Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Culture of fear

Mikael Colville-Andersen, of Copenhagenize and Cycle Chic fame, speaking today at the TEDx Copenhagen event. Good articulation of the 'culture of fear' - especially surrounding bike helmet use - and how it negatively impacts cycling rates. He points out that a helmet promotional campaign in Denmark (of all places, where cycling is incredibly safe) had the effect of significantly decreasing the number of people willing to bike.

Please, don't respond by thinking 'yeah but I flew 40 feet off my bike and would've cracked my skull open if I wasn't wearing a helmet'. Because first of all, slow down a bit please, maybe reconsider HOW you ride. Sorry, but we need to look at ourselves somewhat in this country, I will say it.

Partly it's the emphasis on biking as sport, not transit. It's also a hangover of the so-called 'vehicular cycling' mentality that has characterized much of our biking for a few decades: ride in traffic, as traffic, claim your lane. Well, if you swim with sharks, you might get eaten. That's also what pisses drivers off the most, a situation in which we can only lose. Or at least look fairly unappealing decked out like a Christmas tree with the requisite lights and reflectors - not to mention the glare off your white knuckles.

But that's all starting to change. Part of the citizen cycling idea is that we can all be ambassadors of a better, safer, more serene and elegant way of cycling that can actually seduce more drivers to get on a bike. Then everyone wins, drivers and bicyclists alike. There's no better way to re-humanize our cities.

Also, as Mikael points out, the evidence of helmet effectiveness is quite split in the scientific community. It's important to be open to the big picture that he presents. That bikes are such a powerful tool for transforming our urban landscapes in a positlve way, on so many levels.

Bottom line, bike as you want, wear a helmet, or don't, but please don't succumb to a psychology of fear. Just bike.

1 comment:

  1. Culture of fear sure is scary : )
    I totally agree that cycling is made to be a dangerous thing to do and the whole thing about helmets probably doesn't help.
    I watched the video and what I do not understand is how come people still want to drive even though cars are required to have seat belts and airbags. You would think from the speakers logic that this would make driving seems dangerous and make people not want to drive. Also, there are tons of adds and stuff about the dangers of drunk driving, yet a ton of people do it.
    So, it seems to me that this whole thing is far more complex than the speaker makes it to be. I think we should focus and making streets safer for cyclist and also having cyclist riding more safely ( slower and following more traffic rules). Not that rules as they are now make sense for cyclists. And less time on the helmet debate.
    Btw the speakers web site seems to love people riding and using the cell phones. Maybe helmets don't help, but riding distracted sure seems like a stupid thing to do.