Thursday, July 8, 2010

Helmet use

Previously I have posted on the controversial question of the impact of bicycle helmet use on the growth in cycling. Census and other data in Australia appears to show a correlation between the imposition of compulsory helmet use and a massive decline in cycling. Many have come to the conclusion that making helmets compulsory stifles the growth potential of cycling.

Well, I came across some interesting data from Portland Or. that would appear to contradict this. Portland has seen massive increases in cycling in the city thanks to a concerted investment in cycle infrastructure, as can be seen from this graph extracted from the Portland Bicycle Count Report 2009.There is so much to say about this graph, but I won't. Have a look at their reports on riders and ridership to see what every city who takes cycling seriously should be producing annually.

When compared to this graph below it tells an interesting story. The increase in cycling coincided with an increase in helmet use. This would appear to contradict the assertion that more people would ride if they didn't have to wear helmets. For the fashionistas who say that women don't cycle because they don't like wearing an ugly helmet it is interesting to note that 82% of female cyclists wore a helmet compared to only 77% of male cyclists.

What could be driving this is the fact that the majority of cycle facilities in Portland are on-road bike lanes. People using them are more at risk and so those who are more risk averse (predominantly women) will tend to wear a helmet. It would be interesting seeing a comparison with data on helmet use for a city with a more extensive network of physically separated cycle facilities.

I still maintain however that compulsory helmet use is the Achilles heal of bikeshare schemes in Australia. It is one thing to wear a helmet when making a planned cycling trip from home. It is completely another for unplanned cycle trips - which bike share will need to capture. Portland is investigating bike share. If they put a scheme in place it would be interesting to see what impact it would have on helmet use. I predict it would result in a downward trend - but I wait to see.

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