Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Melbourne making the news

One of my favourite things about people is their varying interests and how passionate they can be about them. I used to love watching the medieval fighting club at university in orientation week. Some of them travel around the world with their cardboard swords and shields for meetups.

The internet has made pursuing your interests much easier and more rewarding. You can get to know people from around the world who share you particular passion. I have a peculiar interest in looking at pictures of pretty women on bicycles. It is as if Copenhagen Cycle Chic was invented just for me but amazingly there are people everywhere not only following that site but making their own copies.

I also have a bizarre obsession with railway trains.

With the Internet, news in your particular area of interest can travel very quickly. And so it is with Melbourne's new bike share scheme. It is a great idea that is just not catching on. It has been discussed on Copenhagenize, Mike Rubbo's site, Real Cycling and also by that sarcastic guy from Waltham Forest in London. And it's not looking good. Even Andrew Bolt had a serve.

The general concensus seems to be that mandatory helmet laws are getting in the way of it. The argument is that the bike share scheme is aimed at tourists and other people who may wish to make a quick trip on a bike. The helmet laws remove all spontenaity. If you are a tourist planning to spend a day exploring Melbourne on a bike, you'll probably think ahead and organise headgear. If you are an office worker going to a meeting on the other side of the CBD but close to another docking station, you may suddenly have a brainwave and what to take a hire bike but the lack of headgear gets in the way.

I think it is impossible to say for sure whether it is all to do with the helmet laws but I think there is an argument there. Unsurprisingly, the issue has raised yet again the helmet debate. I am no expert but I have tried to read up on the subject and from what I can tell, whether helmets offer protection and the extent of that protection depend on the study. It is not conclusive either way but if Melbourne bike hire is anything to go by, they do seem to be a barrier to cycling.

The concensus on the blogs I have read seems to be to let adults decide. I have to say it is a view I support. If you are speeding along a main road on a road bike in a racing position, you will probably wear a helmet. If you are speeding down a hill on your mountain bike, you will probably also wear a helmet but I think a different type. Perhaps not so though if you are pottering through the neighbourhood on your Dutch granny bike with a baguette and some leeks in the basket.

Where they are not compulsory, people seem to wear helmets for different reasons. It may simply be because it makes your husband or wife feel better (I would probably be one of them if helmets were not mandatory).

My biggest problem with mandatory helmet laws, particularly in this country, is that they have become a cop out. Every piece of government published literature about cycling warns people to wear bright yellow and put on a helmet but there is really nothing else done to protect cyclists. Helmets may indeed make a difference in certain limited circumstances but they are of limited use when you are hit behind by a car travelling at 60 km/h or hit from the side by a truck with a bullbar.

I do not think that helmets themselves discourage cycling. Mandatory helmet laws might but the strongest deterrent is the lack of genuine safety. If people do not feel safe using roads, they will not do so and will not allow their children too. Those countries where cycling's modal share is highest do not have mandatory helmet laws, although many people choose to wear them, but they do have something very different from those countries with a low cycling modal share.s

Looking around the world, there is a clear link between cycling's modal share and the quality of infrastructure. Even inside the Netherlands, cycling's modal share varies between cities and the quality of the infrastructure you find there. Stephen Yarwood is totally on the right track.

(Borrowed from here)


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