Mandatory bicycle helmets: does correlation mean causation?

Percent of total trips by bicycle (data from Pucher & Buehler, 2008)

It’s evident from the response to my article two weeks ago (Is the mandatory helmet debate a distraction?), that some people still see compulsory helmets as one of the major obstacles, perhaps even the main obstacle, to significantly higher uptake of cycling in Australia. So I want to look at the main arguments for repealing the compulsory helmet law.

As I’ve said before, I accept that mandating helmets in the early 90s was arguable policy, at least in the case of adults. If it were proposed for the first time today, I doubt it would get up (except for children). So I don’t think those who advocate repeal are necessarily “wrong”.

But in my view the helmet law is not the main thing holding cycling back in this country – it doesn’t even come close. And since it’s got virtually no traction politically, it’s also a waste of energy. Ultimately it distracts from the key issue – the danger, whether perceived or real, of cycling in traffic.

A key argument made by many repeal advocates is that countries without mandatory helmet laws have high bicycle use. Australia, in contrast, has both low mode share and draconian helmet laws; ipso facto, they say, mandatory helmet laws are the key problem.

What I think is happening here is the familiar problem of confusing correlation with causation.

There’s no doubt bicycle use in Australia is indeed low compared to some other countries. For example, according to Pucher and Buehler in Making cycling irresistible: lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, bicycles capture 27% of all trips in the Netherlands and 18% in Denmark, but a mere 1% in Australia (see exhibit). And there’s no doubt helmets aren’t considered important in these countries – in the Netherlands, for example, less than 1% of adults and only 3-5% of children choose to wear a helmet when cycling.

But does the law on helmets explain why cycling is so much more popular in these countries than it is in Australia?

The first thing the repeal advocates should ask themselves is this: why are only 1% of trips in the UK taken by bicycle even though helmets aren’t mandatory in that country? That’s no better than here! Or why is cycling’s mode share only slightly better in Ireland and Canada than it is in Australia, even though these two countries don’t have mandatory helmet laws? Clearly, whatever the explanation is for the comparatively low rates of cycling in these countries, it has nothing to do with any compulsion to wear a helmet.

They should also ask themselves why there are such enormous differences between countries where helmets aren’t mandatory. The fact that bicycle use is more than twice as high in the Netherlands as it is in Germany – and nine times higher than it is in France and Italy – suggests pretty clearly that there are other highly influential factors affecting the propensity to cycle that have absolutely nothing to do with helmets.

Helmet policy doesn’t explain why bicycles capture 34% of trips in Munster, but 13% in Munich. Or why the corresponding figure for Groningen is 37% compared to 10% in Heerlen; or 20% in Bruges but 5% in Brussells; or 19% in Salzburg but 3% in Wien.

Rather than focussing so much on helmet laws, repeal advocates would do well to look at the differences in cycling infrastructure and regulation –  and hence in safety – between Australia and Europe’s top performing countries. They should note that Copenhagen, for example, has an impressive 400 km of completely segregated bike lane, even though it’s much smaller than Melbourne. And Berlin has 860 km of completely segregated bike lane. They should also look at factors like 30 km/hr speed limits in residential areas in some countries and the strong cultural and legal onus on drivers to respect cyclists.

Pucher and Buehler argue the key reason cycling is so successful in Dutch, Danish, and German cities relative to other places (not just Australia) is down to extensive systems of separate cycling facilities, intersection modifications & priority traffic signals, traffic calming, bike parking, coordination with public transport, traffic education & training, and sympathetic traffic laws. They also point to the positive way cycling is promoted in these countries.

It’s no wonder people cycle more in Copenhagen and Berlin than in Melbourne and Sydney. And it’s no wonder they don’t bother to wear helmets – it’s much less dangerous!  Yet even so, Danish and German authorities extensively promote wider helmet use, especially by children.

Put another way, the reason Dutch, Danish and German cities have high levels of cycling isn’t because riders aren’t compelled to wear helmets. Rather, riders don’t wear helmets because they’re not necessary. And they’re not necessary because cycling’s an order of magnitude safer than it is in Australia, thanks to the myriad infrastructure initiatives and supportive policies like those identified by Pucher and Buehler.

Repeal advocates invariably fall back on the argument that cycling use collapsed in Australia when mandatory helmet laws were introduced in the early 90s. There was indeed a collapse – bicycle use by 12-17 year olds fell 44%. However, cycling by 5-11 year olds fell by a more modest 10% and cycling by adults actually increased (doubling in metropolitan Melbourne)!

In any event, that was 20 years ago – that cohort of young teens moved on long ago, taking their ideas of what’s “cool” with them. Since then cycling for recreational purposes has gone gang busters. A million bicycles were sold each year between 2001 and 2009 in Australia. If mandatory helmets are such a deterrent, how come recreational cycling – which is very much a discretionary activity – has boomed since the 1990s?

I think helmets are more of an issue in relation to the failure of Melbourne Bike Share (although not the primary cause), but it’s important to understand that it’s getting access to a helmet that’s the problem with the Bixis, not the fact of having to wear one. Some perspective is needed here too – there are 600 Bixis in Melbourne, but millions of bicycles in residents’ homes. It’s the latter that matters most for Melbourne’s future.

There’s merit in the argument that mandating helmets was probably a mistake, but I very much doubt it’s a significant deterrent to cycling. It’s a second order issue. The big obstacle to more cycling in Australia is road safety, not mandatory helmets. Let’s get our priorities in order and focus on the main game.

37 Comments on “Mandatory bicycle helmets: does correlation mean causation?”

  1. David Allen says:

    I’ve always been against mandatory helmet laws for adults. It’s the mandatory part that annoys me. I do use one myself but it’s entirely to prevent prosecution. It seems like such a pathetic protective device which won’t save against a car. Why not mandate a chest protector, boots, gloves, etc. None of these things is anything but a 1 percenter. Perhaps if it had been introduced along with a presumption of guilt on drivers involved in accidents with cyclists (as per Europe). Then I wouldn’t think I was like Wile E. Coyote sitting under his little umbrella while a large boulder falls on him.

  2. Peter says:

    Its felt by many that MHLs were a way of preventing or delaying the kinds of changes that really do bring about safety and a high modal share. That the RACV was involved, for instance, raises suspicions.
    In Amsterdam a few months ago I saw a carload of non-Dutch tourists not give way when required to a bike rider. The rider was legally in the right and protested with the crowd clearly on his side. Watching this I thought that such a situation would not happen in Australia because the bike riders position as a legitimate road user is less strong and there have been no efforts to change this. As well as riding in these countries I drove in Sweden and found I was srongly reminded I had to be deferential around the bike riders. If anything happened the law was on their side. There were times when riding on country roads there I would never need to look back as the sound of the engine of the car behind me almost always indicated I had been seen and responded to.
    In Amsterdam were many bike lanes that had taken space from car lanes, sometimes fully half of the road. I also know that this is an ongoing process in Sweden also where bike lanes are often added reducing car lanes.
    The only dramatic instance of this I have seen in Melbourne was on Malvern road and was entirely as a result of a deal with Citylink to reduce that roads capacity.
    If it is true that our governments are using MHL to not bother doing anything else then it is our duty to ride openly without helmets in order to get the message across that this law is no solution.

  3. mike rubbo says:

    Alan, thank you for making much more of an effort this time to understand where the pro choicers are coming from. The snide tone is also gone which is great.. But you are not there yet, mate. You leave to the end the most pressing argument against comp. helmets.

    You really need to schedule a trip over seas and see how public bikes are transforming cities, how they are do so much to create the safer ambiance you say is key. I suspect if you try the big system like Montreal, Paris, Barcelona, London, you’ll have a change of mind and heart as had Wade Wallace, the Fairfax bike blogger, who was very pro helmet till he rode the Velibs. in Paris without a helmet

    Here are some propositions to address. Public bikes are transformative, the evidence suggest. They not only bring non riders to trying bikes as transport, they co-incidentally create an ambiance of greater safety which begins a sort of chain reaction, more bikes, more safety.. That’s why Dublin, which you say is in a low use country, is able to expand its fleet from 500 to 5000 public bikes on the back of high usage, sense of safety, and stats to back that up.

    If we don’t free up public bikes, we forgo one of the best tools for creating that necessary safety.. Why would you do that when, with some vigorous campaigning, we can bring politicians and the public to see the benefits of a trial exemption? To say, not possible, is defeatist.

    it’s a cop out too as the new public bike systems which are set up elsewhere, like NYC, with helmet choice, are so often in places Australians like to visit, and each new system makes it easier to make the case as Australians bring back the news.. That’s the Wade Wallace phenomenon.

    So to start the ball rolling, let’s begin a trial.for a trial. Let’s begin by putting a helmet exemption for public bikes into the” hard” rather than the “too hard” basket. The main thing necessary for that is belief, and hence the need for you to take that trip

    • Alan Davies says:

      I’m not against a helmet-free trial for the Bixis if it were possible – in fact it would hopefully bring some evidence to that debate. I expect it would end up disappointing some people though.

  4. Michael says:

    It would seem like a reasonable test to trial a helmet exemption for bixies.
    Having said that, it would seem that there are multiple factors preventing people from riding. Terrain, weather, alternative transport options, culture, workplace support, parking facilities and road rules. I have been pleasantly surprised at how accommodating some drivers are to cyclists in Melbourne, but this doesn’t make up for the threat that a great number of motorists still pose to cyclists. The reality is that cyclists are not regarded as legitimate road users by the average driver, the police, the councils or the state government. Ad hoc and downright dangerous cycling facilities reinforce this. This is probably not going to change in the near term regardless of how much token spending there is, and I wouldn’t expect mode share to increase without a step increase in petrol prices. Lets face it, Melbourne is designed for cars and even if you catch public transport to work you still need a car for other trips. Cars are so cheap to own and run they are available to virtually everyone, quite a few who don’t have the skills and maturity to drive one safely, but the law is very accommodating to these people and you have to commit some pretty serious damage to be prevented from driving. Things are this way because it’s understood that without a car you are seriously disadvantaged and possibly a drain on society. It’s been this way for at least 40 years.
    Yesterday our only car died and my wife discovered that even walking around in the middle of the day through suburban Melbourne is now an unpleasant experience and she resorted to adding the local police station to her speed dial after being hassled by teenagers on multiple occasions whilst she pushed my son in the stroller – but who walks these days – society would regard you at fault for not driving. Cars crowd out alternatives.

  5. Simon says:

    As road safety for cyclists is roughly similar to that for people in cars, it’s unlikely that it is a major factor in the low cycling rates we have in this country.

    It’s “perceived” road safety that is the major factor. Almost everyone thinks cycling is horrendously dangerous, despite the statistics. Why?

    Surely the mandatory helmet law plays a big role here. If the government mandates helmets for cyclists, then that MUST mean that cycling is horrendously dangerous. The government doesn’t mandate helmets for driving, riding a horse, having a shower, riding a skateboard, or snow-skiing, despite these activities having either similar or worse rates of serious head injury compared to cycling.

    Ultimately, barriers to cycling suffer from threshold and other non-linear effects. The repeal of mandatory helmet laws is likely a necessary, but not sufficient, factor in making cycling a mainstream transport option.

  6. Good perspective, good article. I have only discovered this blog recently, but look forward to the many well written articles around people riding bicycles.

    On the safety aspect, the picture is clear. A recent survey in Perth showed that 91% of people riding bicycles on public roads are afraid of people driving cars on public roads. Separation is one (costly) solution.

    Helmets should not be part of the picture at all, voluntary use should be recommended.

    Keep writing.


  7. I agree with Peter. While MHLs persist there doesn’t seem to much effort in addressing the real issues as to why cycling is so dangerous in this country: road design and traffic rules that leave vulnerable road users in a zero sum game with motorised traffic. As Alan points out (and I agree with him on this point) it’s these very conditions that turn off so many people from riding a bike in this country. Where I differ with Alan is that I believe the helmet law has given transport planners a convenient excuse to not implement the kind of quality infrastructural changes that I’ve seen in other cities around the world. It’s also helped to perpetuate a highly undesirable vehicular cycling culture that has somehow shifted from a basic survival technique to a mainstream form of cycling advocacy.

    Alan has asked if the MHL debate is a distraction. My view is that the very law is the distraction, and while it continues to exist there is never going to be any peace on this issue. People who strongly support this law really need to explain why cycling this country is no safer than it was 21 years ago when the laws were first introduced. When they provide an adequate explanation I might just take them seriously.

  8. Luke Turner says:

    I don’t think anyone arguing for repeal or relaxation of helmet laws has ever said that they are the only obstacle or even the main obstacle to greater levels of cycling in Australia.

    What people are saying is that there are a number of things we need to be doing to increase levels of cycling in Australia, and repeal of helmet laws is one of those things. Others include road designs which accommodate cyclists safely (separated bike lanes), lower speed limits and better legal protection for cyclists (and pedestrians).

    I have spoken to politicians in my area about all of those things, including helmet laws. I cannot understand this notion that one or other of those things can somehow be a distraction from the rest or “waste of energy” (whose energy, in any case?). Should I refrain from contacting my local council about improving bike parking facilities around the shopping streets of my area because it’s a “distraction” from safety issues? If you don’t agree with it or think it is unimportant, just ignore it.

    However I don’t believe changing helmet laws is unimportant. No city or area has ever achieved a high level of cycling with mandatory helmet laws in place. Even those countries without helmet laws that have a low level of cycling overall often have pockets where cycling flourishes, such as Cambridge in the UK which has a 28% commuter cycling modal share (

    There are no such pockets in Australia, despite the fact that some areas like inner city suburbs or smaller country towns are very well suited and safe for cycling.

    Because you seem to have no problem with mandatory helmets personally, Alan, you seem to to underestimate the level of disincentive it provides. For some people it is enough to turn them off cycling altogether. For others (such as myself) it means I ride less than I would otherwise.

    Also, I should quickly say that there are many more arguments against mandatory helmet laws than just the fact that it reduces the amount of cycling.

    The effectiveness of helmet laws in reducing injury is questionable – no study has ever shown that our helmet laws have reduced the rate of injury per cyclist (or trip). There is even some evidence that the roads are now more dangerous for cycling as a result of helmet laws.

    Finally there is also the important question of civil liberties and individual freedom. Given that the benefits of the law are so uncertain, and that this is a law intended solely for the protection of the individual against their own actions (ie the victim and perpetrator are one and the same) is it really justified that riding a bike without a helmet should be a criminal offense?

    Is it fair or beneficial that many thousands of people are stopped by the police and fined each year for such a petty offense? Should people be prevented from taking part in a peaceful and innocent activity which is legal in virtually every other country one earth? I do not think so.

  9. I think the anti-mandated-helmet lobby, at least as represented by the commenters here, are still missing Alan’s point: if cycling promotion is your goal, there are more important battles to fight.

    • Simon says:

      And you (and Alan) are missing the point that mandatory helmets are fatal to cycling promotion. How can you expect the majority of people to ride a bike if the governmeent is telling you that it’s so dangerous that you are not allowed to do it without a helmet? It’s a helluva powerful message, positioning cycling as more dangerous than parachuting, skateboarding, snowboarding, horseriding, and taking a shower. All of which have higher rates of serious head injury.

      And it also misses the point that activists have their favourite causes, and their time and energy won’t simply be transferred from one cause to another because somebody pronounces it a more efficient use of their time. I think it’s more the opposite – the anti-helmet-law cause is more likely to bring new people into the cycling activist than to rob cyclign activism of participation.

  10. mike rubbo says:

    Simon is right. We all have our favorite cause and are sure that it’s the best one to be spending one’s energies on, when of course to may not be.

    My problem, when several poster here say, concentrate on the safety issue, is this. With such a tiny usage of bikes as transport here compared with other countries, there is simply not a big enough community of users to insist on the costly things which need to be done.

    With the small lobby group that there is, politicians are just not going to listen. Moreover when they do act out of personal conviction, as has Clover Moore in building the separated cycleways in Sydney, they get attacked as wasting money on a minority activity.

    So that’s the catch 22. no one is addressing. The only way to get the numbers that will be heard, is to somehow boost cycling irrespective of the existing safety situation. Overseas experience, where the same dilemma has been faced, shows the way to do this is with public bikes.

    They are a proven way to dramatically boost rider numbers, backed up of course by the excellent stats they generate. That is why Bike share must be enabled here, and urgently so.

    If you agree, we are back to the same problem, The need to carry a helmet with you or buy one when using such bikes which is keeping people from using bike share in Melb. and Brisbane.

    For those who say, that’s not the reason those schemes languish, I can only say the rest of the world believes it is, and that public bikes do thrive virtually everywhere else where there’s choice

    So, if you concede that public bikes are a fast path to a building larger riding public and thus to greater safety via a stronger voice, then the onus is on you to identify what is the real problem with our two bike share schemes, and work to fix it.

  11. I’m certainly not disagreeing with your overall sentiment Alan, I to believe there are more important factors at play in keeping cycling rates low in Australia. However I do believe that the MHL is probably the key factor today, keeping Melbourne Bike Share use so low (other factors, certainly play a part though!).

    why are only 1% of trips in the UK taken by bicycle even though helmets aren’t mandatory in that country? That’s no better than here!

    What would be interesting would be to compare London’s bicycle use before and after the introduction of their bike share program, alongside Melbourne. This data with Melbourne would provide some insight into what impact MHLs have on repressing demand for bike share.

    As Mike Rubbo has stated, bike share programs are not just good at encouraging bike share use, they also encourage general cycle use. According to the e2 episode on the Velib program, bike sales increased in Paris after the introduction of the program.

    • Alan Davies says:

      I think the MHL is a factor in the failure of MBS but as you know I don’t think it’s a key one.

      Helmets are now readily available for $5 from dispensing machines and 7-11s at 40 odd locations, but still no uptick in Bixi use. City centre workers have had ample time to keep a helmet in the office, but still no increase in Bixi use. Neither of those are as frictionless as no helmet, but there should nevertheless have been a solid increase in useage if helmets were the issue.

      The increase in bicycle sales in Paris after the introduction of Velibs doesn’t necessarily mean much. How big was it? Bike sales have been increasing for circa ten years in Australia and we’ve not had a bike share program for most of that period.

      • Usage increased by a large percentage after the introduction of subsidised helmets, supposedly from 136 uses per day in October 2010 to 433 trips per day March 2011. (Sourced from Wikipedia, which sources both figures from different articles on The Age).

        It also seems like people probably are keeping helmets in their office:
        <"We know that most of our regular users are in fact business people," he said. "We actually thought we'd do better with students than we have."

        So it seems the introduction of subsidised helmets has helped increase ridership by more than 300% Unfortunately 300% of bugger all is still bugger all.

        • mike rubbo says:

          Yes, Julian i agree the percentage increase sounds a lot, but it’s from such a small base . it’s still less than one ride per day per bike for MBS . When you compare this with Dublin which has the same number of bikes, there is the usage is 10 rides per day per bike or more.

          See here.

          Alan, who is going to walk to a 7/11 go buy a $5 helmet for a 30 minute ride and feel good about it?. The business model is still all wrong.

          By the way, the film on Paris Velibs which Julian recommends is well work viewing

          • Alan Davies says:

            Mike, I agree with your proposition that a successful bike sharing scheme can help create a more positive environment for cycling generally. Not sure I’d give the same weight to that as you do, though. Nor do I think the MHL is the main reason why MBS is so disappointing. Nor am I sure that associating MBS with the whole MHL issue creates a positive image of the former in the mind of the wider public.

        • Alan Davies says:

          “Unfortunately 300% of bugger all is still bugger all”

          Exactly. Even the absolute numbers can’t all be put down to easier availability of helmets: (1) March in Melbourne is much warmer than October (2) March is much drier than October (3) there’s an extra six months of publicity for the scheme – demand for most things increases over time (4) not sure about this, but weren’t there also more Bixi stations by March 2011 than there were in October 2010?

    • Luke Turner says:

      This is a comparison of various public bike hire schemes around the world. The best way to compare is the “rotation rate” ie the number of times each bike is used each day on average.

      The only 2 that are failing are the 2 that are located in cities with helmet laws – Brisbane and Melbourne. Plenty of other cities are hot / rainy / hilly / cold, but no-where else has such woeful usage as Melbourne and Brisbane.

      City / Total Bikes / Compulsory Helmets / Daily Trips Per Bike
      Dublin 450 No 9
      Barcelona 6,000 No 8
      Mexico City 1,200 No 8
      Paris 20,600 No 6
      Hangzhou 61,000 No 5
      Montreal 5,000 No 3.6
      London 6,000 No 3.3
      Toronto 1,000 No 2.2
      Washing DC 1,100 No 1.9
      Brisbane 1,000 Yes 0.3
      Melbourne 600 Yes 0.3


  12. Dudley Horscroft says:

    Here in Tweed, and across the border in Coolangatta and the Gold Coast, there are bike lanes on many roads. But just about the only people seen riding bikes are the peletons on early Saturday or Sunday mornings. That is, bike riding is (almost) purely a recreational activity. A major discouragement is the excessive distances between homes and business, or shops, and the amount of traffic on the roads. Even the public transport people, who should be supporting cycling as getting some of the blasted cars off the road, seem to hate cyclists. Their argument is that a bicycle takes up far too much space on a tram or train. Near impossible to use bike to station or tram stop in the peak, take it on the tram or train and then ride to destination. Many seem to think that cyclists should be charged double because of the space they take up! (Try charging a disabled person on his massive “mobility scooter’ an extra fare!)

    But seriously, MHL are a problem. They are not efficient. The only justification for them was that cyclists were treated in public hospitals at the taxpayer’s expense, and that MHL would reduce the cost to the taxpayer. It probably did, but according to one comment I have seen, while the cost fell by 50%, so did the amount of cycling.

    And in Canberra the bike paths were laid out for recreational use only, and serious obstacles were put in place at road crossings.

  13. Alan Parker says:

    I agree with Alan Davies who concludes that:-

    “The big obstacle to more cycling in Australia is road safety, not mandatory helmets. Let’s get our priorities in order and focus on the main game”.

    The big obstacle to road safety is VicRoads which failed to implement the “The Melbourne Bikeplan approved by the Victorian government from 1980. Not only did they fail to implement it but sabotaged the basic principles on which it was based, which where set out in the Geelong bikeplan the planning model to trial what needed to be done for metropolitan Melbourne.

    Road safety was the focus of the Geelong bikeplan and developed the four principles known as the the 4E’s. It was approved by government and sold to the public with a full page article in the Age by Tim Colebatch, and reinforced by my articles in the cycling press.

    E1. Engineering of bike way networks,sound traffic management and lower speed limits

    E2. Education programs in primary and secondary schools and motorists.

    E3. Enforcement programs to deter the bad behaviour of cyclists and other road users.

    E4. Encourage more bicycle use as means healthy exercise and recreation.

    VicRoads did not want to know about Bikeway networks, lower speed limits, education programs, enforcing road laws in practical way to reduce bicycle accidents. VicRoads came up with a obsolete bikeway planning concept called the “principal bicycle network” and used it as a cover to prevent cyclists getting what they wanted and discouraging bicycle use in the longer term because it did not have achievable objects like they have in the five bicycle friendly countries in north Europe which had an still have the 4E’s bicycle planning principals proposed for Melbourne. And much lower death rates per 100,000 population for all road users.

    The VicRoads “principal bicycle network” for Metropolitan Melbourne was obsolete when it was written and still is, however after lobbying the E2 education principle was accepted .It comes as no surprise that 20 years later date, only 40% Of the E1 engineering commitment was complete and is still not keeping up with Melbourne population growth.
    VicRoads ignored the 40 Km/Hr speed limit on Corio residential streets an vital part of the as part of the Geelong planning model. Bicycle Victoria (BV) organized the annual around Victoria bike ride and the round the Port Phillip. Other wise principle E4 encourage cycling was ignored by VicRoads especially when did it not update the Melbourne Bicycle routes maps which where plastic and water proof and failed to reprint them.

    Bicycle Victoria has failed to monitor VicRoads lack of progress or mobilize some of its 50,000 members to organise demontration ride to VicRoads HQ in Kew. Even today BV
    supports more unsafe bicycle lanes on roads with speed limits of 60 km/hr or more. The Bolte and Westgate bridges where without separate paths for cyclists and walkers.

    What is needed is safe “arterial bicycle route network “ to provide short cuts for cyclists and pedestrians through the residential street and local road network that connects with main road footpaths ‘ used by walkers, the disabled and by cyclists of all ages. More mid block crossings and refuges are needed to link up these residential street routes and create walking and cycling routes across main roads. The problem is VicRoads does not want to know about more safe crossings in between the main road traffic lighted crossings. Nor did they stop building multi lane roundabouts known by the UK Bicycle Touring Club as the “the last round up for cyclists”. With over a 100,000 members they knew what was needed.

    Bicycle Victoria failed to follow up this writers recommendations ( ARRB Transport Research paper in Vol 7 no 1 in March 1998, p 65-69). And my articles in the Australian Cycling Press on multi lane roundabouts.

    In the 1980s maps showing state residential streets routes where produced by the State Bicycle Advisory Committee and these worked well in the grid iron pattern of the inner and middle suburbs . However, today traffic congestion on main roads and many collector roads has so increased that mid block crossing are dangerous unless there are signalized crossings or middle of the road refuges. This works well with signalised pedestrian/bicycle crossings which are timed to integrated with the main road intersections signals so as not too slow down the car traffic already platooned on many main roads. Refuges
    work well for crossing feeder roads with 40 km hour speed limits.

    Today the reality is that, a safe “arterial bicycle route network” will require hundreds of safer main road mid block crossings, to link footpaths, residential streets, shared footways and back streets to bypass the congested main roads This residential street network could provide an alternative bikeway network would have 30 km speed limits as they have the Netherlands. The 7,000 kms of residential streets could have been opened up to encourage walking and cycling to work and school. Why waste such a resource that cost billions to build. The Dutch, Danes, Swedes an Swiss value this resource but not VicRoads

    In many outer urban areas local street layouts are a form of obsolete “cull de sac “planning without pedestrian and bicycle links at the closed off ends, so that walkers and cyclist do not have safe routes especially when the local roads do not have separate footpaths and high speed limits. Bastardised cul-de-sac local roads curvilinear feeder road layouts are not safe particularly if feeder roads or main roads have bike lanes with a maximum speed limit of 60km/hr. In the Netherlands the the maximum speed limit for main roads with bike lanes is 50 km/hr.

    The proposed “principal bicycle network” in Melbourne is deficient in the areas with these cull de sac street layouts because planners did not stick the English concept of the “cul de sac“ and mostly left out the safe connecting links for children to have short cuts to other “cul de sacs”, thus making it easier to have safer routes to parks, shops and schools. In Australia the “devil is in the detail’ of local goverment bike plans which constrained by incompetant road engineers in agencies like VicRoads.

    An “arterial bikeway network” for the whole of Melbourne should provide safe routes over or under freeways, railway lines, rivers, some private property and other barriers that make it less convenient to walk and bicycle from A to B or wherever. This would complement main road bikelane a long roads, linked with traffic calmed local streets and off-road shared footways, are required. Most one-way streets for cars should be two way for bicycles and roads with bike lanes and should have a maximum speed limit of 50 kph. The introduction of a 50 kph limit on local roads in January 2002 in Victoria and the reduction of the legal leeway given to violators to 3 kph has made local roads safer for cycling and walking. Vic Roads should be planning to reduce it to 40 Km/hr. Initally a 40 km per limit on all residential streets and implemented in Unley in South Australia.

    It makes sense to have 30 Km/Hr residential speed limits so that bicycle and walking routes to byepass sections of dangerous main roads (as is done the Netherlands) .and recommended by the EU Parliament, Initally a 40 km per limit on all residential streets and implemented in Unley in South Australia.

    On outer urban residential streets without a footpath for child cyclists to use there should a 30 km per hour speed limit as there is in many European cities.
    The mesh of the bikeway network would be 500m x 500m in the inner areas and 750m x 750m in the outer areas, or the rectangular equivalent of these sizes. In Melbourne a bicycle arterial network would be around 9,000 km long .The overall objective is too make Melbourne as safe as the four European countries whose road systems which are much safer for all road users than Australia.

    Dutch transport planning is perhaps the most bicycle friendly in the E In the Netherlands cyclists’ deaths have reduced from 185 in 2009 to 162 in 2010. Since 1970 the reduction in road fatalities has benefited all age groups but the most impressive reduction has concerned young bicyclists (the age group 0 to 14) for which fatalities decreased by 95%, from 459 in 1970 to 23 in 2008 (IRTAD 2011). 70% of Dutch urban roads have a 30 Km/hr speed limit and the police take a tougher approach to unsafe drivers.

    Dutch road deaths increased from 1950 (1,020), peaked in 1972 (3440) and then declined to 691 in 2010.The population grew from 10 million to 16.5 million in 2010. In 2010 the traffic death rate was 3.7, deaths/100,000 population. Since 1970, the reduction in child deaths (0 to 14) from 459 to 23 in 2008 was impressive, decreasing by 95%. For the elderly of 65+ years deaths reduced from 648 in 1970 to 187 in 2009 (IRTAD 2011).

    The Dutch own 18 million bikes and about half of them ride bikes once a day. The average distance travelled by bike per person per day is 2.5km. The bicycle is used for almost a quarter of all journeys and 35% of journeys below 7.5km. Roads are safer because 70% of urban roads had speed limits of 30 km/h or less in 2008. This also took place on rural roads (excluding state roads); most had 60 km/h limit.

    The “green tax laws” in the Netherlands have also resulted in far fewer old cars, fewer four wheel drives and no pedestrian crippling bullbars The Dutch car fleet has many more newer and smaller cars with a rounder, softer ‘crumpable’ front end .These pedestrian friendly features are particularly beneficial when cars are driven at much lower speeds in built up areas in which there is good traffic law enforcement.The population in Dutch and Australian urban areas is similar but the urban car fleet in the Netherlands emits one third of the Australian CO2 emissions.
    The Netherlands has been moving slowly towards a sustainable transport system. The
    objective was to slowly decouple the growth of GDP from the growth in fuel consumption The growth in greenhouse gas emissions from passenger cars has been constrained, the proportion of walking trips has not declined, rail patronage has increased and the proportion of “everyday cycling” trips has increased

    Alan Parker
    Tel 613 5984 3578


    • Michael says:

      Two questions come to mind
      1) is Vicroads capable of providing usable and safe cycling infrastructure or do they see it as fundamentally opposed to their main mission of providing services for cars and trucks
      2) Is BV an effective representation of commuter cyclists?

      Local councils should also have a goal to increase local cycling. Many suburbs are needlessly dangerous for cyclists even on back streets. It would be great if more children and teenagers could safely ride their bikes to school, but with increased on street parking and local traffic driving at 60 km an hour it simply isn’t safe. Of course bike paths exist but as is almost always the case they start and end expediently with no thought to where people might be coming from or going to.

      • Hi Michael,
        1) Even today VicRoads in not providing usable and safe cycling infrastructure because they do not see it as fundamentally opposed to their main mission of providing services for cars and trucks and their whole approach is flawed. Since 1980 they have committed to do as little as possible. Many years ago on BV bike ride I asked Sir Hubert Opperman about
        negative attitude of VicRoads and it predisessors. He said that when he was a federal minister they supported setting up these government agencies but they did not do the job that was needed to be done. He knew that the approach of the Dutch government had been successful and that is what should been done here. As a bicycle advocate I was greatly encouraged by his frankness.

        I listened to Cadel Evans on TV and radio, who did most of his training in Europe and knows what the score is about safety, will be an able lobbyist. After he wins the next tour of France and has retired he will become leader of the Australian bicycle movement.

        2) Is BV an effective representation of commuter cyclists? No, not for many years BV has been the pussy cat on the Victorian Bicycle Advisory Committee sucking up to VicRoads.

        BV has done a great job in organising bicycle droving operations in rural victoria.
        It has a very good bicycle touring magazine (RideOn) that ignores the hard job of advocacy.
        I was President of BV for 1984/5 and the honourary research officer for 12 years and a founder member. Together with our first President a journalist Keith Dunstan we put the boot into the the politicians and bureaucrats. We won the battle to produce the metroplitan Melbourne Bikeplan. Some of the pussy cats who lost the battle of implementing the Bike plan are still with us.

  14. T says:

    I totally agree. I would wear a helmet when bicycling whether it was mandatory or not. The reason I don’t bicycle more is because most places I want to go don’t have proper bike paths. I’m not going to bicycle in traffic – I hardly feel safe driving in traffic in my car let alone on a bicycle! Drivers in Australia are crazy! I’ve been to many places around the world and never seen so many terrible drivers.

    It would be great if driver education increased, and more bicycle infrastructure was provided. In a country with such nice weather, it’s almost shameful that we don’t encourage more travel by bicycle. So much of my daily travelling could be done by bicycle but instead it’s done by car because bicycling is not a safe enough alternative (even if it is a “perceived” risk…).

  15. Peter Bartlett says:

    MHL has resulted in huge damage to the public image of cycling. Prior to MHL cycling was ‘just’ part of daily life. Post MHL whether you cycle or not is perceived by many as how much of a risk you are prepared to take. When you couple this with the ‘vanity’ aspect, namely helmet hair, the rise of lycra and the demise of the rider wearing their fashionable working clothes is clearly understood. My partners children will not ride to school if they have to wear helmets, I mean if you have just spent the last 30 minutes carefully preparing your appearance you are simply not going ruin it with a bike helmet, so they ride without.
    The introduction of MHL devastated the ride to school numbers, which has had a flow on effect in that we have a generation of adults for whom cycling is a recreation activity not a transport issue. You put your bike on the back of your car and drive to somewhere where it is ‘safe to ride’
    I quite accept that the provision of safe cycling facilities is required, and that repeal of MHL could be regarded as a distraction to that goal, but whereas new facilities cost money, repeal would cost nothing. Repeal of the mandatory aspect would also end the arguement altogether. So why the reluctance? Is the bureacracy unable to accept it may have made a mistake? Is the real aim to keep cycling numbers down and thereby avoid having to spend money on improved cycling facilities?

    • Alan Davies says:

      “The introduction of MHL devastated the ride to school numbers, which has had a flow on effect in that we have a generation of adults for whom cycling is a recreation activity not a transport issue”.

      I’m a doubtful about the second part of that statement. Is there some objective evidence that the 90s school cohort commutes less by bicycle than the pre-MHL 80s cohort (at the same adult age e.g. twenties/thirties)?

    • mike rubbo says:

      Excellent points, Peter, I would urge all those interested in this issue to read this Dutch Cycling federation report on helmets. Their analysis is pretty devastating.

      Click to access Cycle-helmets.pdf

      Alan, re helmets reducing riding to school, my info does no answer the second part, but is worthwhile. since there must have been some flow on.

      Anecdotally, A high school teacher at Woy Woy who has been at the local high school since before the law came in, tells me the effect was devastating, and that within a very few years the large bike shed, a feature of the playground, was gone.

      • Alan Davies says:

        Mike, don’t doubt it affected cycling by school children at the time it was introduced – see the stats I cite in the article. Peter’s contention that the same cohort maintained that aversion into adulthood – although specifically to commuting not to recreational riding – is an interesting one.

    • mike rubbo says:

      Mark, this is not on Helmets, but meat for an article perhaps. Namely does bike and car share promise to reduce car production?

  16. Peter says:

    Click to access Cycle-helmets.pdf

    What so many of our fellow Australians who havent experienced the bike lanes of Europe fail to see is that they are not buying the pro-helmet argument there. Which means it isnt what it was cracked up to be. We really need to look at our reasons for bringing in what elsewhere on the site is referred to as a “quick and dirty” law. Thats our helmet law.
    No matter what Helmet law proponents claim we simply cannot match what the Dutch did WITHOUT any helmets at all. Our MHLs have been in the way. And in a sense that implies causation. A kind of causation by neglect.

  17. Peter Bartlett says:

    I have been commuting to work for over 30 years. I no longer own a car (it was stolen) and I wear a helmet so my comments are based on my observations over this extensive period.
    MHL significantly reduced the short trip rider numbers. In WA my observation is that the numbers of these ‘types’ of riders has never recovered. There has been a recovery in commuters as a consequence of congestion, fuel prices, fitness concerns and perhaps, environmental awareness. There has also been a increase in early morning and weekend training groups. The common feature of these sort of riders is that rides are non spontaneous and therefore the riders tend to be equipped for their journey. However you rarely see people ‘just cycling to shops’ and I can understand why. On those occasions when I need to make these short unscheduled trips, having to wear a helmet is a bloody nuisance so I frequently walk, or more recently cycle and just wear a hat to shield my balding head from the sun.
    It is my view that the greatest potential and most desirable area for growth in bicycle use is with short trips (under 5km), and MHL actively discourages this type of use. Of course, I could be wrong but without the repeal of the mandatory we will never know for certain

  18. John Burke says:

    By looking at cycling uptake numbers of individual European countries and comparing that to how those countries are faring in the economic upheavals, we might likely view a very interesting graph. By then adding helmet law data to the graph, i’m guessing an unexpected economic argument for a helmet free society, to add to safety and “helmet hair” type issues would arise.

    Hmm…I’ll have a look for some Greek and Portuguese cycling data right now and compare it to Danish and Dutch stats.

  19. Spain,Greece and Portugal would appear to have the lowest number of cycling trips in the Eurozone. Indeed an interesting parallel with the economic situation. Spain at least has laws concerning the wearing of helmets, not sure yet about the other 2.

  20. An interesting graph pertaining to European cycling economics can be found here

    Click to access Emmanuel%20Roche.pdf

    Note that the Czech republic also has helmet legislation

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