Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Velo City 2013 - VIPs & their thoughts

(Stephen Yarwood, Lord Mayor of Adelaide [front left], Manfred Neun, President of European Cyclists' Federation [front middle] & Maria Vassilakou, Deputy-Mayor of Vienna [front right])

Front row interviews with my one question - the helmet question

Maria Vassilakou, Deputy-Mayor of Vienna was not in favour of imposing mandatory helmet laws for bicycles just as she wasn't for skiing either. Basically when asked she felt that bicycle helmet laws were just artifacts or objects that tend to boost certain markets, and that overall they were counter-productive. She felt on the whole they provided a 'false-safety' for people, and maybe there were times when they could be good to wear but whenever cyclists or potential cyclists expressed that they didn't want to wear them, they should be left in peace.

Manfred Neun, President of European Cyclists' Federation (ECF) felt that it all boiled down to people deciding what they actually want. He told me that the central message from ECF charter is the 'safety in numbers' one - basically the more cyclists there are, the safer cycling is. Whenever and wherever governments have enacted MHLs, cycling has decreased rapidly - not a good thing.

Naturally, the safety issue of cycling is one that governments have seen as a serious problem, and naturally governments have looked for solutions - only some governments looked for solutions fast if it was possible. MHLs presented themselves as a cheap solution and one that would cost governments zero cents. On top of that governments realised they would be able to hold quick press conferences to publicly announce "look at us aren't we wonderful - problem fixed?!"

In Manfred Neun's opinion, the MHL approach never looked at the big picture or the consequences that would inevitably flow. Manfred said that history has shown once countries enacted MHLs they have been far harder to cancel than they were to establish in the first place. He stressed that governments need to take into account all the facts and figures and change to better solutions - and new solutions need to be positive ones, not negative ones (such as our useless MHLs).

Stephen Yarwood, Lord Mayor of Adelaide (oh you got to feel sorry for this guy!) said that it was imperative that we work towards removing MHLs one day but (the big Australian BUT!) the really critical point is to work towards making cycling safer so that it is not even a logical debate but a logical outcome.

He went on to say that he wanted to see the time where everybody felt they were everything rather than today's distinct groups of cyclists feeling they were cyclists pitted against motorists who felt they were motorists. He expressed that somewhere along the line he wants everyone to feel they're everything. This was the logic rather than a mandatory helmet requirement.


So basically he spun on a sixpence and said all the right things without really saying anything to cause angst for any particular group. Granted, it's hard for our more enlightened politicians in Australia, and accordingly they are terrified. They know what's necessary to do, and probably deep down would love to do what it would actually take to get cycling growing...

...but hey this is Australia, and we love our helmet laws, and we love not using our bicycles for our urban transport problems even though we're told over and over again that the bicycle has an important to role to play...

...and you know, I'm sure Adelaide will do a great job for Velo-City 2014 because it's Adelaide and it's gorgeous and it's funky...but the helmet question will be the big elephant in the figurative room, and it will envelope the whole Velo-City conference...needlessly.



  1. Stephen Yarwood is free to make life easier (or at least more honest) for himself. I have no respect for political "leaders" who put their own interest in retaining office ahead of doing their duty by their electors. The tired argument from Stephen about "repeal MHLs but not yet" is absolute rubbish. I am most disappointed that he refuses to openly acknowledge the disastrous failure that Australia's MHLs have been for fear of offending those interests he perceives as powerful. Seriously, what kind of bicycle advocate could possibly think that it is ever a good idea to punish people for riding a bike, dressed as they please? That is the bottom line for anyone who says "repeal, but not yet" - and Stephen is one of them.

    1. Alan,
      I fully agree. Today's Australian politicians, of all stripes*, in all governments, are so bound up with not saying anything controversial on the slight chance that it will be used against them, that it makes me want to puke.

      It is at least a teeny tiny sign of something hopeful that the Adelaide Lord Mayor didn't trot out the usual BS pro-MHL lies, but compared to the Mayor of Dublin's actions and words about MHL...well, there is no comparison in moral fortitude.
      *The exceptions are the right wing nutjobs of course, who don't have the smarts or the discipline to quieten the crazy voices inside their heads.

    2. Sigh, Jim and Alan, I totally agree with you and it's utterly depressing that this is what we're faced with in terms of our political leadership and committment - pathetic but a platform nonetheless for us to make a point in some way or another