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Riding Anchorage bike trails -- helmet or helmetless?

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: July 6, 2016
  • Published August 12, 2012

Yet another study is out concluding that bicycle helmets encourage riskier riding, thus off-setting any benefits from wearing helmets.

This one comes from Norway, a country in which researchers concluded there are now two types of cyclists: "One speed-happy group that cycle fast and have lots of cycle equipment including helmets, and one traditional kind of cyclist without much equipment, cycling slowly. With all the limitations that have to be placed on a cross sectional study such as this, the results indicate that at least part of the reason why helmet laws do not appear to be beneficial is that they disproportionately discourage the safest cyclists."

Other studies have reached similar conclusions about helmets, including studies that looked at alpine ski helmets and ended with the conclusion that helmets help if skiers ski like they're not wearing helmets. The problem is such advice runs counter to human nature. When it comes to bike helmets, some cyclists -- including Alaska Dispatch's Craig Medred -- have begun to wonder if the whole helmet issue isn't just an attempt to avoid the real issue: The need to better design cities for safe travel by bicycle. A study by researchers at Rutgers University has documented a steady increase in U.S. bike use driven by a variety of factors from high fuel costs to environmental concerns to interests in improved health.

"The number of bike commuters rose by 64 percent from 1990 to 2009," the study concluded. Infrastructure has in many cases lagged behind, although some of the cities now rated among the country's best places to live have been highly proactive. Portland, Ore., which "Money" magazine called "the best place to live in the country," is one of those cities. So is Chicago, which Money rated the best place to live in the Midwest.

Anchorage has been regularly praised for the recreational bike trails through its greenbelts and parks, but its trail system for commuters leaves much to be desired. The municipality's "Safe Routes to School" program, for instance, lacks safe routes to many schools.

The city advises parents of students attending Hanshew Middle School in South Anchorage that the "Anchorage School District provides safe and efficient transportation for all students." In other words, don't encourage your kid to walk or ride to school, but if they do decide to try the latter make sure they are wearing a helmet. It's the law in Anchorage. They could be cited by the police if not wearing a helmet. The helmet is designed to protect against a single impact at speeds of 12 mph or less.

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