Council uses sporting body’s rules to justify mandatory bicycle helmets at casual Bike Week events

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has used a sporting body’s rules to justify mandatory helmets at casual Bike Week cycles, which the council organises. 

Gerry Flaherty, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown cycling officer, said: “Although the wearing of helmets is not compulsory [in law], we require those attending our annual cycle event to wear one in the interest of promoting good safety habits among the younger cyclists. In general, parents welcome this requirements with only one complaint yesterday, that I am aware off, against wearing a helmet at our Blackrock Cycle.”

In an email to a member of the public who complained, Flaherty said: “This decision is made by myself for cycling events I plan (mainly during bike week) and by Shane in the Sports Partnership for their cycling events. This applies to about 2-3 events per year and is generally considered as part of the event management plan for bigger events. This in line with Cycling Ireland rules for cycling events under its remit.”

The issue was raised with the cycling officer by a member of the public, Stephen McManus, who told us that he feels “common sense is not prevailing” and that the council were getting people to sign liability disclaimers but also forcing them to wear bicycle helmets. 

In emails with the council McManus referred to Chris Boardman’s stance on helmets. After Boardman, a former Olympic racing cyclist, was criticised for appearing on the BBC without a helmet he wrote in detail about how helmet use “isn’t even in the top 10 things that will really keep people who want to cycle safe”.

Boardman asked people to watch this video:

“This is Utrecht in the Netherlands, it’s just 250 miles from our capital, where helmet use is less than 0.5% and there isn’t a stitch of high vis in sight. They have an incredible safety record and some of the lowest casualty rate of anywhere in the world,” Boardman said.

He added: “I’m willing to bet that even those that swear by helmets and high vis would feel comfortable discarding their body armour in such an environment. And that’s the point; in Utrecht they have addressed the real dangers to cyclists.”

Dublin City Council were also criticised online for changing the name of its lunchtime cycle to “Bikeweek Safe Cycle” and for a focus on safety gear — which paradoxically followed complains from members of the public  last year that the cycle was moved away from the city centre and onto roads shared with high volumes of large trucks.

26 Comments

  1. So. Do we still think appointing council “cycling officers” is a good idea?

  2. I think it shows the extent to which the public view of ‘cycling’ in Ireland is associated almost entirely with the sporting/sportive side of the use of the bike.
    Everyday cyclists dress for the destination just like their Utrecht counterparts in order to simply pootle along to work, school or college. Or to go on a picnic with the family.
    Why do road authorities require us to be lit up like Christmas trees and swathed in body armour? It’s not needed by legislation other than to have lights/reflectors after lighting-up time.
    It is no wonder we will not meet the NCPF target of 10% of daily trips to be made by bike by 2020 (NCPF, 2009).
    And why Minister Naughten is finding it so difficult to bring about greenhouse gas mitigation in the transport sector.
    Officialdom and politicians are clueless about implementing the NCPF.

  3. If we, the Dutch, had to dress like aliens (high vis and helmet), we would never get on a bicycle again… It is the infrastructure that makes cycling safe, just as a certain awareness with every traffic participant that a cyclist is vulnerable. Furthermore we have the rule that, in case of a collision between a car/motorcycle and a cyclist, the cabdriver/motorcyclist is on forehand held responsible and accountable for any damage and/or injuries. He/she is only not accountable if he/she can proof he/she did nothing legally wrong and there was no possibility at all to avoid the collision.

  4. Unfortunately we are Not in Utrecht…we do not have the infrastructure or the general good behaviour/manner/attitude towards other road users….the atmosphere out there is not SAFE…and by the way you do not need to be involved with another vehicle to be involved in an accident….SINGLE bicycle accidents can happen a.g beginner ….cyclist error….kids…i’d prefer if my kids head had some level of protection against the road surface than it’s skull when they have that fall or make that error…wouldn’t you?….ask any surgeon! We do not live in a cycling utopia we’re out there mixing it with trucks , buses , cars etc HELMET PLEASE for Headsake!

  5. Re: “by the way you do not need to be involved with another vehicle to be involved in an accident…” etc

    How does that not also apply to Utrecht?

  6. So how would a surgeon be competent or qualified to advise on cycling safety?

  7. @John Maloney So do you also advocate for the use of helmets in pedestrians? If not why not? Just so you know utility cycling is no more dangerous than walking. You may not think that that’s the case, but you’re incorrect. And as Cian pointed out, plenty of opportunity for cyclists in Utrecht to whack their heads on the pavement and yet no-one wears helmets.

  8. Stephen McManus June 22, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    @John Maloney, out of curiosity: are you suggesting we all wear helmets – as in optionally, which it already is, or are you advocating that it should be compulsory, enforced by law?

  9. Stephen McManus June 22, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    PS, as for “We do not live in a cycling utopia we’re out there mixing it with trucks , buses , cars etc HELMET PLEASE for Headsake!”

    … you do realise that a helmet does not protect you from trucks, right?

  10. I’m sure most people already get it, but for those that don’t, the problem with this is twofold. Primarily it is that this constant hysteria about how DANGEROUS cycling is does nothing to encourage people to take up cycling.

    Hey, get out of the car! Put on this high-viz gear to reduce the chances of you being hit by a two ton vehicle! Put on this helmet to protect your head, otherwise your brains will be splattered if (when really) you do get hit by a car. Is it any wonder that so many people think cycling is too dangerous.

    The other problem is the inconvenience. If you have to bring a helmet and high-viz with you everywhere you are far less likely to cycle. If I’m going somewhere fancy I don’t want to have to bring a helmet and high-viz gear. I far prefer to be able to get on my bike and go.

    I consider it farcical that an event designed to encourage casual cycling would actually discourage it by requiring high-viz and helmets. We would be better off without this at all.

  11. Even those who mistakenly think that merely ‘encouraging’ people to cycle is the way to get people cycling, surely they must see that constantly telling people that cycling is dangerous is no way to ‘encourage’ it.

    Let’s all go swimming, but first let’s look at this film called JAWS. And no-body gets in the water without their shark-repellent and safety-whistle.

    The RSA are failing us.

    And anyway, the bottom line is that you really CAN’T encourage people to cycle. People will cycle if it’s easy for them to do so. You must make it easy and hassle-free and free from worry. The best way to do that is by building safe, useful, joined-up cycle infrastructure.

  12. And as a suggestion to the cycling bodies – I don’t know if this has been discussed before, but I think more should be made of the wider benefits of safe segregated cycle-lanes. They don’t just benefit cyclists, they also benefit others such as disabled people and older people.

    Go to NL and you’ll see lots of disabled people out and about in mobility scooters on the cycle-lanes because they’re safe and practical and easy to use. When I first got there I was amazed at how many disabled people I did see out and about. And it’s not that there are more disabled people in NL, it’s just that they feel safe to go out. In our society, car is king and it’s very discriminatory against less able-bodied people. The same is true for older people – you see lots and lots of older people out on the cycle-lanes getting around and not stuck in their homes because they’re afraid to venture out.

    I think cycling bodies should join forces with disabled advocacy groups and senior citizen advocacy groups to push for better infrastructure for all these groups. Cycle-lanes can actually help all these people, not just cyclists.

  13. @CitizenWolf the clue to the conundrum is in your post. As you say the “Car is king” in Ireland. In the Netherlands there is a shared understanding among road designers and town planners that the car cannot be king. So, in the Netherlands, roads and towns are managed for the benefit of all and the perceived needs of car users are not allowed to dominate. In Ireland, there is a fundamentally different working environment and different institutional attitudes. Across the country our roads and towns are managed and planned by people whose goal is to encourage and facilitate the use of cars and who wish to grow car use whenever they can. If you give such people money for pedestrian facilities they will often use it in a manner that tries to manage people on foot for the benefit of people in cars. If you give them money for cycle facilities the same thing can happen. If we want to approach what you see in the Netherlands a necessary first step is a shared understanding that the car can no longer be king. Once that starting point is established a range of interventions can be discussed.

  14. @Shane Foran, you only have to look at what happens when an off road cycle path meets a side road to realise that lots of cycle lanes exist primarily to benefit motorists by keeping bicycles out of their way.

  15. Stephen McManus June 23, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    This is a must watch video on the subject https://goo.gl/JDrGiE

    Copenhagen’s bicycle ambassador talks about how important the bicycle is for liveable cities and how bicycle helmets are threatening bicycle culture.

    Mikael Colville-Andersen is an urban designer and urban mobility expert. He is the CEO of Copenhagenize Design Company, which he founded in 2009, and he works with cities and governments around the world in coaching them towards becoming more bicycle friendly. (source:Wikipedia)

  16. And the very same Mikael Colville-Andersen has acted as a consultant to Dublin City Council. Did his advice make any difference in a car is king environment? No!

  17. @Mike – really? He gave them advice? Jeez, I honestly thought that they were all just ignorant, but if he’s spoken to them and they still don’t get it about what cities should be about, then it’s clear that they’re idiots.

    Ah well, idiots in charge isn’t anything new I guess.

    Bloody frustrating as hell though.

  18. Andersen is not a civil engineer or a traffic planner. His status as an expert is self appointed. From what I heard of his advice given to DCC it was uncosted pie in the sky rubbish.

    Whoever recommended that DCC talk to Andersen did cycling a big disservice. They would be FAR better off talking to the people who actually design cycling infrastructure in places like Holland the Denmark. People who understand the difference between what is achievable and what is not.

  19. Re “uncosted pie in the sky rubbish” — any ideas of the details of that?

  20. I would certainly be in favor of DCC and city planners talking to people from NL who design and implement cycle-networks.

    Do/have they?

  21. I would certainly be in favour of DCC and city planners talking to *anybody with any knowledge of cycling*. They routinely ignore our own https://www.cyclemanual.ie/

  22. I don’t expect you to agree with me Cian since you seem to be a fan of Andersen, but you covered his recommendations for the Dodder cycle route here. “Make it a cycle super highway” counts as “uncosted pie in the sky rubbish” as far as I’m concerned. I can’t remember where I read this, but I’m sure you are aware, that when asked how to handle crossing one of the main roads on the route he recommended an overpass and brushed off questions about how much that would cost.

    I would take one good civil engineer who cared about cyclists and had the clout to get things done over a hundred Mikael Colville-Andersens whose main achievement seems to be self promotion.

  23. Stephen McManus June 28, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    “Andersen is not a civil engineer or a traffic planner”. @HivemindX, I don’t think he ever claimed to be either. His point is that the focus of those professions is not on creating liveable cities, but on getting cars moving (and parked), while modern cities are developing to be less dependent on cars.
    http://www.fastcoexist.com/3040634/7-cities-that-are-starting-to-go-car-free

  24. @StephenMcManus Mr. Andersen may be slowly coming around to the same central fact that many of us identified years ago. That is that it is pointless going around telling people to copy Dutch or Danish cycle facilities if they are going to be designed and operated in an environment of state imposed car-dependency. There is a little bit more to life than that type of soundbite based advice. Believe it or not these are things that have long been known prior to Mr. Andersen and youtube.

  25. Stephen McManus June 28, 2016 at 10:59 pm

    I do believe you, I am just not sure however about what is the value of establishing the point at which consensus was reached or establishing ownership of these ideas.

    Ideas “being known” by a few makes, maybe, for good idealism. Change is achieved through the proper dissemination of these ideas, for which Mr. Andersen, youtube and lobbying organizations like Irish Cycle and Galway Cycling are great tools. I can’t see Dutch type changes in Ireland like the huge anti-car popular feeling in the 70s (or was it the 60s…) due to high level of road deaths allowing for drastic changes or Denmark that was smart enough to never allow the car to take over completely. Our evolution is going to be gradual and painfully slow.

    Anyway, obviously my own ideas have not evolved as much as yours yet, so don’t take me too seriously, I have no intention of trying to lecture anyone around here.

  26. Shane Foran has the nub of our traffic management issue: “That is that it is pointless going around telling people to copy Dutch or Danish cycle facilities if they are going to be designed and operated in an environment of state imposed car-dependency”.
    Who has heard even one Minister for Transport (or Health, Environment, Climate Change, Education) challenging this paradigm of managing essentially for traffic free-flow by road authorities (and AGS) in Ireland?
    The signal for change in direction has to come loud and clear from the top. But for so long as Enda keeps repeating his mantra that he “wants Ireland to be the best small country in the world in which to do business” (for which read light-touch regulation rules here – like #Freethecyclelanes debacle) nothing will change.

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