I read recently about the Vélib’ program that Paris is running and what a boon it is for the environment. Apparently Ken Livingstone is keen on making London more bicycle friendly, and cities like Copenhagen are already full of cyclists. The decrease in pollution as a result of the reduction in cars must be quite significant. What is it that prevents New Zealand cities from adopting similar, cyclist-friendly inner city roads?
Perhaps it’s not so much a supply issue as a demand issue. Perhaps fewer people want to commute by bicycle in NZ. A major factor in their decision not to use a bicycle might be the requirement that helmets are worn on the road. In Australia, mandatory helmet laws caused over one third of bareheaded cyclists to stop riding. If the figures are similar for NZ then helmet laws are actually contributing to the level of pollution in the atmosphere and congestion on the roads.
Of course, if enough lives are saved by wearing a helmet, then it might still be a worthwhile law. However, the evidence favouring bicycle helmet use seems to be ambiguous at best. Perhaps, with NZ committing to reducing our carbon emissions, it’s time to revisit our mandatory helmet requirements and ask whether they are truly a net benefit to us.