Talking Headways Podcast: Helmet Hair

Did you wear your helmet when you biked to work this morning? Whether you did or you didn’t, it’s up to you. So why are there so many people shrieking about it? On one side, the 85-percenters, overstating the protection helmets offer against head injuries. On the other side, the 3-footers, claiming that it’s actually safer to go helmetless because drivers give you more space and a host of other reasons. Some recent hysteria around bike-share and head injuries fueled this fire. I’m not sure Jeff and I put that fire out with our discussion, but we at least tried to make some sense of it.

Speaking of fiery discussions, did you see the back-and-forth between Colin Dabkowski, a Buffalo News journalist, and walkability guru Jeff Speck after the most recent Congress for the New Urbanism? We clear up once and for all some misconceptions about how New Urbanism’s winners-and-losers strategy does and doesn’t address social equity.

And in between, we take a moment to celebrate a small victory in San Francisco, where a community pushed back against the fire department’s push to widen streets.

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  • Anthony R

    You’re missing a lot of the argument. My big problem is with the portrayal of helmetless riders as reckless, and particularly in media reports on bicycle crashes where inevitably the lack of a helmet is perceived as a “a reckless disregard for one’s safety.” Helmets of course are effective for certain kinds of injuries but better bike infra, slower traffic speeds, and better legal protection for vulnerable street users would be far more effective.

  • Anthony R

    ..and then there’s Amsterdam…

  • Kevin Love
  • Mary Kinkade

    Personally, I wear a helmet: I’m very risk-averse, so to me it feels worth it. But I recognize the benefits are slim. I have no need to disparage those who don’t wear helmets or to want it legally enforced. If you prefer windblown hair to helmet hair, or just don’t want to carry your helmet around at your destination, that’s reasonable.

    As for the increased passing distance that not wearing a helmet gets you, I can get even better results simply by driving in the center of the lane instead of the edge. Motorists change lanes fully to pass, and I’m way safer at intersections and driveways too! Helmets may help you slightly in case of a crash, but using the center of the lane prevents crashes in the first place.

  • Stuart

    Well it is a question of law in Washington State. We have a mandatory helmet law, which was put in place in reaction to the famously wrong 1989 Seattle study. It does form a real barrier to the adoption of bike share here in Seattle, we don’t know how the rental kiosks will affect bike share uptake versus revoking the law.

  • Southerner

    Standard bike helmets do not prevent concussions contrary the speaker’s assertions. There is a company named MIPS which has designed a helmet that may prevent concussions however, the regular helmet found at your bike shop or department store does nothing to prevent TBIs.

  • Ranger Smith

    So, helmets don’t reduce the chance of a head injury? In 1976, I was 15 years old. I worked the summer in a Washington State park, my first real job. I was employed through a program for underprivileged youth. There was another person working at that park with me who was in the same program. He was a couple of years older than me, a bit uncoordinated and a bit of a nerd. It was a great summer and a great experience for both of us. I quickly lost track of my coworker after he moved on to college and for the most part, forgot about him and our shared experience.

    The next time I saw his name was in the local paper. Greg Anderson had an accident while riding his bicycle on the college campus. From what I understand, it was a very simple, low speed, no other vehicles involved, basic fall off the bike, hit a curb at the wrong angle event. Greg was not wearing a helmet. Greg died at the scene.

    You don’t know what you have till it’s gone. Greg was a nice young man trying to do what we are supposed to do. Learn work ethics and skills. Get an education. Live frugal and work hard. I really wish I could sit down tonight with Greg, enjoy a few micro brews and go back to that summer we met and share some stories.

    Now, in 2014, I am a park ranger in the state of Idaho. I ride my bicycle almost daily, rain, snow, ice and the heat. I advocate for safe bicycling in my local community. I wear a helmet.

    Cheers Greg Anderson! This one is for you!

  • Flakker

    Did anyone else actually listen all the way through? It ends abruptly in midsentence.

  • This happened to me, also, listening yesterday and today.

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