:37 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Really? The guy goes on to describe imagery similar to that used in anti-smoking campaigns, and you don't think that is meant to convey the message "this is dangerous"?

"You can get seriously injured if you fall off your bike" does not equal "Bicycling is dangerous."
In the same way, "Buckle your seatbelt while driving" does not mean "This is the most dangerous activity you will do all day"(even though it probably is).

Informing people of the risks inherent in bicycling (and driving and walking and whatever else we do PSAs about) is not the same as "OMG, cycling is incredibly dangerous, you might as well drive), which is what Dave Horton is implying.
posted by madajb at 11:47 AM on October 6, 2009


From a dutch point of view most of this thread seems to be written in some sort of parallel universe where people wear helmets while taking a bath. They just might slip.

Hah, love the pink umbrella in your second link!
posted by madajb at 11:49 AM on October 6, 2009


In terms of hours-per-injury, Bicycling actually has a better rate than even walking (Something like .25% rate of injury),
Surely for those of us who cycle for transportation, though, the correct comparison would be injuries per mile, rather than injuries per hour.

I can't really get behind the anti-pedestrian sentiment. I am sometimes annoyed by pedestrians on the mixed-use path that I use to cycle between home and work. I wish they'd stay to one side, and I wish they'd keep their iPods at a volume that allowed them to hear me. But basically, I think that pedestrians and cyclists are on the same team. And since a lot more people are sometimes pedestrians than are sometimes bike riders, I think that alienating pedestrians is counterproductive.

Anyway, I wear a helmet, but I found the series pretty interesting and provocative.
posted by craichead at 11:54 AM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think that, rather than PSAs convincing people that helmets are great, there should be skilled social manipulation to improve people's views of helmets.

Brad Pitt walking into a bar in his next movie and plunking his bike helmet down on the bartop would do more to encourage helmet-wearing than 10 years worth of crappy PSAs.
posted by gurple at 12:17 PM on October 6, 2009


Less than 2/5 of that article (in whole) is about helmets. 90% of the posts here are about helmets.

To be fair, most of the article is logical and well presented. The most controversial/contentious part is about the helmets, which is why it becomes the de facto subject. That's just metafilter.

Also, the Gladwell article attempts to explain the mindset of the pro-helmeters, i.e. "feeling safe has become more important than actually being safe"
posted by mrgrimm at 12:25 PM on October 6, 2009


Brad Pitt walking into a bar in his next movie and plunking his bike helmet down on the bartop would do more to encourage helmet-wearing than 10 years worth of crappy PSAs.

So you haven't seen Burn After Reading, I take it.
posted by The World Famous at 12:36 PM on October 6, 2009


So you haven't seen Burn After Reading, I take it.

I hadn't, and thanks for the link, but I think my point still stands. There's a difference between showing a cyclist as a [caricature of a] cyclist and showing them interacting normally in normal places. Kind of like the difference between a gay character and a character who is gay.
posted by gurple at 12:42 PM on October 6, 2009


This thread has so many great links now. Thanks! I'll toss in link to a vendor I love because I haven't seen anybody talk about xtracycle. I love my xtracycle. More than any other single purchase it has gotten me out riding more and more happily.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 12:49 PM on October 6, 2009


normy:
The only factor that has been shown to unarguably reduce the rate of injury to road cyclists, the factor that nobody and no study disputes, is the number of cyclists on the road.

I believe that but I live in Ithaca NY. Weather and hills are what people use as excuses to not bicycle. Fear comes in a distant third. I commute by bicycle year round. I'm not going to convince a useful number of people to get out on the road with me in January. On the other hand, when I'm riding in the dead of winter drivers really notice me and give me room.
posted by bdc34 at 2:04 PM on October 6, 2009


I believe that but I live in Ithaca NY.

I don't see your name mentioned anywhere in the original post.
posted by pascal at 2:12 PM on October 6, 2009


I made it only a third of the way through the thread before jumping here to vent, so please pardon the repetition if this has been mentioned already.

(I'm essentially echoing these sentiments above, if you wanna save some time)

In the wake of the recent Bryant/Sheppard tragedy here in Toronto, cycling has again briefly grabbed a bit of mindshare, but in most media outlets the cycling discussion has centered around making helmets mandatory, and also about some sort of licence regime for cyclists. This is despite the fact that the tragic outcome of the Bryant/Sheppard incident would not have changed one whit if helmets were mandatory.

What mainly sets me against making helmets mandatory is that, here in Toronto, it's an easy fluffy feel-good move that allows legislators to put off the much harder issues around making Toronto a bike-friendly city. (no surprise there, Toronto has been neglecting transportation infrastructure for a few decades now). And as already pointed out, public education re cars and bikes together is very inadequate.

Let's be clear- wearing helmets is an issue of personal protection; it can alter some outcomes, but it does about nothing to reduce accidents. Enact a mandatory helmet law, and you'll just get cops out looking for bare heads.

I also believe that cycling is, like walking, a basic right, and I oppose doing anything that acts as a barrier to entry.

Disclaimer: I most often wear a helmet when cycling. Really. You should too.

But, yeah, let's move past the mandatory helmet thing and look at more ways to make cycling mainstream in North America.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:56 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


So from this thread I can only derive three things.

1. Helmets shouldn't be mandatory so Darwinism can take it's course.

2. Anybody not a cyclist is evidently an obstructionist "idiot" or a "moron" that had better get out of the way of cyclists.

2. Cyclists don't seem understand why they are perceived as entitled self righteous assholes.
posted by tkchrist at 3:18 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


3. I just saw "cycling" in the title and decided to shit on the thread without reading it.
posted by pascal at 3:24 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The author of these articles has addressed them at readers, readers who bicycle, and attempts to convince the readers of several ways to changer behaviors and policies to improve things. Most of these ways involve increasing the number of people who bicycle or removing counterintuitive barriers to people taking up cycling as a hobby or practical activity.

I am one of these readers and utilitarian bicyclists who the author and publisher would like have read their articles. Maybe I'm missing your point? I hope to benefit from the insights of these articles but I am afraid that the geography of my town is unsuited for utilitarian cycling on the scale of Copenhagen, especially in the dark half of the year. I'm not going to go to our town meetings to oppose the building of a multi-use path or liner park even though I think they are death traps. Other than my own helmet wearing campaign focused on my head, I can find no pro-helmet conspiracy to fight. Riding on the icy winter roads does make cycling look mainstream to mainstream people.

Personal Check List:
Fear of cycling - don't have it.
Helmet Promotion - not interested unless wearing a helmet is promotion.
New cycling spaces - If those are like parking spaces, I want them, if not then I'm not interested.
Making cycling strange - guilty.

Copenhagenize the planet, good day.
posted by bdc34 at 3:28 PM on October 6, 2009


Cyclists don't seem understand why they are perceived as entitled self righteous assholes.

Please to expand, Mr. T.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:32 PM on October 6, 2009


3. I just saw "cycling" in the title and decided to shit on the thread without reading it.

Well. I read the thread and here are some choice quotes:

"...Also - pedestrians are the biggest dickheads going around."

Anyone who walks a dog on a shared bike/pedestrian path who expects EVERY cyclist to slow down just in case they can't control their dog is a selfish moran.

It's so simple, it's mind boggling how many idiot pedestrians I see.

And there are more. Now sure these seem to be fro only one or two posters. But I'm hardly thread shitting I just didn't want to get in a flame war with one particular person by singling them out.

Hey. Though I'm sure you really felt like you really scored a coup there.
posted by tkchrist at 3:37 PM on October 6, 2009


Please to expand, Mr. T.

Re-read this thread and use your imagination.
posted by tkchrist at 3:38 PM on October 6, 2009


I also find it depressing that so many of the most avid cyclists are consistently anti-pedestrian. It's your classic "he shit on me, so I'll shit on you" situation where, since bike riders can't do much about the real threat (car drivers) they take out their hostility on people who are below them in the safety hierarchy (and yeah, bikes can scare and injure pedestrians).
posted by serazin at 3:46 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Artful Codger has made some insightful comments about bicyclism in the city of Toronto, where the art of cycling is in state of transition right now. I agree, and I also most often wear a helmet, but I do not want legislators to force anyone to do so.

Car-oriented municipal politicians encourage the bicycle-helmet debate in order to discourage implementing the planned bike-lanes in Toronto, which are wayyy behind schedule.

If you want to read more, look at this thread on Spacing.ca.
posted by ovvl at 3:47 PM on October 6, 2009


Serazin, it's even worse: now pedestrians are taking out their hostility on each other!
posted by anthill at 4:00 PM on October 6, 2009


"I just didn't want to get in a flame war with one particular person by singling them out."

So in other words, rather than call out particular people for saying things you believe to be stupid, you decided to make sweeping generalizations about all cyclists. Good to see you taking the high road.
posted by pascal at 4:07 PM on October 6, 2009


It's too bad that a lot of cyclists express their attitude toward pedestrians in ways that make it sound like they hate pedestrians. But I think the main reason for this is economy of language.

For myself, as a commuting cyclist, I have unpleasant interactions with pedestrians daily. Because of the confusing and unrealistic juxtaposition of cyclists and pedestrians on a too-narrow path, with a streetcar stop thrown into the mix, I am often confronted with pedestrians who are not prepared to travel on a path shared with cyclists and may act somewhat confused as to how to integrate with other users of the shared space.

Or, more simply:

Every single damn day, I have to hit the brakes and ring my bell frantically to try to get tourists without a clue to snap out of their iPod-comas and stop wandering aimlessly around the "mixed-use path". I try to be friendly about it.
posted by gurple at 4:08 PM on October 6, 2009


So in other words, rather than call out particular people for saying things you believe to be stupid, you decided to make sweeping generalizations about all cyclists. Good to see you taking the high road.

Sweeping generalizations? What are you iching for a fight or something?

Why you singling me out when there are at least four other people doing basically the same thing. Ease off.
posted by tkchrist at 4:14 PM on October 6, 2009


tkchrist: Nothing personal. Your post struck me as a particular blatant example of a fairly annoying genre. Let's move on...
posted by pascal at 4:36 PM on October 6, 2009


Pascal: And what annoys me is the knee-jerk affront to only one set of Sweeping Generalizations while ignoring the most egregious and hostile. IE: The ones most insulting about pedestrians that I was pointing out. Pedestrians should take offense. Which we ALL are. Well. Those of us with legs, anyway. Oh the irony.

But. Yes. Let's move on.
posted by tkchrist at 4:41 PM on October 6, 2009


Look, will all of yous get outta my way, I'm walkin' here!
posted by anthill at 4:43 PM on October 6, 2009


The problem with taking the high road is that it's full of pedestrians, and they're jerks.

Every single damn day, I have to hit the brakes and ring my bell frantically to try to get tourists without a clue to snap out of their iPod-comas and stop wandering aimlessly around the "mixed-use path".

That means you're riding too fast on the mixed-use path.
posted by The World Famous at 4:45 PM on October 6, 2009


That means you're riding too fast on the mixed-use path.

Absolutely agreed. I'm going too fast for the ridiculous path.

In an ideal urban-planning world, I'd be in a separated bike-only lane, or I'd be sharing the street with cars. Unfortunately, our fair city saw fit to install bike-tire-hungry streetcar tracks in the street where I would be riding, so it's the path for me.

The path where the cyclists ride too fast, the pedestrians blunder about too aimlessly, and too many people of both stripes wear headphones. It's about 6' wide.
posted by gurple at 4:52 PM on October 6, 2009


Interrupting tkchrist's derail only briefly to link to this little item that made it into the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, pointing to how mandatory helmet law in BC (1995) decreased the incidence of cycling head injuries... by apparently decreasing cycling.

Legislation is no substitute for education.
posted by Artful Codger at 4:54 PM on October 6, 2009


That means you're riding too fast on the mixed-use path.

Agreed. We cyclists want motorists to be considerate of us on notionally "mixed-use" roads, and ought to extend the same tolerance to mixed-use paths. And really, if everyone were to be cycling, not just those of us who are fit and gung-ho, most cyclists would be pretty slow and annoying to fast riders too.

Having said that, this is why I hate mixed use paths. Footpaths for pedestrians, cycle lanes for cyclists (preferably separate to the roadway) and we can all move at the pace we want.

Where I live city authorities have a terrible mania for building mixed paths along scenic routes, complete with promotional material showing happy rubbernecking tourist types on bikes, completely ignoring the fact that most of the cyclists in the city are commuters who want safe corridors across the city. In other words, they exhibit one of the faults described on the linked site, which is treating cycling as a recreational activity rather than an everyday means of transport.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:55 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dedicated bike paths - wide ones - would be awesome. Before my office moved a while back, there was a fantastic mixed-use path that no pedestrians used that was wide and far from traffic and brilliant.
posted by The World Famous at 5:00 PM on October 6, 2009


Having said that, this is why I hate mixed use paths. Footpaths for pedestrians, cycle lanes for cyclists (preferably separate to the roadway) and we can all move at the pace we want.

Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
posted by parudox at 5:05 PM on October 6, 2009


In an ideal urban-planning world, I'd be in a separated bike-only lane, or I'd be sharing the street with cars. Unfortunately, our fair city saw fit to install bike-tire-hungry streetcar tracks in the street where I would be riding, so it's the path for me.

Unfortunately for you, you don't live in an ideal world. Learn to cope with the one you've got.

I rode home today down some of the busiest streets in town (one of the 20 most populous cities in the U.S.) I rode in the zone I mentioned earlier- somewhere between the left tire track and the space between tracks. Cars went around me. Nobody honked at me. Several waved. One gunned his engine while passing me, but I think it was mostly because when he changed lanes there wasn't a huge spot in traffic for him. A typical commute.

Sometimes for a change of pace I go over to the MUP and ride that a while before heading toward home. It adds a few miles to the commute, but it's generally a pleasant experience, even with the dog-walking, pram-pushing pedestrians. Heck there's even a guy that walks two dogs, one on each side, while riding a tadpole recumbent. The first time I encountered him, I didn't think there was enough room to pass, or that the dog on that side of the trike would snap at me. I dinged my bell, he shifted right about an inch or two, and I rolled on through.

A nod to each other, and I was on my way. I encounter him all the time now, no big deal.

It's a question of cooperation. Give and take. Courtesy. As cyclists we are on both ends of the power curve- on the road we are the vulnerable slow-pokes; on the MUP we are the speedy vehicles. I find it disappointing that so many people can be on both sides of this equation and not get it- not understand the give an take of it all.
posted by Doohickie at 5:55 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Doohickie -- I'll sing amen to that too. I don't see a conflict between having an ideal goal for how I want my city to be, and being a nice person in the city the way it is now.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:04 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Artful Codger: It would appear most of the remaining people are discussing pedestrian and cyclist etiquette. Which was exactly my point.

So as much as I'd like to take ownership, nor even could we call the topic a derail, I can't (the only person who seemed intent on making it derail, dropped it).

But thanks for the props. I guess.

And as I said before I agree mandatory helmets laws are dumb. Natural selection will sort it out. Really. Wearing helmet or not is one of the few places "the Market" will likely accurately self select.
posted by tkchrist at 6:13 PM on October 6, 2009


I was thinking about these essays on my ride today (even us lycra-clad1 meatheads still manage to think occasionally). I think that the big hole in Horton's argument is that cycling is perceived as more dangerous than it actually is not only for his collection of sociological reasons, but for a bunch of simpler reasons.

I ride a lot and surely spend more time on my bike than in a car, but I still feel subjectively safer in a car. In fact, if I hadn't had a look at some of the studies, I'd find it fairly difficult to believe that cycling is roughly as dangerous as driving. Surely part of that is because society makes cycling strange and so on, but I think a lot of it is just physical. In a car, I'm protected from the weather, the wind, bumps in the road, etc., while on a bike, I'm right out there. Not only that, but I'm surrounded by a bunch of moving hunks of metal that weigh at least ten times as much as I do. Riding down the hill from my house at 50+km/h feels a lot more dangerous than cruising on the highway at 100+km/h in a car. I think the difference is processed at a pretty basic level.

Less significantly, cars are designed and marketed to feel much safer than they are. Auto makers spend billions to make cars feel safer. That's not some kind of conspiracy; that's just competition. Biking feels less safe in comparison, especially when you are used to driving.

Also, cycling feels dangerous among cars because drivers tend to behave erratically around cyclists. I think that a large part of the problem is that drivers are largely not able to process the different speeds of a wide range of cyclists, not to mention pedestrians, etc. To drivers, anyone not in a car seems to be moving slow enough to consider as nearly stationary. The result is that cyclists are cut-off in various ways, ignored at intersections, etc.

Yet even with all those unpredictable cars, cycling remains relatively safe. To me, it seems more useful to emphasize that cycling is not, despite appearances, all that dangerous. I don't think that if all the problems Horton covers were solved tomorrow everyone would suddenly feel safe on a bike. That takes time and data.


1 People wear cycling clothes while cycling because they are comfortable, functional, and aerodynamic. They aren't doing it to make you mad!
posted by ssg at 6:17 PM on October 6, 2009


2. Cyclists don't seem understand why they are perceived as entitled self righteous assholes.

I just didn't want to get in a flame war with one particular person by singling them out


You are referring to me. You are probably one of those clever people who can get your point across without resorting to the vernacular. I admire people like that.

But moron is what moron does. Pedestrians in my city behave like selfish morons.

wanting people to share "shared paths" and use basic common sense + me using strong language = entitled self righteous asshole

That's crazy logic. And you've got me completely wrong. I'm very meek out there on my bike. I even politely thank morons for getting out of my way even though they are behaving like morons. I figure it will help modify their behaviour just as much as "keep left, ya idiot!" and maybe it won't ruin their morning constitutional.

But I still reserve the right to post comments on the internet calling 'em how I see 'em.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:32 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


And just to reiterate. I am a pedestrian too. I've walked a mile in their shoes. and now I have their shoes ;)

The tiny tiny amount of effort it takes not to inconvenience every single cyclist who goes near you... gak... I'm almost lost for words how stupid and/or selfish some people are.

Entitled self righteous asshole???!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:48 PM on October 6, 2009


...Aaaaaaand scene.
posted by tkchrist at 6:59 PM on October 6, 2009


That's sounds ominous.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:03 PM on October 6, 2009


If you're going to warn pedestrians, start well before you think they can hear you. A constant ding approaching them from the rear lets them know where you are and how fast you are moving, while a single sudden ding ten feet back startles them into that stupid behavior that is so dangerous for everyone.

I run red lights and stop signs, but only if I can see that it will inconvenience no one. Why? Because if I stop or slow, I have to get up to speed again. If you're in a car, that's trivial, just put your foot on the gas, but if you're on a bike, it takes effort and adds significantly to travel time. In a car, you have limited awareness, and you come up to an intersection too fast to fully absorb the situation. On a bike, you're out in the open and can see, hear and smell what's happening early enough to stop or slow as appropriate...or if you can't, you're going too fast.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:19 PM on October 6, 2009


Since I don't have a bell I warn pedestrians with a firm, loud, but polite "I'm just on your right" then I thank them when they make room. That's IF I need to warn them.

I find bells have a funny frequency where the sound can be carried away in the wind. Popular myth has it that Perth is the 2nd windiest capital in the world behind Chicago.

Car drivers that fret over cyclists breaking the law? That's just so precious on a number of levels. Most of the time it doesn't inconvenience them so... it's all just a circle jerk that I haven't got time for. Plus the whole Jesus "cast the first stone" thing.

Not a red light runner myself, except at crazy hours when the streets are empty. I will roll thru stop signs.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:07 AM on October 7, 2009


Re: Obeying traffic control devices or not. I basically follow the "Idaho Law." In Idaho, a cyclist may treat a Stop sign like a Yield sign, and a Red light like a Stop sign. I pretty much do that. My key criterion, though, when doing this, is that I don't even come close to violating another vehicle's right-of-way. And the cops around here seem to be cool with that.
posted by Doohickie at 6:27 AM on October 7, 2009


I guess I treat stop signs like yield signs. I come as close to a stop as I can without actually getting off my bike, and then I go if the coast is clear. I do stop at stop lights, though, and then I wait for them to turn green. I've got one hairy stoplight where the multi-use path intersects with a major street, and I often get off and walk my bike across the street. The bike path is parallel to a major street, and the cars turn from the parallel major street to the perpendicular major street without looking for cyclists on the bike path. It's annoying to get off the bike and walk it, but I suspect that getting hit by a turning car is more annoying.

The law around here is that bikes are vehicles and are subject to the same laws and fines as cars are. The cops do ticket people on bikes for things like going the wrong way on a one-way street. I think it's a good thing: one way to signal that we're entitled to be treated like vehicles is to hold us to the same standards as other vehicles.
posted by craichead at 8:49 AM on October 7, 2009


Unfortunately for you, you don't live in an ideal world. Learn to cope with the one you've got.

That was precisely my point -- the appropriate etiquette for a given area has to be responsive to the reality of that area. It's not black and white, much as people would like it to be.

I choose to ride on the MUP because there are no other realistic options -- I ride next to tracks elsewhere on my commute, but literally no one does it on this street (lousy configuration, multiple angled crossings, etc). There's a lake in the way on the other side, so the MUP is the only route.

Like every single other rider who rides this very popular section, I ride on the MUP. And I have to brake for pedestrians who are not considering the P to be MU at all. I ride faster than those pedestrians would like me to ride (probably about 15mph), but I've never had so much as a close call -- I brake, I warn. Just like everyone else on that stretch.

The only real alternative would be to get off my bike and walk it. I could do that. I'm not going to, and neither are any of the other 200ish cyclists who pass through there every day. It's not because we're assholes (or not only because we're assholes), it's because it's the only way to make a cycling commute possible for a fair chunk of town.
posted by gurple at 9:21 AM on October 7, 2009


I basically follow the "Idaho Law."

Such an exception would be suicide (or more likely homicide) in NYC.

It's the same reason that as far as I know New York City is the only place in North America with a blanket no right on red law. Can you imagine how a right on red might play out on 5th Ave. at 5:00 PM?

I can only speak in New York, and as a pedestrian, I think this is one of the reasons for the bike vs. ped wars. In New York (City) especially Manhattan, the Idaho law is stupid. There is simply too much bike and ped traffic, not to mention car traffic. I think, and I know I am generalizing here, that most urban bikers and bike commuters in New York City aren't native Noo Yawkuhs, ergo, their sensibilities their bike "teeth" as it were, were cut in places where peds were even rarer than bikes, and the Idaho law made sense. I think they figuratively don't "see" peds in the same way that car drivers don't "see" bikers in all of the country.

I've seen this from bikers who run red lights, and while doing so only look for on coming car traffic on a one-way street and it is splat right into a ped who is legally going across the crosswalk. The biker first shouldn't have run the red light, but second, because biker doesn't have a pedestrian mentality - it never occurred that someone would be walking across in the same way it doesn't occur to a car that a bike might be making a turn, or might be in the bike lane when you open your car door.



So in New York to make biking less cary and more accepted

1) Slow down - especially on shared paths which might have kids or dogs. I mean really come on people!
2) slow down and WALK YOUR BIKE where the sign says you must do so, if they are doing construction on shared paths - 59th street bridge for example where the already skinny shared path halves in mid span because of bridge maintenance. Scares the shit out of me to walk that on week-ends.
3) respect pedestrians, to them you are a somewhat smaller car.
4) hell walk to work sometimes, it is slower but it is even greener than biking.
5) ban cars altogether from Manhattan and then bikes can just have the streets (so long as they follow traffic laws)

Can't we all just get along?
posted by xetere at 9:45 AM on October 7, 2009


I think the "bell video" from Japan is great. It really illustrates the following. If you spend any time cycling in a city with plenty of cyclists on the road you will find that folks just have a second nature about how to react to bikes. In fact even in cities that don't have lots of cyclists but do have tons of scooter riders (Rome) you will find that drivers of cars are super cautious about not moving into the area of their blind spot with out checking first. It just becomes second nature and it would here too if more folks where on the road on bikes.

I also think the helmet fear mongering is dumb, misses the point and is a barrier to riding. The thing is that once you get in the habit of wearing a helmet it is not really a big deal. Pretty much like wearing a seat belt, if I don't have it on I notice for awhile and think, "this feels strange", not having one will not however stop me from riding/drivng.

Another thing that you will notice in cities with heavy bike use is that the whole issue of bikes following the same rules of the road as autos is pretty loose. If in a congested area or area with fast moving vehicles riders take caution and are careful to stop, give way etc. In other areas less critical, plenty of folks go the wrong way, coast through intersections, stop in front of the stop line and ride on the side walk. That is the great thing about bikes they are so much lower impact that they can do things that cars can't and not screw it up for everyone else.

What you do not see often in cities with many cyclists are people hunched forward over the handle bars in a aggressive position clad from head to toe in some kind of strange cult like attire, feet locked to their pedals, roaring through intersections shouting at people to get out of their way. (If the truth be told most folks acting like jerks while cycling are out there trying to make a living and just like the cab and truck drivers can get out of control after a day of dealing with being on the streets. You can see crazy moped delivery guys in Amsterdam too.)

I suspect that the what is a larger barrier to riding in the US is the "fashion" of biking, ( of which helmets are just a part), promoting performance machines, versus comfort and all the cycling attire that seems to be mandatory.

To be on the right side of what is hip in many urban areas of the US one needs to be riding a fixed gear bike, these bikes are simply not for most people, and contribute to bad intersection behavior due to the fact that is much easier to just keep moving then to stop on a fixed gear. ( which is also what makes them tons of fun to ride)

But worse of all is the rest of the cycling attire. Most folks just plain do not need to wear stretch fabrics when on the bike to go a couple of miles down the street or for a hour or two for fun on the weekend. It is hard too to think of a bigger pain in the butt then having to switch to a special pair of shoes to go for a ride, many of which are not only uncomfortable to wear off the bike, but yes, dangerous. Perhaps if you are zooming along in the pack while racing or careening down hill on a trail they are a necessity. Or if you are a avid amateur and like the way it feels to have that kind of connection to the bike so be it. But for just riding your bike.....

The fact of the matter is that cycle shops make very little money from the sale of the bike you buy, the big mark up is in the accessories and the struggling bike shop ( and most are) will of course push these items.
posted by flummox at 9:58 AM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


xetere: Montreal also has a blanket "no right turn on red" law too. I can see why this is a good idea as well, here in Vancouver "right turn on red" seems to encourage drivers to ignore pedestrians on the crosswalk.

But... I've never been to Idaho and to NYC only a few times, but I believe the "Idaho law" only applies to intersections controlled by "Stop" signs and not those controlled by traffic lights - and I think in NYC the kind of intersections where you believe "yield not stop" for bikes would be suicidal are generally controlled by traffic lights, right? It's been a few years since I was last on 5th Avenue but I honestly don't recall there being a lot of 4-way stops.
posted by pascal at 3:21 PM on October 7, 2009


flummox: +1 on riding fashion. I really like what Rivendell has to say about this although I fear that the whole retrofogey-brooks-saddle-porteur-bike thing is itself becoming a craze in which people are encouraged to part with large sums of money in order to make exactly the right anti-fashion statement.
posted by pascal at 3:42 PM on October 7, 2009


I've been an urban cyclist in Chicago or NYC for the last 20 years, and all this is prolix. It is the cell phone that we need to be talking about. The last 5 years have been increasingly hellish. And it's not just texting/talking drivers that are the problem - pedestrians on the phone are inexusably dense themselves, and bicyclists on cell phones are just stupid.
posted by DenOfSizer at 5:19 PM on October 7, 2009


It's the same reason that as far as I know New York City is the only place in North America with a blanket no right on red law. Can you imagine how a right on red might play out on 5th Ave. at 5:00 PM?

Not really. I've been to NYC a couple times, but that was 25+ years ago and I really have no concept of how traffic is different there.


I believe the "Idaho law" only applies to intersections controlled by "Stop" signs and not those controlled by traffic lights

The "Idaho law" is basically this:

1. For an intersection controlled by Stop Signs, a cyclist may treat them as Yield Signs if there is no violation of another vehicle's right of way.

2. For an intersection controlled by Traffic Lights, a cyclist may treat them as Stop Signs if there is no violation of another vehicle's right of way.
posted by Doohickie at 7:43 PM on October 8, 2009


teh whole idea that you only need to worry about head injuries if you're riding hard is just plain silly. I've laid down on my bike three times, and they were all at low speed.

I've never hit my head. I plan to be wearing a helmet if I ever do.

also: wearing a helmet is just not that hard. I have a really hard time buying that helmets are a significant impediment to increasing ridership.
posted by lodurr at 2:49 PM on October 28, 2009


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