When I launched Vélo Vogue in 2008, I was incredibly inspired by the Cycle Chic movement. It was a brand new way of not only perceiving how a person chooses to get from point A to point B, but more importantly, it was a way to connect with kindred two-wheeled spirits all over the world, from Canada to Brazil, to England to South Africa and more. Vélo Vogue has opened many doors and showed me new paths, and for that, I am eternally grateful. But now in 2015, our bike culture has evolved. We've entered into a new dialogue. We talk less about what we wear while we're biking, and more about a new world order, where our very existence on this planet is challenged by climate change, where capitalism has prioritized profit over people, and all other life forms become collateral damage. Where women and people of color still cannot feel safe in public places. We live in a world that is unacceptable. The bicycle, as someone I know once said, is quite literally a vehicle of change. So it's up to us bike people to help create a new world. And by us, I mean YOU and ME. So here's what I'm doing. Thanks to Vélo Vogue, I have been inspired by people worldwide whom I've met through our online global bicycle community. And since I'm a filmmaker, I decided the best way that I can contribute to the shift towards livable cities--and a livable planet--was to use film to tell the stories of the people I've met: exceptional individuals who made a choice to opt out of fossil fuels and opt in to pedal power. So from here forward, my gift to you is Velo Visionaries. Episode 1: Chris Carlsson is one of the original co-founders of San Francisco's Critical Mass. He also co-founded Shaping San Francisco, a participatory community history project documenting and archiving overlooked stories and memories of San Francisco. Chris is the author of three books, "Nowtopia," "Vanished Waters: A History of San Francisco's Mission Bay," and "After the Deluge." Episode 2: Morgan Fitzgibbons is the co-founder the Wigg Party, [freespace], the Urban Eating League and the NOW! Festival. He is also an adjunct professor of Environmental Studies at the University of San Francisco and he holds a Masters degree in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Through this ongoing series, you can perceive the world through the eyes of some very inspirational people through a fresh, new lens, and ride along with them on their favorite paths in San Francisco and beyond. I won't be posting on the blog anymore, but if you want to continue to follow my work, please subscribe to the Velo Visionaries Vimeo Channel or YouTube Channel. You can also still find me in the same old place on Facebook and Twitter where I post about issues concerning bike culture. So that's what I am doing to change the world for the better. What about YOU? Be inspired. Be the change. Ride on.
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” - Susan B. Anthony
Chris Bruntlett, blogger, writer, bike advocate from Vancouver, B.C. has some insight regarding the effectiveness of a mandatory helmet law for cyclists, as is currently proposed in California. We can learn from the failure of this law in Vancouver. This article first appeared in Hush Magazine on August 7, 2012. Please note: statistics cited may be outdated. Take it away, Chris. “When it comes to the big helmet debate, I believe in choice. Much like many other things in life, such as; smoking, drinking, eating fast food, and having unprotected sex. All of which affect our health care system far more than riding your bike around the seawall without a hideous mushroom cap on your dome. Are we going to make it the law to wear a condom or give out tickets to fat people? I am not opposed to wearing helmets, especially for children, and if one often takes long rides in traffic or along the highway, but for a leisurely ride around Vancouver? I choose to not wear one, and I think people should decide what’s right for them, like most places around the world.” -Mimi Lauzon, Bicycle Babes I have a confession to make: I consciously and blatantly break the law on a daily basis. Every morning, I kiss my wife and children goodbye, and ride my bicycle slowly along a 5-kilometre stretch of protected bikeway to my office, where I work as a Residential Designer. It is a simple act. One that should be encouraged and celebrated, as it is in 99% of the world’s great cities. But rather, because I choose to do this without a piece of Styrofoam on my head, I am labeled a criminal, and face being charged by the Vancouver Police Department under Section 184 of the Motor Vehicle Act (as I have twice). This despite the fact I am not riding a Motor Vehicle, that I feel perfectly safe riding the city’s plentiful bike lanes, that I am statistically safer than a pedestrian crossing the street or even a driver sitting into a car, and that my choice of transport is far more economically and environmentally beneficial to the city. When British Columbia first passed its adult bicycle helmet law in 1995, it was widely accepted as a sensible initiative to promote and increase road safety. The City of Vancouver followed suit shortly thereafter, passing a by-law that made it illegal to ride on city paths and seawalls without a helmet, under punishment of a $100 fine. Now, seventeen years later, it is undeniable these laws have not resulted in any of the benefits that were promised. They have not saved lives. They have not reduced healthcare costs. They have not increased road safety. It is therefore not surprising that only a handful of jurisdictions (BC followed Australia and New Zealand; the Maritime provinces followed us; then nothing) have since instituted such laws, while the rest of the world has recognized them for what they are: a complete disaster. The most significant impact of criminalizing cycling without a helmet is the simple fact that the majority of people won’t bother. In particular, short, slow, utilitarian pedestrian-like bicycle trips to the grocery store or restaurant become a rarity. In a province facing the growing healthcare costs of 1.5 million obese or overweight people, this is of grave concern: especially when it is abundantly clear that the health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks. Almost every study on the impact of mandatory helmet laws show a 30%-50% decrease in cycling rates, and up to 80% in some demographic groups, such as young females. The cost of this inactivity to society, in both lives and dollars, is monumental. It has been estimated that New Zealand’s helmet law contributes to 53 premature deaths per year, while Australia’s costs the taxpayer around $301-million in healthcare expenses annually. Bike-share systems are another area where mandatory helmet laws become extremely problematic. Since the Vélib’ launched in Paris five years ago, the City of Vancouver has been studying the idea of a bike-share of our own. The lengthy delay has been down to one factor: how do you force people to wear helmets for a spontaneous, short trip on a shared bicycle? Meanwhile, over 300 cities around the world have passed us by, including such cycling hotbeds as Omaha, Houston, and Kansas City. Only three have attempted to do so under a helmet law: Melbourne, Brisbane, and Auckland, all of which were colossal failures. Vancouver tentatively plans to launch a system in spring of 2013, which will be significantly smaller than its Montreal and Toronto counterparts, and (laughably) includes helmet-dispensing and sanitizing machines. All of this notwithstanding the fact bike-share programs have proven to be incredibly safe; London, with far fewer traffic-calmed streets than Vancouver, hasn’t experienced a single serious injury after 4.5 million trips. Unfortunately, neither the BC Liberals nor the NDP want to revisit this law, which also remains popular amongst the motoring majority: drivers who are freely allowed to smoke, drink, and eat as much fast food as they want, with no thought of the healthcare costs they impose. Even more disappointing has been the lack of leadership from Vancouver City Council, with Mayor Robertson and Councilor Deal both calling the law “appropriate”, and insisting the long-delayed bike-share program will proceed without any exemption. However, there is a small but growing number of local activists who are speaking out against the law, calling themselves “The Church of Sit-Up Cycling” (in reference to one exemption from the BC helmet law: “conflict with an essential religious practice”) and launching a call to action: http://www.helmetchoice.ca. I stand proudly with the “Church”: the adult helmet law is a direct contradiction to our city’s goal of becoming the “World’s Greenest” in eight short years. It’s time to abandon the idea of helmet regulation, and try something new: increasing cycling safety through numbers and infrastructure, as they do in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Montreal, and New York City. Then, and only then, will the bicycle stand a chance of becoming a viable and widely accepted mode of transportation in Vancouver. I, for one, can’t wait. All photos and words by Chris Bruntlett, unless otherwise noted.
Let's talk about safety. I ride a bike everyday in San Francisco. Mostly I ride without a helmet. When I go on a long bike ride, or bust out my road bike with skinny wheels and clipless pedals, I'll often don a helmet because I might be riding at faster speeds, or in windy conditions where the bike might fall over with me on it, without enough time for me to put my foot down and get my balance. But when I ride my everyday-bike to get from point A to point B, like commuting or running errands or meeting friends, the only headgear I'll wear is a warm hat, or my Giants cap if I'm going to a game. I do this for three reasons. First of all, I ride really slowly, in control of myself and my surroundings at all time. I ride slowly enough to avoid potholes. I'm a defensive rider so I anticipate the behavior of drivers and avoid them. Secondly, I am making a social statement. I'm telling the world out there that riding a bike is not dangerous. It's safe, especially when there are more people on bikes on the road. So when a driver yells at me from the car window that I need a helmet, I usually tell them that they actually need one because you're far more likely to get injured or die in a car than on a bike. This leads me to my third point: I'm making a political statement. Our lawmakers must realize that it's not bike helmet laws that we need, but bike infrastructure, and lots of it. In our cities, in our suburbs, across the whole state of California, across the entire nation, continent, hemisphere, world. Cities like Copenhagen understand this. When I was visiting in November, what was in abundance was a connected network of separated bike lanes that were used rain or shine by all types of riders of all ages, genders and classes. It felt as safe as safe can be, whatever hour of the day, even during commute hour. Street traffic flowed seamlessly, and not once did I encounter an altercation between a cyclist, a pedestrian and a motorized vehicle. Everyone had a place on the road. We coexisted in an urban harmony. And just when it seemed that the conditions for cyclists in California were beginning to improve, when more people are choosing a bike as their primary means of transportation in urban environments, Senator Carol Liu throws a wrench in our spokes: SB 192 would make it mandatory for all Californians of all ages to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle. And The Great Helmet Debate begins once again. Pro-Helmet people will tell you that helmets save lives and protect your brain from injury. Pro-Choice people will tell you that wearing a helmet does little to nothing to make cycling safer on our streets. Lawmakers are not scrutinizing the real issue - WE NEED SAFER STREETS. And by safer streets, I mean we need BICYCLE INFRASTRUCTURE on our streets, including protected bike lanes, bicycle traffic lights, bike boxes, and more. Cars have infrastructure. Pedestrians have infrastructure. Bicyclists need infrastructure too. And bicycle infrastructure, just like the helmetless riders in Copenhagen will tell you, will protect you much more than a piece of plastic on your head. The true problem is that California is a car-centric culture. The entire state was built in a way that favors car transportation. Even in places like Davis, Berkeley, Palo Alto and Long Beach, where bike infrastructure is pretty good, we still have a long way to go to make all types of cyclists feel safe enough to use bikes as an everyday transportation choice. Being Pro-Choice is not being Anti-Helmet. I'm not saying you shouldn't wear a helmet. Do it if you feel safer wearing one on your bicycle, but don't make me or other Californians who don't want to wear a helmet wear one. A Pro-Choice California would turn the discussion back to the root of the issue - real bicycle safety through real bicycle infrastructure. Please read this fantastic list of facts about SB 192 presented by the California Bicycle Coalition. And when you're done reading the facts, please sign their petition to stop SB 192. Tomorrow I will post an article from Chris Bruntlett, bike-advocate and one of the masterminds behind Modacity. Here's a pic I took of Chris and his daughter Coralie. Chris lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, a city with a mandatory helmet law. Chris will tell you why the helmet law isn't working in Vancouver and why California shouldn't adopt it. STAY TUNED!
My friend and "fellow" female film director/bike gal Laura Lukitsch has published a new webisode of her ongoing bike tips series on Youtube. This one is called "Outsmarting the Bicycle Thief." The film runs down all the do's and don'ts of locking up your bike, on the streets and in your garage. I see a lot of bikes that are locked up carelessly in San Francisco, and I hope everyone watches this fun short film to gain some valuable insight to keep your valuable ride safe and sound. Here's what Laura has to say: Last week I launched the latest of my Tips for Urban Biking Series where I am covering ten questions or roadblocks for people new to urban cycling. I started the series because five years ago, when I was first contemplating but fearing urban cycling, the majority of the cycling videos on YouTube were either of bikers doing stunts, riding messenger style, or talking about something technical. I didn’t intentionally set out to create my series for women, but looking at viewership statistics now, I’m surprised that upwards of 90% of the audience is men. I thought being a woman director and casting a wide variety of non-technical riders, I’d get a larger female audience. I would love for my web series to reach more women who have chosen the bicycle as their main form of transportation. The latest episode looks at tips and techniques for keeping your bike safe in the urban environment. Although this topic has been covered in numerous videos, Outsmarting the Bicycle Thief features a diverse cast of characters, including an Asian actress in the role of "The Thief." I hope you enjoy my perspective on this issue. Also, I’ve included tips on a frequently overlooked aspect of parking: where you park and lock your bike. More and more bikes are being stolen from garages and back yards, and we need to be aware of how to ensure our bikes remain safe. Please share Outsmarting the Bicycle Thief with your friends - bike gals and bike dudes alike!
Happy 2015! I can't believe we've gone back to the future already. At this time of year, we often reflect upon where we are, how far we've come and where we're going next. KT on that famous bridge in Copenhagen, November 2014. As you know, I've been taking a break from blogging on Vélo Vogue. This blog was an exciting project for me when I began in 2008. Because of this blog, over the years, I've met so many inspiring bike people around the globe. With Renata Falzoni, cicloactivista in São Paulo, Brazil Participation in this group has opened doors for me and shown me so many new paths. En route to bike camping in Calistoga I'm truly blessed to belong to the bike community. I've also enjoyed blending my calling in life (filmmaking) with one of my greatest passions (biking) through my feminist bicycle horror film, The Spinster. Making films by bicycle inspires me as a person, and pushes my creative limits. It's helped me learn how to capture the thrill of riding a bike and conveying that to the world in a fun and exciting way. It's allowed me to share with the world that we bike people are real people too, not just helmet/lycra clad weekend warriors, but real humans with emotions and feelings. Which brings me to January of 2015. I have begun a new bike-film project called Velo Visionaries, a series of interviews with great thinkers of today's global bicycle culture from the point of view of the person behind the handlebars. You don't need me to tell you that traveling by bicycle provides a unique perspective on your surroundings, often inspiring moments of insight and creating a profound connection to your community. Have a look at the first episode, and subscribe to the Velo Visionaries YouTube Channel, and let these visionaries tell you what thoughts swirl around in their minds while they're on the streets and in the saddle. I will be publishing more of these interviews/rides from here on out. Please enjoy, let me know your thoughts, and most importantly, RIDE ON!