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Fallout From The BPHC Misguided Helmet Campaign Continues

Written by Boston Biker on Oct 23

Bikeyface nails it with this amazing infographic. See the whole thing here.

I think she really sums it up with the following statement:

There’s many points along the way where an individual, a community, and a city, can prevent more tragedies from happening. Helmet or not, when you put a car against a vulnerable road user, you know who the victim will be. Cities need to get real about safety. No excuses.

I am positive this is a response to the failed attempt by the Boston public health commission to promote helmet use with grizzly images of bloody cyclists.

As the url on the posters has finally started to direct to the BPHC website talking about the program.

It would seem they are taking the “hunker down” approach to their ad campaign. Spending most of their words on defending the program rather than showing in anyway that it will be or has been affective.

And the criticism didn’t just come from this humble blog, but rather from around the country.

From Bike Portland, to Bike Snob NYC, to Grist, The Atlantic, and a bunch of other well known blogs, this program has been widely panned as horrible. Literally people around the country and the world think this is a bad idea, as well as every single person I have talked to in Boston about it.

Its time for the BPHC to re-evaluate this misguided campaign. Frankly I am sick of looking at this poor mans bloody face every single day when I ride to work.


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New “No Excuses” Helmet Safety Campaign Misses Its Mark

Written by Boston Biker on Oct 14

I have been noticing a new safety campaign around town, and have gotten a couple emails about it. It seems the Boston Public Health Commission has been putting up posters, and laying down stickers in bike lanes to alert cyclists to the importance of wearing helmets.

Sure its a little in your face, but wearing a helmet is a good idea. Reading the stickers you might think its the law to wear a helmet (it isn’t if you are over 16), but other than that no big deal. Wear your stupid helmet people, come on.

Then I ran across this.

Holy shit! Really!

That is some seriously heavy imagery, not the least of which because its a young black man with a bloody face posted in area of town heavily trafficked by young black people.  This is some seriously violent imagery for a public safety campaign.

I get what they are trying to do, its sorta like those anti-smoking campaigns.

The idea being that you make not wearing a helmet socially unacceptable by appealing to the fear people have of getting injured. Anti-smoking campaigns work in a similar way, appealing to peoples fear of mortality in order to get them to make different choices. However there are some important differences.

  1. Smoking is an addiction, addictions require stronger pushes to get people to fight them.
  2. Cycling is GOOD FOR YOU! Showing bloody images of people on posters is not going to encourage people to cycle.
  3. More cyclists seem to equal safer cyclists. Several studies have shown that increasing the number of cyclists on the road will actually make them safer.
  4. Most fatal crashes involve vehicles and cyclists. Helmets are good, but driver/cyclist education, better engineered roads, and enforcement will go a lot further in preventing these crashes than helmet usage will.

In my mind public safety campaigns should be about doing the most good for the most people. So lets take a hard look at this sort of campaign.

  1. This does nothing to educate drivers or cyclists to change their behaviour (cars turning without looking being one of the biggest safety threat to cyclists)
  2. It actively discourages cycling, I know I would not be cycling if I thought my face would end up like that
  3. Less cyclists = less safety for cyclists, safety in numbers works the other way when your numbers decrease.
  4. Cycling is good for reducing other public health threats (fights obesity and diabetes, reduces car pollution which causes asthma by replacing car drivers with bike riders, reduces heart disease, etc)
  5. Therefor less cyclists = more harm to the public health

So adding it all up, these bloody violent ad campaigns might actually do more harm than they avoid.

I would have rather these dollars spent on ad’s that warn car drivers about checking their mirrors before making turns.  You could use the exact same image, but instead put it up on a billboard near known traffic jam locations, with the text “Do you want to be responsible for the death of someones son. Check your mirrors for cyclists before turning.”

You could still put little stickers in bike lanes encouraging people to wear helmets, you could use the same slogan. But if you want to do the most good for the public health, you are going to want to encourage more people to bike.  Then educate drivers about how to handle the increased number of people on bicycle.

If you need a visual ad for encouraging helmet use, you could appeal to sex.  Have hot people in nothing but helmets (I guess its ok to see bloody faces but not naked people, use some bushes to hide the “naughty” bits), with the ad text “You look better in a helmet.”   Or a picture of a mother with the text “Your mother worries, wear your helmet” or any of a number of funnier/better ad’s that wouldn’t scare people away from cycling.

Helmets are good, and people should wear them. But showing a kid who looks like someone took a bat to his face is not going to get more people to ride their bike, and I think we would all be better off if more people rode their bikes, with or without helmets.

I tried to find more information about this campaign, but the URL on the poster doesn’t seem to work. Have you seen more of these posters around town? Are there other bloody imagery or just this one picture? Do you think the potential reduction in cyclist numbers is worth increasing the current percentage of cyclists who wear a helmet? Do you think these ad’s are effective? Let me know in the comments.


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The Word On The Street

  • RSS Here is what people are saying

    • Michelle Wu’s Editorial on Biking in Boston July 22, 2016
      TweetThe Boston Globe recently published Boston City Council President Michelle Wu’s thoughts on improving bicyclist safety and promoting bike commuting in Boston by way of protected bike lanes.  It’s been passed around quite a bit in Boston cycling circles, but … Continue reading →
      Liam
    • I Am Heading Out To The Corn! July 22, 2016
      TweetI am going to be doing my 5th (!) RAGBRAI next week. It’s going to be hot, and fun, try not to break anything while I am gone.   Read some past RAGBRAI stories here.
      Boston Biker
    • Newbury Street Closed To Car Traffic One Day Next Month July 22, 2016
      TweetIn an effort to make it more like downtown crossing Newbury Street will be closed to cars one day next month (Aug 7th). The city’s decision to shut down Newbury Street to vehicular traffic on Sunday, Aug. 7, is drawing … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Councillor Michelle Wu Wants Your Help To Find Places For Better Bike Lanes July 18, 2016
      TweetSo lets tell her!   From Facebook Need some crowd-sourcing help to move protected cycling infrastructure! Can we generate a list of all the road segments in Boston where there’s already a painted bike lane next to parked cars? i.e. … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • No Need To Imagine New Infrastructure, Just Copy What Works July 13, 2016
      TweetHere is something I would love to see here.
      Boston Biker
    • Babes Bike Boston 2! July 9, 2016
      TweetIts happening AGAIN. The Babes Bike Boston race is back! From Femmechanics: Femmechanics (https://femmechanics.wordpress.com/) is hosting our 2nd annual alleycat next Saturday July 16th! BBB is an alleycat for FTW (femme and/or trans* and/or women) riders of all biking abilities, … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Awesome Ad Featuring Boston Bike Polo Players! July 9, 2016
      Tweet Let the Games Begin from Rule Boston Camera on Vimeo. If you have never watched or played bike polo you are missing out, lots of fun, one of the most fun things you can do.
      Boston Biker
    • Cambridge Fast Tracks Inman Square Redesign June 30, 2016
      TweetThe city of Cambridge has decided to fast track the redesign of Inman square after the recent death there. Sigh…seems the best way to get shitty infrastructure fixed is to have someone die in it. We saw the same thing … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Jeff Jacoby Is A Dirty Sleaze Bag Who Tries To Get Attention When Cyclists Die June 29, 2016
      TweetIt seems Jeff Jacoby, resident murderous goon at the Globe, likes to make stupid public statements after cyclists are killed to try and squeeze just a little more attention for himself and his horrific view points.  I wrote way back in … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Drunk Driver Gets 12 Years For Killing Cyclist In Dorchester June 29, 2016
      TweetIn a rare turn of events a motorist was actually sentenced to jail time for killing a cyclists. All it took was him being drunk and driving without a license.  Nothing will bring back young Fritz Philogene, but at least justice … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker