It’s All Relative

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Albert Einstein

Mike Rubbo & Violetta Brana-Lafourcade have recently published another excellent short film looking at the success of the Barcelona bicycle hire scheme, called Bicing.

In it they interview Esther Anaya, a Bicycle Mobility Consultant working for the city of Barcelona whose focus is on the Bicing system, introduced in 2007.

They have discovered that more cyclists on roads and pathways has resulted in an increased perception of safety – and actual safety due to the safety in numbers effect. As more cyclists travel the city’s streets, motor vehicle drivers modify their behaviour accordingly. This perception of safety can still be seen in Barcelona’s busy streets as people new to cycling opt to ride slowly on the footpath, rather than on the roads. What is Barcelona’s response to such riders? Force them onto the road? Force them to wear helmets? No. Their response is to calm & slow the motor vehicles.

She comments that if you send the message that cycling is safe by actively promoting it as such then it becomes safer. If you send the message that cycling is dangerous, then it becomes more dangerous. One way of sending the message that cycling is dangerous is to force bicycle riders to wear safety equipment – such as bicycle helmets.

Perception is Everything.

To the non-cyclist, requiring safety equipment by law sends a strong message that ‘this is a dangerous activity’. Often this will be all it takes to discourage them from taking to a bicycle. The actual level of safety is irrelevant. It is also very difficult to change this forged opinion in the public mind despite strong evidence to the contrary.

Imagine for a moment if we had to dress up like this, by law, to drive a car anywhere:

This tells me that driving a car is a dangerous activity. Guess what? It is. Yet we don’t dress like this when driving a car, despite it being much more dangerous than riding a bicycle. Nobody is calling for mandatory car helmets. Why is that?

In 2009 there were 1,052 car occupant deaths from a total of 1,509 ‘road user’ deaths (including only 31 cyclists). That is the equivalent of 2.5 fully loaded Boeing 747 aircraft crashing each year – with no survivors. Because most of the population drives and the deaths are spread out, it barely registers.

Perhaps you could write a letter asking our politicians why bicycle riders are forced to wear helmets while car occupants are not. Or send a letter asking for an exemption for bike share bikes.

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