Sunday, September 21, 2014  |   Madison, WI: 55.0° F  
CITIZEN DAVE: Thoughts and ideas about city building from Madison's former mayor
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Citizen Dave: Bike helmets are important

A few weeks ago, I wrote about bike helmets in response to an Isthmus cover story by Erik Ness regarding what he perceived to be a decline in their use.

I thought I offered a pretty good take on the issue, but some readers took exception to it. What they found most troubling was my claim to be a "bike helmet agnostic."

Well, you know what? That was a poor choice of words, because it's not really descriptive of how I feel about wearing a helmet.

I believe cyclists of all ages should wear helmets, but especially kids. See the work of Heads in Helmets for background on the necessity of children wearing them.

And I wear a helmet myself -- every time I ride. I'm particularly glad for making sure to do that, because the other day I came as close to a serious crash as I ever have in my life. While biking to my office on Main Street, I was cut off by a delivery vehicle. If I hadn't shouted at just the right time, and if the driver hadn't braked at the last second, I could have been seriously injured.

Happily, I did and he did and he ended up just bumping my rear wheel and knocking off my pannier. Also, happily, I was wearing a helmet, so if the worst had happened it wouldn't have been the worst that could have happened.

So, if I came off as less than enthusiastic about helmet use previously, let me clear that up. I'm very much in favor of helmet use. Wear one and the worst that can happen is that your hair gets a little flat. Don't wear one and the worst that can happen is that you die.

But the main point of my commentary still stands. Helmets are part of the bike safety solution. Just as seat belts and following the rules of the road are our personal responsibility as drivers, wearing a helmet and following the rules of the road are our personal responsibility as bikers.

It's just that it doesn't end there. We've spent billions in engineering streets and highways to be safer. We've implicitly recognized that safety in a car or truck isn't only the driver's responsibility. In exactly the same way we need to engineer our streets, bike paths and other facilities for maximum safety for bicycles.

Look, biking is fundamentally a safe thing to do, and we know that the more of us who get out there, the safer it is for everyone. So wear a helmet, follow the rules and demand more from your community in terms of safe biking infrastructure. But by all means ride!

[Editor's note: Dave Cieslewicz is executive director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.]

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