my refusal to wear a bicycle helmet

my refusal to wear a bicycle helmet
...is informed

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Appeal - '17 more-sleeps'

(Photos: Maureen Murphy)
The butterflies have returned, and with them the nerves!

In just over two weeks I will be back in Australia, and will be required to attend the District Court. On the first day of the court sitting I will mention my matter, and then will either be expected to launch into my defence straight away or alternatively will be 'invited' to return to the District Court at a later dated during the circuit.

I must admit, I do feel somewhat alarmed!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Facts v Profits

An 'evidence-based' approach in the helmet debate has been expediently masked by a 'marketing-based' one. Unquestionably the current reality of cycling safety is commercial, yet Australian politicians have willingly ingested all the spin so conveniently provided by marketers, and then regurgitated 'it' into a mandatory helmet law as though 'it' were fact. Inevitably this approach has fostered a commercial climate that has singularly maximised profits for helmet manufacturers and promoters, concurrently minimising benefits for Australians and Australia as a country.

How many more internationally peer reviewed studies, articles, reports, statistics will it take before our unretractable government concedes the current law is misconceived?

The suppression of adverse findings in helmet safety, and the repeated failure to demonstrate the efficacy and claimed benefits of helmets, ought to prompt our politicians to discard the mandatory nature of the helmet mantra. But it has been not easy to persuade our politicians that a meticulous scientific evaluation process is so much more preferable than the anecdotal and common sense approach, so easily manipulated by powerful stakeholders.

Facts gathered to date on MHLs show that the greatest benefit and least risk to us require MHLs to be repealed but this does not equate with the case for profits, and given that we, the Australian community, can hardly be thought of as powerful stakeholders (except for at election time - our one and only true moment of democracy), our true needs will remain languishing on the sidelines until we do something about it.

When will we reject the self-serving logic that is the language of profits, and when will we insist upon the implementation of the facts?...and further when are we going to reclaim responsibility and autonomy for our own lives? - in fact when are we going to 'grow-up'?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Take-home message from Copenhagen - 'cities are made for cycling'

(Photos: Mikael Colville-Andersen)
So in brief:
Who: Mikael / Georgie / me

(Photos: Georgie Abbott)

What: 'magical mystery bike tour & pub crawl'
Scenic view point 1 - new secure neighbourhood bicycle-parking in the form of a pink car, comprising of four separate cabins, each with room for one cargo bike


Scenic view point 2 & 3' - cycling & pedestrian sections of Bryggebroen, the new bridge over the harbour, that goes from the Vesterbro neighbourhood to Iceland Quay, and amazingly caters for almost 10,000 cyclists a day




Where: Copenhagen
Scenic view point 4 - wine bar in Vesterbro, our final port of call

(Photos: Mikael Colville-Andersen)

When: last Friday night until 'wee' hours of last Saturday morning (unimaginably freezing cold!)

(Photos: Georgie Abbott)

In a nutshell: "Australia! our bikes are made for cycling...& that's just what they'll do...one of these days our 'bikes' are gonna 'bike' all over you!"

...are you ready, bikes?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"The bright day is done and we are for the dark"!


OK I admit my title has been shamelessly influenced by the use of the "Anthony & Cleopatra" quotation in "The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society" - but it's how I feel - I don't want to leave Copenhagen and when I do I know I am going to feel that I have been to "heaven and back".

Nothing in Australia is going to match the cycling experiences we have had here in Copenhagen. By allowing the helmet manufacturers and marketers the stranglehold on our culture that they have, we have been robbed of the true cyclcing infrastructure that really matters - in fact the true cycling infrastructure that would have made a beneficial difference to our lives.

The bicycle organisations in Australia are kidding themselves (and us) if they bleat otherwise, and as the 'school prefects' of the Mandatory Helmet Law School, they have been poor advocates for us, perhaps enjoying too many cups of tea & too many buttered crumpets in the headmaster's parlour.

If I was in charge of Australia (!), I would provide:
1. Bicycle traffic lights

2. Bicycle train carriages


3. Bicycle parking for commuting & travelling

4. Bicycle parking for shopping

5. Bicycle parking with extra security

...naturally I would provide proper bicycle lanes too, you know the ones that don't disappear or finish in the middle of nowhere, and I would see to it that we had buses that loved bicycles, and of course every car would have bicycle racks too!...

...but in the meantime, hej, København, thank you for everything, thanks for the proof that cities can work seamlessly with hundreds of bicycles and pedestrians - we have been inspired and we will be back!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Freedom of choice is a universal principle


The more we cycle in Copenhagen the more cranky I become when I recall the appalling cycling conditions that Australia provides for those of us who wish to get around on a bicycle.

We have been sold 'a pup'!!!...and freedom of choice has been 'chucked' out with the bathwater - and what's more, Australian society is impoverished because of it!

However new factors on the global horizon require our consideration. Our responsibilities towards 'climate justice' can no longer be ignored and need to be reviewed, meaning that our committment to the 'car' cannot continue 'willy nilly' as it has done - it desperately needs to be rationalised.

To date, the car culture has completely dictated the terms of our roads to the point that unless we are driving a motor vehicle we can expect to be 'driven' off the roads. Their is very little sharing of the roads, and even the RTA are at a loss to explain what the chapter "Sharing the road with a bicycle rider" (see p.56) really means in their Road Users Handbook! This petrol-head lunacy needs to be limited. We have rights and responsibilities, and currently the freedom of choice that could inform our behaviour in a more globally enlightened way, has been removed. The 're-badging' of cycling over the past 19 years in Australia has been a total calamity.

This week in Copenhagen, we have seen parents & tiny babies & toddlers & grannies & grandpas riding everywhere...and we have observed motorists being 'observant' to a level that is unimaginable in Australia - no kidding! before motorists turn right here (our 'left' equivalent) they look over their shoulders for any oncoming cyclists!!!! - it is 'second-nature', which means people on bikes do not have to waste any time 'second-guessing' what the motorist is likely to do...

...and also you should see the trains! - the Danish trains leave Australian trains 'for dead' - they have a carriage on either end specially designated for bikes, with proper bike racks for you to travel on...yet as an alternative, should you decide that you wish to leave your bike at the station, there are countless parking racks at every station...

...and not only that, bikes are incorporated into so many avenues of life for the Danes, so naturally and without a second thought - we have been completely 'gob-smacked' - check out the posties' cart and coffee cart just for starters! - unbelievable!!!


We are SO JEALOUS!!!!!

But freedom of choice is a universal principle, and we shouldn't have to 'use' a car to 'use' our roads when a bicycle for so many of us is the most sensible (and by far the cheapest) option!

So 'OUT' with our ridiculous mandatory helmet law (MHL), 'OUT' with helmet promotion (which is really all our MHL truly is), and 'IN' with infrastructure and support for all Australians and their families who wish to use a bicycle as their mode of transport on our roads!!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

To the Prime Minister of Australia: Greetings from København


(Copy of postcard sent to the Australian Prime Minister today)
Dear Prime Minister,
"Greetings from København"!
Following my earlier inquiry to you concerning Australia's restrictive mandatory helmet laws, I thought I would take this opportunity, whilst in Copenhagen and surrounded by hundreds of 'unhelmeted' cyclists, to make a further inquiry to see whether you have had an opportunity to consider removing the mandatory requirement.
Yours sincerely,
Sue Abbott (NSW AUSTRALIA)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Bicycle Pie" - the recipe







Ingredients:
1 population
1 'jan gehl'
1 'mikael colville-anderssen'
1 accountable government

Method:
Mix all ingreidents together...and in no time your 'bicycle pie' will be ready!

Bon Appetit, mes amis!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bicycles built for everyone






Maps, itineraries, bicycles, Copenhagen - pure magic!

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Farewell to old england!"








We're leaving for Copenhagen early tomorrow, the city of bicycles, and we're so excited!!!! But we're sad to leave the "Fam" and have loved our snowy cycling time in the UK! - we'll be back for more!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Big Helma Thinking - it's essential to be superficially plausible & quickly adopted

The notion that mandatory helmet laws (MHLs) have made cycling safer is not only superficially plausible, but deeply misleading, and begs the question "why were MHLs so quickly adopted?"

Recent research suggests that Australia's long term use of MHLs contributed to the development of our seriously crippled bicycle culture. The climate of disinformation that surrounded their implementation allowed the commercial reality of helmets and attendant 'PR puff' to hi-jack credible findings to the contrary.

We should be concerned that our MHLs were enacted without any conclusive evidence on the efficacy of bicyle helmets, and that our governments still will not countenance international consensus that MHLs have left us bereft in terms of health, transport, congestion and the environment. In fact the bias exhibited in 'government willingness' to assume that helmets are useful even when the data is not there, is typical of our committment to helmets and MHLs. Arguably "Big Helma thinking" has brainwashed our governments and society into believing that bicycle helmets are the first and last words on bicycle safety.

Why do our governments refuse to acknowledge the obvious success of the cycling cultures in the Netherlands and Denmark?

Why do our governments stubbornly refuse to consider any of the 'tried & true' cycling strategies successfully employed in Europe?

Why do our governments always go to great lengths to remind us that Australia is not Denmark or the Netherlands?

...and last but not least...

If we must have cycling laws, why can't we have the Danish one, enacted in the late 1940s, that requires children to pass a 'cyclist exam' in 9th year, as well as undertaking a 'cyclist course' in 3rd year?

"Life punishes those who delay"

Finally a well written and supportive article, for those of us who choose to cycle without helmets, has been published in the Sydney Morning Herald ! In fact a truly excellent article writen by Elizabeth Farrelly that succinctly exposes the nonsense that our helmet laws are as well as eloquently alluding to the unnecessary drain on our 'oh so' limited public resources.

To date the Sydney Morning Herald has been completely silent on the issue from the side of the non-helmet wearers, and instead has fatuously allowed the commercial reality of "Big Helma" to dictate the spin of cycling safety as though it was reliable evidence. We only have to recall the numerous comments and articles over the last few months from the police minister, the president of Bicycle NSW, and Miranda Devine just for starters. But now we have Elizabeth going into bat for us, and we must capitalise on this surprising and delightful turn of the tide...

...and just as Gorbachev so saliently pointed out to Erich Honecker all those years ago, we cannot afford to delay! The zeitgeist has undoubtedly changed and we are no longer prepared be held hostage by the 'regulators' and the 'regulated'. It is essential that we continue to object to the infringement of our civil liberties so blatantly apparent in enforcement of our mandatory helmet laws.

Notwithstanding our helmet laws, as the mother of 4 young adults, I am proud to say that all our family cycles for utility purposes, and only my partner wears a helmet. But an interesting development has occurred in our family. As a result of my involvement in this campaign, the volumes of literature strewn over every surface in our house, the people that we have met who have devoted hours of stringent and rigorous academic research to this issue, as well as being a man of 'medicine & science', my partner has acknowledged that the evidence used to bolster the case for mandatory helmet laws was questionable at best! In fact he even conceded over skype this morning, as our two hemispheres connected, that he is seriously reconsidering his helmet behaviour - pure magic!

No kidding this is heartening news, and I repeat yet again that I am committed to this cycling advocacy campaign, that I am committed to assisting in whatever way I can to repeal our riduculous mandatory helmet laws, and that I am equally determined to see it through to the end.

Well done to Elizabeth Farrelly (and the SMH! - I mustn't be stingy in my praise!) for opening up mainstream print to discuss our obsolete helmet regulations.

Friday, January 15, 2010

"The Tale of Big Helma" - a one 'post' play

Date: late January sometime during the 1980s
Setting: Parliamentary bunker in Canberra, very hot, an overhead fan rotates with a wobble.
Stage: Curtain opens on a parliamentary secretary who is hot, sweaty, and attired in a short sleeve shirt, old-school tie, shorts and long socks

---------------------------------
Scene 1: Parliamentary Secretary receives a phone call from the Minister; brief conversation is heard with crackly voice from wings

Minister: gotta problem – seems we’ve too many bloody cyclists on the roads with all the bloody road improvements – motorists aren’t bloody happy – so, mate, I wanna a plan pronto – one that looks like we're trying to save the bloody cyclists but really gets rid of the bloody buggers

Parliamentary Secretary: jeeeze! It’s a tricky one – I could have a yarn with the rep from "Big Helma"

Minister: Mate! you could be on the money – give him a bell!!
---------------------------------
Scene 2: Parliamentary Secretary calls “Big Helma” Rep, and the following conversation is heard with another crackly voice from wings

Big Helma Rep: Maaa-te, it’s the “3 Ss” – that’s what you want!

Parliamentary Secretary: whadja mean the “3 Ss”?

Big Helma Rep: “Scare”, “Soothe”, “Sell” and in that order, mate – you create a problem, you miraculously provide a solution and then you flog 'em your product!

Parliamentary Secretary: Fair dinkum! But hang on a sec’ - could it be unpopular? Minister wouldn’t be keen to blatantly piss off the cyclists – they can be bloody bolshie

Big Helma Rep: maaate – got that covered – we’ll get an expert like Dr Yukonschmoozeme - the public trusts him and he’ll lend some weight to the matter - we’ll be right, mate!

Parliamentary Secretary: Jeeze!, mate, fair dinkum!

Big Helma Rep: Just picture the tag line – “No helmet no brain” – we’ll flood the schools and community groups and bicycle organizations with free helmets initially and then discounted ones for a few years! We’ll create a religion, we’ll turn helmets into oxygen, we’ll re-badge cycling into an 'extreme', dangerous activity, one that requires mentors, highly specialized gear, and testosterone!

Parliamentary Secretary: Fair dinkum?!

Big Helma Rep: Yep! Fair dinkum!

Parliamentary Secretary: You little ripper! So what’s in it for youse all?

Big Helma Rep: Well, mate, down the track, we'll get you to mandate our product! We’ll undertake to keep funding the bicycle organizations who will become the 'seminaries' of the new helmet religion; in effect we’ll become the ‘godparents’ of the bicycle organizations so that they can be 'independent' of you fellas – picture the "commercial-regulating indoctrination" – helmets will become the first and last words on bicycle safety, end of story!!

Parliamentary Secretary: Jeeze! Mate, there’s no doubt aboucha! You’re a dead cert for a place on any parliamentary helmet enquiry committee that might be held!

Big Helma Rep: Hey maaaa-aaaate - no worries!

THE END

Monday, January 11, 2010

"Beautiful Dreamers, awake unto...cycling in Cambridge"






After the most beautiful day cycling in Cambridge last Friday, we could only dream of transporting such a reality to Sydney and the rest of Australia! We loved our day in the cycling capital of the UK and felt positively amazing!

Admittedly, we also felt really jealous too! One in four residents cycle to work, which was clearly evident and Cambridge actually has two free cycle parks - yes real cycle parks to leave your bicycle just like real car parks to leave your motor cars...and not only that...if you cycle into the city centre with a child on the back of your bicycle or in a trailer you can swap your bike for a pushchair when you want to walk around! - WE LOVE CAMBRIDGE!

Friday, January 8, 2010

"Over-regulated - under-biked"

The Sydney Morning Herald started the year off with a predictable cycling article that noted the increase in cycling and the fact that more bicycles than cars are sold in Australia. Before the reporter indulged his smug fantasies with his grouping of cyclists, he recorded that the state government has recognised the increase in cycling, and, joy oh joy, has included 'cycling' into their transport blueprint, whatever that is supposed to mean.

But the real government reaction has been to cry from the rooftops that cycling is dangerous, cyclists are dangerous and, truly, it would be safer all round if we all stayed indoors. Naturally these sentiments have been fully supported by Bicycle NSW and various Emergency Departments and have led to some heated debate in letters and blogs.

Whilst a significant proportion of the population is deterred, for the most part cycling continues to grow. It is clear that the Lord Mayor and the City of Sydney have stoically rolled up their sleeves and have already produced some bicycle friendly intitiatives. This has left the state government and Bicycle NSW looking somewhat pointless.

In a desparate bid not to be left behind as the current 'cycling zeitgeist' steam rolls into our psyche and city, the chairman of Bicycle NSW, Alex Unwin, has used the New Year's Day issue of the herald to deliver copious platitudes:

''We have reached a fundamental turning point,'' he said. ''Ten years ago bike riding was a specialist activity. Now bike riding is a mainstream activity. Increasingly, government understands that this is a good thing. The City of Sydney has put a lot of money into specialised bike infrastructure and now the State Government is coming into line [with the bike plan], and there's now a national cycling strategy being reworked this year.''

But I take issue with his 'ten years ago bike riding was a specialist activity' platitude because twenty years ago it was a mainstream activity yet because of specific advice from organisations such as Bicycle NSW, we went backwards almost to the point of no return. The true history of cycling over the past two decades is now being conveniently ignored, including the most enormous 'elephant-in-the-room' - mandatory helmet laws. Repeal them!!

We cannot dodge this issue any longer.

Mandatory helmet laws:
1) are dangerous for our society
2) have specialised cycling to the detriment of the community,
3) have allowed the sport of cycling to hijack the way we live our lives, and
4) are an abuse of our civil liberties.

To all intents and purposes the far reaching consequences of mandatory helmet laws were unintended yet perhaps they were callously factored in from the start - afterall it was a significantly cheaper option for our state governments to sign legislation compelling us to wear helmets than to sign cheques for the necessary cycling infrastructure. Notwithstanding the saving for government, mandatory helmet laws have been a short term gain, and can no longer be tolerated as the substitute for cycling infrastructure.

If mandatory helmet laws were repealed we would have a good chance of reaching the projected 'target of 5% cyclists by 2016' overnight - but then the state government really would have to 'walk' their new 'fluffy' feel good 'talk' by providing us with "Copenhagen" - in fact they are going to have to do this anyway, but in the meantime perhaps the Herald could explore mandatory helmet laws in an investigative manner, whilst limiting the spin and hype from state government and Bicycle NSW.

Repeal Mandatory Helmet Laws Now!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I can paddle my own canoe, thank you!

Next month I will make my submissions in the District Court of New South Wales when I appeal the criminal conviction I received in the Local Court for riding a bicycle without wearing a helmet.

I still believe that helmets are dangerous, and that the 'evil' of me riding a bicycle without a helmet was not disproportionate to the 'evil' that I believe could happen to me if, in the unlikely event I fell off my bicycle, I was wearing one.

A plethora of bicycle helmet research is available in the public domain which clearly points to an increased risk of diffuse axonal injury as a result of the acceleration of the rotation of the brain. Rotation of the brain increases the risk of sustaining a severe type of brain injury that can cause dementia or death, and various studies have suggested that the sticking properties of helmets actually exacerbate the acceleration whilst interfering with the natural compressible properties of the scalp.

Over the last couple of decades, many academics and experts, both from Australia and internationally, have contributed extensive research to the 'bank' of knowledge:

Bill Curnow, retired policy maker and scientist, Canberra, Australia
Dr Ian Walker, traffic psychologist and academic, University of Bath, UK
Dorothy Robinson, statistician and academic, University of Armidale, Australia
Malcolm Wardlaw, business analyst, Edinburgh, Scotland
Colin Clarke, traffic engineer, York, UK
Chris Gillham, journalist and convenor of www.cycle-helmets.com, Perth, Australia
Mikael Colville-Anderssen, journalist and convenor of www.copenhagenize.com, Copenhagen, Denmark

Their excellent peer reviewed journal articles, studies and websites have provided a necessary counter to the commercial dimension that has dictated the fiercely contested debate on mandatory helmet laws. In fact much of their work remains the last word on the subject. Notwithstanding their rigorous academic endeavours, our government resolutely refuses to entertain the notion that helmets ARE NOT and CANNOT EVER be the first and last words on bicycle safety.

I truly and reasonably believe that by wearing a helmet I would modify my anatomy inappropriately for protection purposes, and therefore I truly and reasonably believe that it is necessary to cycle without a helmet...

...and further, I truly and reasonably beleive that it is necessary for me to cycle for my survival and the planet's survival and I truly and reasonably hope that I may be able to convince the court of this honest and reasonable defence of necessity.

The stakes are so high, and I am not prepared to gamble my children's future away any longer so I am compelled to continue riding my bicycle without a helmet, and will do so indefinitely.

Surely this is a true defence of necessity?