If any of you have ridden a bike in New York City (NYC) you know it can dangerous. Cabs, trucks, buses, pedestrians, other bukers, you name it and they are all blocking the bike lane. So it was very surprising to find out that New York’s month-old Citi Bike program, a citywide bike share program, requires no bike helmets to be worn to renters of the bikes.
Citi Bike is New York City’s privately financed program, named after the program’s lead sponsor Citigroup Inc. The project was a policy goal of Mayor Bloomberg as a way to decrease the number of drivers on the packed NYC streets and to encourage healthy and active lifestyles in the city. The program kicked off late last month with 6,000 bikes at 330 docking stations. The goal is to expand the program to 10,000 bikes and 600 stations.
Bloomberg has also expanded the city’s network of bike lanes, though enforcement of serial lane blockers is a big problem. A 2009 study found that in New York’s bike lanes, during a 10-minute span, a cyclist has a 60% chance of being blocked by a car, truck or taxi. This has led some bicyclists to argue that staying in the bike lane isn’t always safe or possible, though the cops seem ready to ticket any wayward riders.
Bloomberg’s New York gets a lot of flak for being overly protective of its citizens—bans of high sugar drinks and high taxes on cigarettes for example. So this lack of required bike helmets is interesting because this decision going in the other direction — especially when the technology exists to make sure that bike helmets are available at bike share locations.
Furthermore, the majority of people using the bike share programs are tourists who would be unfamiliar not only with NYC streets, but the traffic hazards as well. Head injuries account for over 60% of bicyclist fatalities, and while helmets can’t save everyone, they can mean the difference between getting up and walking away, or spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair. For once, the New York nanny state seems to have fallen short.
Push back to requiring helmets at the bike share program came because it was seen as difficult for the NYPD to enforce. Understandable, as the NYPD certainly have better things to do than chase down helmet-less bikers, but why not make it mandatory with each bike rental, and make users responsible for their helmet?
So far, there have not been that many major accidents, though it is really only a matter of time. More than 500,000 rides have taken place since the program was put into action and only three minor accidents have been reported. That is good news for NYC from both a safety and emissions standpoint. But without a mandatory helmet law, is the city just inviting trouble?
What do you think? Should helmets be mandatory with bike sharing programs? Or is the nanny state over-reaching again?
Source: NBC News
Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison