Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

The Contrarian approach to traffic

with 6 comments

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian weighs in on a silly controversy in the British Press over this picture. She isn’t wearing a helmet

Elle bike and child

Elle bike and child

But her son is and is also sitting on the handlebars. Jenkins is quite right to point out that they are a lot safer that way. Drivers give a wider berth to riders without helmets.

“The world’s most celebrated cycling country, the Netherlands, has just 1% helmet use and has the safest cycling record anywhere. It has one third the cycling death rate of Western Australia, which has the most draconian law. The Dutch Cycling Council declares that helmets “increase cycling speeds and encourage riskier cycling behaviour …They also reduce the care motorists give to cyclists”.”

And he also gets into the Hans Monderman stuff – covered here extensively, as well as the success of the various “naked streets” like Kensington High Street.

I know I have spent some time on this before, but I make no apology for bringing it up again. The conventional wisdom holds sway in defiance of the evidence. Enormous amounts of effort have gone into making cars safer – mostly for their occupants – and into separating out cars from other road users. And our urban spaces have suffered a degradation as a result. But far worse is the decline in the care we take for each other. Cocooned in our padded shells, we speed around and the only interaction with have with other road users is to hurl abuse and make rude gestures.

Given that the rate of casualties is not getting any better you would think that more practioners would show some ineterst in understanbding why matters have deteriorated this far, and start thinking about what can be done to change it. But sadly we do not seem to be capable of making this kind of change. There’s too much traffic so we must build more roads. Gas is getting too expensive so the government should step in and punish the oil companies. The deregulated financial markets are falling apart so the rest of us have to pay to protect these profiligate clowns from their idiocies and greed – another bigger bail out is already in the works as AIG is only the first of many needing cash  – now. There are some days when there really does not seem any more point arguing about why saving civilisation may actually be more important than ensuring we all can get cheaper gas. Rationality and careful analysis having no place in a world run by sound bites.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 18, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Posted in politics, Road safety

6 Responses

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  1. I love it when you rant Stephen! Great post.

    Anyway, for those interested in cycling and how to improve it, check out John Pucher’s lecture from a few months back at SFU:

    Basically he covered the same ground, but it was a great talk nonetheless, one I wish that this region would take to heart. Despite it being sponsored by TransLink, there seems to be a disconnect between the idea and action in cities here.

    The missed chance to do something decent for cyclists on Cambie is a prime example of that, even if CoV was the one responsible; it’s a region-wide problem I think.


    September 18, 2008 at 9:37 pm

  2. Have you some evidence for the drivers driving too closely to helmeted cyclists? I thought the Bath university one had been failry haevily criticised.

    Again, I’m not doubting you -in fact from personal experience you’re right, but I’m just after more evidence to quote when people shout at me for not having a helmet on.

    Andy in Germany

    September 19, 2008 at 12:17 am

  3. People who shout at you are not interested in academic papers! Citing references only wins arguments in a scholarly atmosphere – not the street. In this case I am just repeating what Simon Jenkins says.

    For what it is worth I always wear my helmet here – even if I am not on a public highway – but when I was in Paris, didn’t, because it is not the law there.

    I note too that people who do mountain biking on challenging trails (not something I do) always wear helmets. So do those kids on BMX bikes.

    I think that breaking the law is not something to undertake without good advice and only if you are prepared to pay the penalty if apprehended. Equally, I think we should be treated as adults and allowed to make our own risk assessment and wear helmets when we think it is appropriate. BC is not Holland – or France – and even if the helmet law were abolished, I would wait a while before abandoning mine to see how drivers were responding – if at all!

    Stephen Rees

    September 19, 2008 at 12:18 pm

  4. “People who shout at you are not interested in academic papers! Citing references only wins arguments in a scholarly atmosphere – not the street.”

    Fair comment…

    I find Germans tend to respect people who know (or say they know) what they are talking about. They may not agree with me but they keep quiet after that and may leave me in peace. It hasn’t always worked, but it helps.

    I still wear the helmet at times -usually where I feel the surface is a bit treacherous or I haven’t been able to check it. I’ve discovered the joy of an Xtracycle is that the helmet can be swallowed by the luggage carrier when I’m not wearing it.

    Andy in Germany

    September 20, 2008 at 6:17 am

  5. I take it you realise that here in the Netherlands where we have most of these “naked streets” they are not very popular.

    Disabled organisations, blind organisations, old people’s organisations and cyclists both fast and slow all complain about this.

    David Hembrow

    December 2, 2008 at 1:08 am

  6. Popularity is not the same thing as effectiveness. By any objective measure, they are successful in reducing vehicle speeds which means any collisoins that do occur will be much less severe. I was also under the impression that the rate of collisions was also reduced significantly. Of course it could well be that over time people start behaving differently as they get used to the idea. One of the impacts of naked streets here would be that they are so unusual, drivers have to change their behaviour.

    Road signs and painted lines are of little use to blind people anyway. And of course they expect a very much higher standard of awareness from sighted people. Which usually we do not afford them. People here park in disabled spots that are very clearly marked – and they have all sorts of rationalisations why they do that. That does not make their behaviour acceptable nor does it mean that we should not reserve places for people with disabilities.

    Stephen Rees

    December 2, 2008 at 8:23 am

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