Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mixed messages on bicycle safety

Riding a bike is particularly dangerous for children
 
When it comes to the cycling fad, the NY Times is schizophrenic: As a liberal publication, it wants to be fashionable and join other libs in encouraging cycling. 
 
On the other hand, it publishes responsible articles on the actual dangers of riding a bike, like riding without a helmet ("Grown-Up Cyclists Need Helmets, Too"):
 
Bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injuries by up to 88 percent and facial injuries by 65 percent, according to a Cochrane Database Systemic Review published in 2000. Bike riders who play against those odds do not fare well in accidents. More than 90 percent of the 714 bicyclists killed in 2008 were not wearing helmets, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
 
Last month the Times backtracked on helmets ("To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets"):
 
In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion. But many European health experts have taken a very different view: Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. But such falls off bikes are rare---exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems. On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles.
 
Of course no one is talking seriously about forcing adult cyclists to wear helmets. But how about just providing would-be cyclists with a realistic sense of the dangers involved? That's what's lacking from the bike zealots, including those here in Progressive Land.
 
Career bike messenger and author Robert Hurst recognized how irresponsible it is to downplay the real dangers of cycling:
 
Is cycling dangerous? Yes. Yes, it is. Deadly, no, but definitely dangerous. This is actually a controversial thing to say. There are those who bristle at any suggestion that cycling is dangerous, because they fear it will scare noncyclists away from ever ditching their cars and trying a more healthy form of transport. This is a good point, but it doesn’t change the fact that cycling is dangerous. This is not some urban legend that needs to be debunked. It is reality, and we need to embrace it (page 69, The Art of Cycling).
 
Turns out that riding a bike in New York is increasingly deadly, since the Times reports that fatalities for cyclists in that city are at an all-time high. The more people ride bikes the more injuries there will be, which is what's happening in San Francisco, too (see the 2010-2011 San Francisco Collisions Report, August 28, 2012, pages 21, 22)
 
But the most irresponsible thing the bike lobby in the city is doing is pushing people to let their children ride bikes on city streets. Hurst takes a dim view of that:
 
While [John]Forester claimed that even children could ride safely on busy streets using the vehicular-cycling principle, our way is unquestionably for adults…The streets demand from us an awareness and maturity that would be very rare in a child (page 66, The Art of Cycling).
 
The Bicycle Coalition still hasn't been able to convince many women that riding a bike is safe. Why is that?

The NY Times wrote about the above health hazard---you won't read about it on Streetsblog---for cyclists back in 2005.

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