A bigger agenda for Bixis?Posted: October 1, 2010
I’ve been amazed at how the fate of the Bixis and reform of the compulsory helmet laws have been brought together and propelled into the public domain as a major public issue.
Before the Bixis, most people thought those who opposed mandatory helmets were the sorts of libertarian nutters who campaigned against obligatory seat belts and corresponded daily with the Unabomber. Now it’s widely recognised there’s a sensible countervailing argument.
There is clearly a power in the idea of Bixis. Melburnites won’t ride them but they like the idea of them.
Perhaps I’m over-reaching here, but I’m thinking that if a few blue bikes can do this with helmets, then they might be turned to a more powerful purpose, like promoting the legitimacy of all bicycles on Melbourne’s streets.
I don’t know if it’s their aspirational Parisian style or the fact that they’re an “official” government program, but the special appeal of Bixis could help to legitimise cyclists as valid road users in the eyes of drivers.
There are merits to both the sides of the helmet debate but to my mind it can only end one way. Moreover, helmets are not the key obstacle to the bigger objective of making cycling in Melbourne more popular.
I’d like to see all that energy redirected to what I suspect is a much bigger impediment to cycling generally and to Melbourne Bicycle Share in particular – the dangers of riding in traffic. The fact is inner city Melbourne is not a safe place to ride and drivers have little tradition of respect or consideration for cyclists.
Traffic safety, if linked directly to the poor take-up of the Bixis, could potentially be used as a lever to create more dedicated bicycle road space in the CBD and inner city and to establish much lower speed limits for cars and vans. I don’t see why any vehicle should be permitted to go faster than 30 kph in such a dense, pedestrian-intensive environment.
Melbourne Bicycle Share could be a key reason to promote road pricing in the city centre. It could help promote restrictions on when vans can make deliveries and how much road space is provided for parking at the expense of cyclists and pedestrians.
This refocusing of the debate away from helmets to “safety in traffic” implies some wider changes. It suggests the market should be deliberately widened to include tourists (as I argued here) as that could significantly increase the political power of the Bixis. It would require a re-jigging of the tariff so that it doesn’t continue to penalise riders who want to rent for longer periods.
I’ve argued before that Melbourne Bicycle Share is a solution looking for a problem. It’s a political exercise, of course. But if it can be used to leverage wider change, then the initial $5.5 million would be money well spent.
So I’d like to see the helmet issue given a rest. I’m sympathetic to the argument but it’s unwinnable. Most mums and dads think anyone opposed to helmets is a crank. And it’s not as strategically important to promoting cycling in Melbourne long-term as other issues like addressing safety in traffic – that in my opinion deters many more riders than the disadvantages of helmets.