Ken Livingstone says he planned 'compulsory' helmets for London's cycle hire scheme

Former mayor wanted to ensure users got a helmet, but evidence from Australia shows effect on uptake

by Simon_MacMichael   December 2, 2011  

Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme bikes on hire station © Simon MacMichael.jpg

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, who is the Labour candidate in next year’s mayoral elections, has revealed that he planned to in effect make helmets compulsory when drawing up plans for London’s cycle hire scheme.

Mr Livingstone had given the green light to the scheme during his tenure at City Hall, although it wouldn’t be formally launched as the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme until July 2010, more than two years after Boris Johnson had succeeded him as mayor after defeating him in the May 2008 election.

“It was always the plan that you should make certain that people who are cycling have got a helmet. You almost want to have a way where the helmet is actually chained to the bike, so people who don’t bring one can have one,” he told the Camden New Journal this week.

While it’s difficult to see how such a requirement could have effectively been enforced - one imagines that in practice, many cyclists may have shoved the helmet in a bag or left it dangling from the handlebars - the effect may well have been to deter many potential users of the scheme by giving the impression that cycling is more dangerous than it actually is.

The former mayor made his remarks as he joined a group including local politicians to visit the junction of York Way and Pentonville Road in Kings Cross, where cyclist Deep Lee died last month after being crushed beneath a lorry. It goes without saying that a helmet would not have saved her.

He described the Kings Cross gyratory system as “one of the worst in London” and described the current mayor as “ridiculous” for not making the issue his highest priority.

Prior to his electoral defeat in 2008, Mr Livingstone had revealed that he planned to widen Euston Road by an extra lane as well as giving additional space over to cyclists.

Helmets, of course, are not compulsory for cyclists in the UK, although official advice is to wear one, and a Department for Transport spokesperson told the newspaper: “Our position is that cyclists should wear helmets, but it is up to the cyclist to decide.”

The London Borough of Camden’s Cycling Champion, Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Braithwaite, told the Camden New Journal that requiring users of the scheme to wear a helmet was impractical.

“When I anticipate I’m going to get on a Barclays bike, I carry a helmet,” he explained. “But in practical terms, I don’t see how it could be done. Where you would store them? There’s the issue of head lice. It is not practical.”

Australia’s compulsory helmet laws mean that Melbourne and Brisbane are the only two cities in the world with bike-sharing schemes that require helmets to be worn.

Evidence suggests that the legislation has severely restricted uptake of both schemes, despite would-be users in Melbourne being able to buy a helmet for $5 from a number of shops and vending machines in the city, with a $3 refund available if they return it afterwards.

In an article that appeared earlier this year on the Australian academic website The Conversation, helmet compulsion opponent Chris Rissell, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, said that take-up levels of the two schemes in Sydney were only at around 10 per cent of those seen in London and Dublin.

He added that in Mexico and Israel, compulsory helmet legislation had been repealed specifically to facilitate the implementation of bike-sharing programmes.

On the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme section of the Transport for London website, cyclists are advised to consider wearing a properly fitted and secured helmet as part of the scheme’s Code of Conduct.

 

14 user comments

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Oh well, no harm done then. Vaguely glad Johnson is more relaxed on the point. Cool

posted by BigDummy [284 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 14:22

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Boris = buffoon.

Red Ken = prat.

Might have to vote Green next time.

posted by Coleman [329 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 14:32

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Not surprising - the natural inclination of people like Livingston is for compulsion and making people do what is good for them, whether they like it or not.

Sadly a view taking wider hold and one that I fear will result in helmet laws sooner or later.

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posted by abudhabiChris [515 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 14:37

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Coleman wrote:
Boris = buffoon.

Red Ken = prat.

Might have to vote Green next time.

That'll please a certain mayoral candidate next time she visits the site Wink

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [8002 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 14:38

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Just as well he wasn;t the mayor who introduced the scheme then. The take up would have been very low with complusary helmets.

I will wear a helmet on my road bike and my commute bike, but I have a BorisBike key for when I am central London and would rather hop on a bike to get to the station rather than the tube. I don;t want to have to drag a helmet round on the chance I'll use a BorisBike.

"You almost want to have a way where the helmet is actually chained to the bike, so people who don’t bring one can have one"

Impractical as people have different sized heads and a badly fitting helmet is no use.

posted by thereverent [298 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 15:31

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Simon_MacMichael wrote:
Coleman wrote:
Boris = buffoon.

Red Ken = prat.

Might have to vote Green next time.

That'll please a certain mayoral candidate next time she visits the site Wink

"Ahh, Miss Jones!"

(In a Rigsby voice whilst rubbing the fronts of my trousers.)

posted by Coleman [329 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 16:45

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erm...he never said they should be compulsory, just that they should be there as an option. Non story.

The fact that they are nicknamed Boris Bikes has always annoyed me when it was Ken who gave the scheme the nod. Can't imagine the blue paint fiasco would have happened under him.

He also introduced the conjestion charge

And he's is a thorn in the side of stupid right wing (labour as well!!) big business arse lickers.

posted by gifftopher [9 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 16:57

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Ken also looked after people who worked for him. £1.6m in pay-offs when he lost the election? Corruption and croynism.

Right. I'm off to the Guardian website to comment about bikes.

posted by Coleman [329 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 17:27

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@gifftopher

That's why compulsory is in quotes. Fact is, under Ken's scheme, you'd have been required to take a helmet when hiring a bike, whether you chose to wear one or not.

Yes, they're nicknamed Boris Bikes, partly because it's nicely alliterative, but also because it was Johnson who as mayor actually pushed through the scheme and made it reality. Ken had been mayor for eight years, and didn't.

And as we reported last year, the Lib Dems also claimed credit for the idea behind it - a sure sign something's viewed as a success in an age where politicians are too often blaming problems on something they "inherited."

Non-story? A man who in six months' time could well be running London, and therefore the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme, saying that he wants users to wear helmets, when evidence from elsewhere suggests it deters people - that's a story in our book.

It's also worth mentioning that an FOI request found that in the first few months of the scheme, when 1 million jouneys were made, just two users suffered head injuries - and CAT scans revealed that neither of those were serious, both cyclists being released from hospital without further treatment.

By the way, we're neutral on the helmet issue here at road.cc - but we do believe that people should have a choice.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [8002 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 17:30

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You say that a helmet woudn't have saved Deep Lee. I don't imagine it would have saved today's unnamed victim either (may both their souls rest in peace).

Helmets are useful for pratfalls in racing or off-roading, preferably at low speeds. they are pretty useless for collisions with tipper trucks.

Ken, and Boris, could do a great deal more for cyclist safety in Londong by acknowledgeing that the reposnoibilitiy lies with them - to create safe conditions especially at junctions, to introduce and enforce rules on HGV operators, etc. The fact that most victims are women (generally less aggressive/assertive in their riding style than 3-40 year old men), most vehicles invlved are HGVs, and most situations are left turns, strongly suggests that reckless driving behaviour by the motorist coupled with poor road design are the real killers.

posted by Paul M [307 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 17:59

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All good points, Paul. We're expecting, given the comments we've seen in recent weeks from senior politicians across all parties in London, that the issue of cyclists' safety will be pretty high on the agenda in next year's elections.

The cycling community, especially in London, will of course continue to highlight the issues to ensure that happens.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [8002 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 18:14

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Having lived in Melbourne til recently, I saw the effect on its bike scheme compulsory helmets had, it was a joke. I never even tried one out, the times you would want to use it you dont have a helmet, so you forget the bikes are even there, they were just street furniture.
Then the problem becomes that if you do use one, the usage is so low that all the bays are full and you cant get rid of the thing.
On the other hand I had a great time the other day pootling around London as a first time Barclays bike user.
A pound a day, what a bargain!

posted by lolol [117 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 19:33

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Coleman wrote:
Might have to vote Green next time.

I'd suggest that, as a cyclist, you would be failing in your duty if you vote for anyone else.

http://road.cc/tags/jenny-jones
http://www.jennyforlondon.org/tour-du-danger-right-idea-at-the-right-time/

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posted by Simon E [1940 posts]
2nd December 2011 - 21:18

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Coleman said

"Boris = buffoon.

Red Ken = prat.

Might have to vote Green next time."

Well-said. Time for a change.

posted by Recumbenteer [144 posts]
3rd December 2011 - 15:30

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