Cyclists Run Over Helmet Law Idea
Former Mayor Bruce Todd's proposed mandatory bicycle helmet ordinance coasts to a stop for now
Outside City Hall Thursday, all of the permanent bike racks were full, as were three temporary city-provided racks and at least two set up by Bicycle Sport Shop. Nearly 150 people signed up to publicly disagree with Todd, and the hearing turned into one of the largest congregations of Austin's young and old bike communities in recent memory. Many of the speakers identified themselves as cyclists who ride as a mode of transportation rather than for sport. Before expressing their individual disapproval of the proposed law, virtually all of the speakers agreed that helmets were a good idea, if properly used. Instead of spending the evening spanking Todd's ordinance, however, cyclists used the opportunity to articulate to the dais their demands for safer, more bike-friendly streets. Those demands ranged from actually implementing the city's comprehensive bike plan, first drafted a decade ago, to putting in more bike infrastructure, better signage, improved education for all road users, and tougher law enforcement for motorists who injure or kill people on bikes.
Cycling instructor and transportation consultant Preston Tyree, who signed up as a neutral speaker, perhaps best framed the debate by saying, "The real issue of public safety here is not in passing an ordinance that may increase the use of helmets if it is enforced, but in doing those things that allow us to avoid cyclist crashes in the first place. ... Cyclists are citizens and, through necessity or choice, ride our public roadways. It is the city's responsibility to keep these streets safe for all users."
Asked Monday whether he'll change his focus from what's been a singular pursuit of the helmet law to encompass the other safety efforts many called for, Todd said, "There's no question we need the total approach," but he remained emphatic about the helmet law's "low cost and high benefit" and said other infrastructure-related tactics "will take a lot of time and money." Todd said he initiated an ongoing dialogue with the Austin Cycling Association (which opposed the helmet law) months ago, and he plans to serve on a city cycling-safety committee. "I've offered to raise money from the private sector for anyone who cannot buy a helmet," a promise Todd said he'll keep regardless of the helmet law's success.
In June, the 1,500-member Austin Cycling Association voted against a mandatory adult helmet ordinance for the city of Austin, instead recommending a community awareness and education outreach campaign with the goals of reducing bicyclist crashes and strongly encouraging adults to voluntarily wear helmets. The following is a list of activities the association recommends to improve bicyclist safety and to reduce the social, physical, and economic cost of bicycle crashes to individuals and society:
Steps to Safety
Adult (and child) bicyclist safety education
Widespread community campaign to encourage bicycling and voluntary adult helmet use
Low-cost and no-cost helmets for low-income adults and children
Roadway designs that accommodate bicyclists
Share the Road campaign
Enforcement of existing traffic safety laws
Bicyclist and motorist traffic-ticket diversion program