Our previous post stumbled into a raging debate between two contrasting ways of promoting bicycle safety.
One approach to bicycle safety urges us to protect ourselves. This often means promoting helmets and high visibility clothing. Although it often calls for infrastructure, it tends to be pessimistic about the chances of persuading governments to build much. It therefore tends to focus on safety education for cyclists themselves. The info-graphic in the last post was an example from that tradition.
Around the world, a radically different approach to bicycle advocacy and planning has recently become prominent. Followers of this approach emphasise creating a safe environment for cycling. They see calls for cyclists to protect themselves as counterproductive because they discourage cycling by making it seem even more risky than it really is.
This approach builds on the successes in several European countries where cycling has been made extremely safe in many European cities despite very little use of helmets or high-viz clothing. It also argues that there is safety in numbers - the more people cycle, the lower the risk for each individual cyclist. It argues that cycling should be treated as an everyday, no-fuss activity done by ordinary people of all ages and abilities. ThomasK's comment on Siva's post reflects this alternative approach.
I can understand the urge to warn about danger. I myself usually do
wear a helmet when I cycle. But I am convinced that the positive approach
is the better way to advocate for bicycles as transport over the long term.
Excellent sources of information on this approach include, the Copenhagenize blog, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, and David Hembrow's blog A view from the cycle path. Here is a wonderful example of extremely positive bicycle advocacy from the new Dutch Cycling Embassy,
We should work to make cycling so safe that we have no need for
helmets or reflective vests. This requires serious infrastructure,
which requires serious investment (but still a tiny drop in the ocean
compared with roads and mass transit investments). This approach is the
only one that has successfully resulted in dramatic increases in both
bicycle use and bicycle safety.