Dear Senator, I'm Pro-Choice and I Vote!
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!