A day at the Peats Ridge 2009 Sustainable Arts & Music Festival was absolute bliss and utterly inspiring. An amazing festival unlike any other, it has to "THE MODEL EVENT" utilising 100% renewable energy by running generators on 100% bio-diesel, produced from sustainable crop sources, which create less emissions than petroleum diesel fuel. The 100% composting toilets were brilliant, and the 100% grey water management should be done everywhere. Making a difference to the reality of sustainability was the theme underpinning the event, and so many achievable strategies were on show for us to observe and contemplate.
It was a 'clarion call' to 'make the change to greener energy, make the change to reusing wherever and whenever we could and to change to recycling if we already hadn't'. Everything bought or sold at the festival was either recyclable or compostable, and we were urged to consider our waste options carefully. But best of all was the evident love of cycling everywhere!!!! There were bicycles galore and not a single helmet. People were doubling up, doing errands, ferrying their kids - basically living and transporting themselves on their bikes.
I know exactly where I'll be for 2010's New Year's Eve party!!!!
...but in the meantime, Happy New Year to all of you for this year!!!
A bill has been passed in Israel with the intention to repeal part of the mandatory helmet laws that were introduced last year. If the final votes to be cast this week confirm the bill's status in law, adults will no longer be required to wear a helmet whilst riding a bicycle in the city however...(here comes the tricky bit!)...children, those riding off-road or those biking between cities would still be required to wear a helmet.
The position in Israel certainly lends some weight to our arguments here in Australia but I seriously hope our governments do not fall for such a 'creatively complicated' pathway when it's our turn to repeal mandatory helmet laws (surely on the horizon; the repeal of MHLs!?)
Mandatory helmet laws are dangerous for anyone, anywhere, anytime, & we need to just get rid of them in their entirety!! Complex provisos for children, or urban areas, or weather, or types of bicycle, or shared pathways or any other daft reason beloved by bureaucrats would only complicate the issue, lead to uncertainty, and be guaranteed to be unenforceable.
I also have prepared an on-line petition for people to sign and forward on to the Prime Minister of Australia, the Lord Mayor of Sydney and the Premier of New South Wales. You will find the petition text to your right -> and all you need to do is copy and paste it into the email links provided.
Let's get this "show" on the road and reinstate helmets back to their former status of 'optional' indulgence - I resent being compelled to take this risk when cycling just as I would if I was compelled to over-eat or smoke!!! (and btw, I'm cool with others choosing this risky helmet-wearing, over-eating, smoking behaviour but I firmly believe we ought to be able to choose for ourselves)
Cycling per se is not a dangerous pastime, and provides benefits that tick so many boxes - health, road safety, strategies for urban congestion, reduction in carbon footprints. The bicycle is truly a wonderful machine and it offers a level of freedom that some governments find unnerving, to the extent that governments here in Australia have been prepared to listen to ill-informed commercially driven advice in the name of safety but in reality to control cycling numbers.
But no longer - the Green Revolution is here!
Our heavy reliance on cars is starting to erode and current urban behaviour points to the fact that we are seriosuly considering the options of pedal power. As a community we are now refusing to be influenced by the demonising of cycling, and are making our own rational decisions concerning the benefits of cycling to work, to school, to do our errands, to pay our bills, to do our shopping etc etc. We too 'went' to Copenhagen, albeit via our televisions and radios, and whilst our politicians and bureaucrats disgraced themselves with their pathetic political gymnastics, we came away armed with what we can do and ought to do.
Having witnessed Copenhagen in all weathers (cycling in the snow!!!!! - amazing!) we know we can cycle like that here in Australia too. Unquestionably all of their road habits can be implemented in our cities, and if our leaders start to object we need only remind them that they have consulted Jan Gehl endlessly over the years, funded by our taxes, and now we insist that they listen to him and implement some of his urban plans. Copenhagen too was once heavily reliant on cars yet today almost 40% of the city's population cycles daily for 'stuff' we would automatically get the car out for.
Yes the Green Revolution is here - so dust off your cycles, pump up your tyres, and experience 'freedom'!
...and here's some illustrative inspiration. With only her 30 year old cycle in the garage, a girlfriend of mine headed into town with helmet for a scheduled Xmas hair-do. However upon completion of the date-with-stylist, further thought was required before embarking upon the journey home with 'stunning-new-hairstyle':
"Hmmmmmmn", she pondered, "$100+ for fab hair or $54 fine for no helmet - what to do? Jeez - a no-brainer - NO HELMET!!"
...and as we drank champagne to her, she told me that the cycle ride home was the most liberating cycle ride she's had in years - go, girl!!!!!
My body's nobody's body but mine You run your own body Let me run mine
...this cute little ditty from the 80s was created to empower children. Sadly today, now that we've acquiesced so docilely to the bully tactics of our nanny state, we adults need to get a grip on ourselves and start 'running our own bodies' again.
How did we ever let government convince us that it was worth our while giving up our civil liberties so that (i) they could renege on their obligations to provide safe cycling infrastructure and (ii) they could pass on the cost of safety to the bicycle riders?
We should be outraged that the helmet lobby has been enabled to make a fortune with this groundless legislation and that we have been robbed of cycling infrastructure that could have made such a difference over the last eighteen years.
Now it's timely to take that freedom of choice back and to remember Jean-Paul Sartre's wise words that "once freedom lights its beacon in a man's heart, the gods are powerless against him".
...I would have known that helmets were obviously the wrong solution to the safety problem - 'Blind Freddie' could have seen through the 'oodles' of helmet' spin at large, but not our pollies!!!
So I would have intitiated some REAL BIKE SAFETY initiatives like: * educating motorists in an attempt to prevent cyclists from getting hit in first place * implementing at least a 'one metre passing rule for motor vehicles passing cyclists * banning cars from parking in bike lanes * creating more bike lanes * providing bike safety training into schools * providing free bike safety classes to the general public * holding at-fault motorists fully accountable when they injure or kill cyclists
Helmet laws have successfully singled out cyclists out for regulation yet we all know that considerably more motorists die from head injuries than cyclists. So if we really believed that helmets save lives, we'd make motorists wear helmets too.
But we know, that they know, that we are starting to know, that the helmet laws debacle is a neatly folded little pile of 'emperor's new clothes'!
A beautiful 'southerly' has blown into town in the last 24 hours casting a magical spell on cycling - I love the cool wind on my face and I love the cool wind through my hair - but best of all I love the fact that all the 'cobwebs' incurred by current mandatory 'Christmas' parties have been blown away by this heavenly wind - needless to mention festive 'cobwebs' are incapable of being blowing away in the presence of mandatory helmets!
...don't do it! - woeful for your health - you'll feel terrible! - turn them into ice buckets - do something useful with them!! - enjoy the 'southerly'!
It occurred to me this morning, that I didn't ever receive a copy of the 'in-car' DVD taken the night I was booked for riding a bicycle without a helmet.
I had an opportunity to view the DVD when the brief of evidence was (finally) served, but it was returned after the hearing. This puzzled me at the time, and upon further inquiries from 'anybody & everybody' who knew a thing or two, I discovered that a copy of the in-car video should have been included for me to keep.
So off I trotted to the Police Station at lunchtime to discover what happened to the footage of the 'night in question'.
The sergeant who actually booked me was not at the station but rang me later on this afternoon. He was curious to know why I wanted it, and intimated that it may not have been taken as the in-car video only 'kicks in when the lights have been put on and we wouldn't do that for a bicycle booking'!!! - (really!!! that's interesting! so it was completely unncessary!) Well, I told him that one had definitely 'kicked in' because I had watched it with my lawyer just prior to the court case. He proceeded to inform me that he would have to find out whether I would be allowed a copy as some defendants have been sharing their videos with the public at large ("like on television") - can't we do that? and if not why not if we're happy for that information to be shared?
The rest of our conversation was classic: "are you wearing a helmet now?" "no" "I'll have to come up to Scone and book you again" "surely you have better things to do with your time - I know you have better things to do with your time" "hmmmn!"
...however notwithstanding all the chit-chat I'm intrigued to know what the answers are to the following qustions: - what is the purpose of the in-car video? - is it done for my protection or the policeman's or all of us? - why wasn't I given a copy to keep, given that it was (and still is) part of the brief of evidence against me? - why are there unspoken constraints on the sharing of its content if I want to share it given that I am the criminal here?
...oh! ok! I'm chasing a principle - but if I'm going to be filmed and that 'film' is included in the brief of evidence against me then surely I ought to get a copy - otherwise it just seems like a pointless waste of the limited time and resources of the police...
...so what do you think? what's the likelihood of me getting it? or is the likelihood of me being booked again higher? and will my bike be impounded this time as he warned me in March? and if it is, can I photograph it being taken away in a paddy wagon?
...we'll just have to wait and see! - watch this space!
We have been duped! Helmets were never intended to keep us safe but to remove us from the roads.
Politicians needed a strategy to do this and mandating helmets was the perfect solution. Naturally the Bicycle organisations were only too happy to come on board with this plan because they too were pretty keen to clear the roads of utility cyclists and 'Big Helmet' had undertaken to provide sponsorship should this law come into effect - the perfect symbiotic relationship. So happy chappies all round - roads cleared up, and enough of a 'helmet-target audience' to satisfy the avaricious needs of 'Big Helmet'.
But climate change, the price of oil, traffic congestion, urban gridlocks, and even our general well-being have conspired to undermine that cynical plan. No longer will cyclists be deterred from using their own roads. Horror stories delivered hysterically by Police ministers, ED specialists and Bicycle NSW are falling upon deaf ears. We do not believe claims that 150% of all patients seen in the ED are cyclists, we do not believe that the road is a 'jungle out there' and we do not believe that motorists are 'devils incarnate'.
We do believe governments have a role to play in the provision of cycling infrastructure, in the provision of education and in fulfillment of global obligations. We know that such action will improve the urban landscape immensely and provide far more satisfactory experiences for all concerned even beyond our shores.
To continue with the customary scare tactics to keep us 'in check' would only be irresponsible, costly, and an abuse of our civil and political liberties. Government's tacit committment to the oil industry has been revealed, and we now know that helmets were never intended to protect us but to deter us.
We have been hood-winked long enough - but enough is enough; so Mr Rudd and Ms Kenneally, we're finally facing the reality as it is and your current cycling road safety plan won't wash any longer - we're back!, and loving it!!
* write to Prime Minister (again) * copy in all premiers (again) * copy in Santa Claus (perhaps more useful) * prepare 'free choice' on-line petition * draft submissions for February 2010 in District Court of NSW * contact Upper Hunter Local Council re lack of cycling infrastructure * procure soap box (could be useful) * make mince pies * find pudding cloth * if 'find', make pudding
btw - received polite reply from the Office of the Premier of Queensland
David Hembrow from the wonderful blog A view from the cycle path recently reminded me of an observation attributed to Mahatma Gandhi:
"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
Mind you, David also provided me with a salutary caveat that 'it can take a long time between these stages' (!) but, whatever!, I feel emboldened by these words because we're at stage 3, which means we're almost at stage 4 - Yay!!!
There's no escaping the fact our mandatory helmet laws have to go, and will go. We can't be serious about climate change, traffic congestion, and chronic obesity rates unless we make these changes, and given that there is little evidence of any political inclination to embrace the current cycling zeitgeist it is up to us...
...and we're so obviously making 'in-roads' because the mainstream media have become hysterical and are frantically broadcasting the spin, frantically created by helmet proponents and pollies...
"Too late!", we cry, "we're taking our roads back - (though we're happy to share if you ask us nicely!!!)"
In effect by forcing us to wear helmets, Australian governments discouraged cycling overnight and, notwithstanding strident arguing to the contrary by helmet proponents, Australians demonstrated clearly that they preferred not to ride rather than wear a helmet. Cycling dropped by some 40% yet the actual head injury numbers did not change, and interestingly, we suddenly started talking actual numbers for head injuries rather than percentages.
By subliminally presenting us with the spin that cycling was inherently dangerous, cycling was completely hi-jacked and re-badged. Enthusiastic support from the easily regulated Bicycle Organisations ensured that cycling was now the domain of macho thrill-seekers looking for an extreme sport, and required a badge of 'armour' before any 'mission impossible'. What a nirvana for 'Big Helmet - a manufacturer's heaven!
But there was a "flip side", and Australia paid dearly. The decrease in the number of cyclists meant that it became more dangerous for the few remaining as motorists became less and less used to seeing or expecting to see cyclists on the road. Also fewer cyclists meant that there was an increase of motorists on our roads which in turn resulted in more danger for all motoring, cycling and walking road users...and the 'slide down the slippery "flip-side" slope' continued with more motorists meaning more energy use, more pollution, and more global warming.
So what to do? - it's simple - urge our governments to refrain from restricting our choices.
Mandatory helmet laws ought to be repealed, and voters ought to be able to decide whether to helmet or not. Restricting cyclists' choice is inconsistent and discriminatory, and there are minimal public benefits. A true evaluation of our 'helmet' experience would demonstrate that mandatory helmet laws have been an unmitigated municipal disaster. With our helmet laws banished, we would watch the 'safety in numbers' factor kick in and cycling revert to its natural status in utility transport.
As far as the mandatory angle of bicycle helmets goes in Newtown, it would be a 50:50 split. This evident display of public disobedience appears to go unnoticed by the police, perhaps explained by the 'bleeding obvious' ie they, the police have better things to do than waste their limited time and our limited resources on nonsensical crimes. I think this is one of the many reasons why I love this patch of Sydney so much!
I have just spent a magical three days in Newtown and it has been a heavenly weekend of celebrations involving 'Family-Abbott-en-masse', art exhibitions, runny brie, margueritas in King Street, the best of Vietnamese food in Glebe Point Road, champagne everywhere, picnics in Camperdown Memorial Park, and naturally significant amounts of cycling to connect all these activities in the inner west, city and eastern suburbs (actually also involved some 'walking-the-bicycle' because of some of the aforementioned activities!)
(Glebe Point Road, Glebe, on Georgie's bike)
...and my new Electra has played no small part in this 'festival' of family celebrations. Progressivley over the weekend most of the family took the opportunity for a "Dutch" joy ride, and instantly all of the family were completely smitten with my way of 'getting' around. My stunning "Dutch" beauty was a hit and I feel so proud, and smug even; in fact I feel like the bike's mother!!!
(helmet laws have denied us this 'everyday occurrence' that was starting to happen at the end of the 80s)
We are parties to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights which means that Australia is answerable to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations. Therefore my right under article 7 to be free from coercion to be subject to medical experiments ought to be upheld. It is a right I intend to pursue whatever happens in the District Court of New South Wales in February 2010.
The claim that helmets provide protection is largely unproven yet helmet manufacturers, retailers, importers, some parts of the medical fraternity, and many politicians continue to perpetuate the myth that helmets are the first and last word in safety for cyclists.
This is blatantly untrue.
Notwithstanding it provided a lucrative 'red herring' for all helmet proponents. It conveniently allowed government to pass the onus (and cost) of protection onto each cyclist, absolving them (government) from spending the millions required for the more vital cycling infrastructure and education for motorists.
As a nation, it was a cheap saving that has cost us dearly. Our rights have clearly been abrogated - and all for the sake of our leaders' fatuous committment to the oil industry.
At 45 degrees celsius, today was not a cycling day. However I didn't realise that at 10am when I hopped on my bike and went into to town to continue with xmas posting, and catching up with friends.
By the time I left town at 2pm it was scorching, with a hot westerly wind - oh dear! I live 9kms to the west of town, so it didn't bode well. I have never been so hot; even the tarmac was belching out heat so the cycle ride home was akin to me being a BBQ chook on a rotisserie.
I had to have a couple of little stops under shady trees along the road, and this is when it dawned upon me how much I love living here!! It is a true desert culture!
At my last little stopping point under an enormous gum tree just before the dirt road starts, I sat down and leant against my bike, and started on the tomatoes in the shopping basket (my water was gone!) Every single car that went past me stopped, and offered me water, a ride home, to take my shopping - I was so touched - no-one abandoned me to the elements without checking I was OK! Ridiculously I said I would be fine and waved them on!!!
But this is a country town, and after I dumped all my shopping by the roadside, and limped on home, into our garden and then bliss! oh bliss! our house, my partner arrived with the all shopping!!! - was I OK?? I love Australia!
But I am in big trouble, and am feeling contrite for causing so much concern - apparently only 'mad dogs and englishmen go out in the midday sun'. So note to self: no cycling on the 'melting' days!
It seems to me that many of the helmet studies relied upon by our politicians have a) not been based on evidence, and b) been somewhat influenced by the helmet industry. In a parallel to the modus operandi of 'Big Pharma', 'Big Helmet' has been representative on many of the advisory boards and committees, and inevitably have pushed helmets as the first and last words on cycling safety. Whilst Ben Goldacre's journal article applies to the pharmaceutical industry, his cogent argument that the conflict of interest is unacceptable when any product company conducts its own trials on their own products and then advises the regulators accordingly, could equally apply to helmets. Unquestionably the basis of any industry's findings will always be biaised.
There is a plethora of the highest quality data in the public domain which our politicians continue to disregard. As far as they are concerned 'the matter' is solved, set in concrete, and the file is closed. Yet over and over again, systematic reviews and meta-analyses have demonstrated that pro-helmet studies have distorted political decision making, and, as a result, harmed Australia.
It is perhaps salutory to remember that every expert is a 'salesman' selling their products, and that independent 'Research & Development' can never be achieved, EVER EVER EVER, when an industry is sponsoring the trials.
Somewhat surprisingly, I have still not heard from the Prime Minister! No doubt he has been busy packing for Copenhagen - 'will I, won't I pack a helmet? Jeeeeze! what if there's a bicycle in the conference satchell?!!!' - but in the event that he has inadvertently mislaid my letter, I shall write another one...
...and while I'm at it, I probably also need to write a couple of extra ones to the new NSW premier and the new federal opposition leader, the latter of whom cycled through Scone once on his way to 'somewhere' - he's bound to be interested in my quest!
On Sunday I walk out with a "Chamois", On Monday I'm taken by the "Booties", On Tuesday I'm out with the "Cycle Bibsuit", On Wednesday our "Climatic Head Wear"! On Thursday a gang oot wi' the "Speed Socks", On Friday the "Padded Lycra Pants" But on Saturday I'm willing if you'll only take the shilling, To cycle round with anyone of you!
Did government need a strategy to reduce the increased number of 'everyday cyclists' that had occurred with road improvements and other safety initiatives in the 1980s? Could it be that government recognised that enforced helmet laws would in effect kill off cycling only leaving the 'already-helmeted-lycra-clad-players' (a group easily regulated, tribal, and equally opposed to 'everyday cyclists')? In the last 20 years these bicycle organisations have assumed the mantle of bicycle experts, and are always referred to on 'matters bicycle'...but seriously what have they done for the 'everyday cyclist'?...and also seriously, were they really necessary to the extent that they developed? - it would never occur to me to belong to a 'grocery shopping group', and I 'grocery shop' all the time just like I 'cycle' all the time, so why does Bicycle NSW have the last word on the way we should all cycle?
Instead of demonising cycling we ought to recapture it for all of us, just like we used to have it, just like our parents and grandparents had it. This short trailer of the "Beauty and the Bike" project is inspirational, and it would be so lovely to do something like this here, but we're stymied before we even start - because of our helmet laws. I plan to purchase the DVD and then to organise a viewing for our community and any of our local council who might like to come.
Interestingly, a couple of my friends have just purchased bicycles and have asked me to cycle with them in Sydney, basically for a "mini-refresher" and quick orientation of the CBD, Inner West & Eastern Suburbs. They feel a little anxious but are really keen to get back into it - we plan to shop and cafe-hop, and maybe we'll even finish up at the theatre, like my daughter and I did last weekend.
Unquestionably, helmets deter all of this but the zeitgeist has shifted, and the change is coming, and it's a grass-roots one - and you know what? - it's already started!!!!
The police ought not be distracted from the real public safety issues, yet they are expected to enforce the helmet laws. This ridiculous situation is such a drain on our limited resources, and intensely problematic. Further, it is also extremely difficult to do given the increase in the number of cyclists in Sydney, many of whom are blatantly exhibiting their preference for a non-helmeted ride.
From my observations, the police appear to have suspended enforcement in response to the inherent difficulties of implementation and enforcement...and you'd have to agree that a law that isn't enforced provides zero benefit and is utterly pointless!
The Question: does the State Government of New South Wales have a duty of care to individual citizens?
The Answer: No, unless there is a statutory directive, which the Road Rules 2008 certainly are. Therefore it would appear that the government owes us a duty of care to keep us informed of any instructional or warning defects relevant to helmets, and further that the standard of care rises with any risks attached to helmets.
So given the research to date I want to know (and ought to know): * whether helmet guarantees & warnings are appropriate? * whether they are adequate? * whether they adequately advise of possible dangers attached? * whether they are more 'traps' than instructions? * whether adequate and independent research has been carried out? * whether voters understand the nature of the risks of helmets?
...because according to many guarantees, helmets: * must not be kept in extreme heat (rules out Australia!) * must always be replaced after any impact * must be replaced routinely anyway every 2-3 years * must be fitted properly * must fit properly * must be done up properly * must never be worn in playgrounds (potential strangulation risk) * have sticking properties that can contribute to 'diffuse axonal injury'
So...temporary take-home message until we get this law changed; pop them in the fridge rather than the garage!
The problem with helmet laws is that they are 'marketing spin' that have cultivated the notion that helmets are the first and last words in bicycle safety and protection. As a result of this 'hype', the real issues that should have been addressed, such as better cycling infrastructure for cyclists and education for motorists, were conveniently masked.
It is interesting to note that in the mid 80s the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) established a helmet promotion task force (p.391,para2) whose membership included representatives not only from the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria which was unusual in itself, but bicycle retailers, helmet manufacturers and helmet importers as well - absolutely no prizes for guessing what their slant was on the importance of the uptake of helmets! In fact I would go as far to say that this was somewhat akin to having someone from 'Big Pharma' on the board of the Therapeutic Goods Administration - a significant conflict of interests and one with a 'bottom line' firmly in sight.
Helmets do not and cannot enhance safety, yet we willingly subscribe to the philosophy that once one is plonked on top of a head that helmeted cyclist is 'safe'. Do you know how many people ask me "...but what if you get hit by a truck?" - oh! god! think about it - what if! - after all, how much protection can some 'glorified coffe-cup' really be expected to provide me in the event of a connection with a great big B-double?
There is no escaping the ever-present elephant-in-the-room: helmet laws have significantly discouraged cycling and as a result there are fewer cyclists on the roads which in turn has made cycling more dangerous. The whole world knows about our predicament but our leaders obstinately refuse to acknowledge the facts. Helmet efficacy is greatly exaggerated, and largely unproven, yet because of our helmet laws we are denied the obvious health benefits, plus any additional ones with regards to de-congestion and the environment.
When are we going to recognise that our helmet laws are the culmination of an extremely successful marketing campaign - 'spin' not evidence. The government bought it because it was the cheapest option and one that they could conveniently pass on to the unwitting cyclist!