Waiting at a red light on Milwaukee Avenue at Western Avenue.
Erica Salem of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) emailed me in February asking about data on children’s bike accidents (crashes) and any related data about ER visits and head injuries. I forwarded her to my friend Bill who is working on such data at UIC’s Urban Transportation Center (UTC).
She was looking for information to make the case for kids to use helmets while biking. And she brought this up at the June 2012 Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council (MBAC). She’s a member of the council under the new rules and format.
Here’s a paraphrased version of the discussion:
Erica Salem (ES): How do you quantify the increase in bike riders in the city?
Mike Amsden: That’s a huge challenge. Bike/ped data collection is very difficult. Right now it’s just work trips, and there’s even talk of eliminating that. We do before/after data collection of bikeway facilities. That’s where this Green Lane Project will come in and help with promotion and resources.
ES: The CDC released data showing 88% CPS middle schoolers and 94% of CPS high schoolers don’t wear a helmet when biking. Some of us think there should be an ordinance for helmet use in children. And some of us don’t.
Charlie Short: Safe Kids Program out of Children’s Memorial has done bike helmet giveaway. Targets low-income children. That seems to be where most initiative is coming from.
ES: The funds are drying up. I’ve talked to them already.
James Boratyn (of Illinois Department of Transportation): IDOT helps fund Children’s Memorial’s Safe Kids Program [also funds Bike Ambassadors]
Alex Wilson (of West Town Bikes): Major issue was storage concerning their move. We just filed a grant for 500 helmets.
Luann Hamilton (representing the Chicago Department of Transportation): We’ve always taken the position to provide education, outreach, and providing free helmets, as opposed to mandate. Of all the issues the police are dealing with, it doesn’t seem like a useful way to deal with the issue. [emphasis mine]
A cogent and welcomed response.
Mayor Bloomberg (of New York City) responds directly to a question about helmet laws:
It would be better if everybody wore a helmet. I think in a practical sense a lot of people won’t, and they’re better off taking a bike than driving or walking in the streets and getting pedestrian accidents (sic). The most important thing we can do is separate bicycles lanes from traffic, and that’s one of the things we’re really trying to do.
Infrastructure and traffic enforcement will do more to reduce injuries than helmets.
My friend Brian pointed me to this article about how a helmet law may make a killed child’s parents (somewhat) responsible for their own child’s death. A 14-year old boy was cycling and killed by a then-48-year old driver. The boy was not wearing a helmet but state law requires that children 15 and younger wear helmets while cycling. The lawsuit was filed by the driver, from prison, in 2010. I don’t know what the outcome is.
Updated June 19 at 13:34 to add Mayor Bloomberg’s response to a question about helmet laws. Updated June 28 at 20:31 to add link to child death article.