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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

    • Interview Request For Bicyclist Safety Article October 1, 2014
      TweetGot this in the email: Looking for Cyclists to Share Crash Stories I am a journalism student at Northeastern University. I am writing an article about bicycle safety in Boston – focusing on the fatalities in the past two years … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Dear Boston Developers, Build These Awesome Bike Friendly Buildings September 30, 2014
      TweetSeriously check these amazing bike friendly buildings out! from the WSJ: A bike valet will offer tuneups and tire changes to spandex-clad commuters and residents at Hassalo on Eighth, a multiuse residential and office complex in Portland, Ore., expected to … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Silver Maple Forest Ride September 30, 2014
      TweetThis looks pretty awesome, especially around this time of year. From the email: ———- Friends of the Alewife Reservation (main contact)[email protected]ifereservation.orgOctober 18th, 11 amMeet at the Alewife T entrance near Jerry’s Pond.Join the Friends of Alewife Reservation, Green Cambridge, and … Contin
      Boston Biker
    • Compass Rose Head Badge Attached September 29, 2014
        Looks great!  I am still super impressed with how this came out.  Looks even better on the bike.  More here. Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Somerville Bike Lanes Get The Green Paint Treatment September 29, 2014
      Tweet   A whole bunch of bike lanes in Somerville are getting painted green.  I am not totally sure how I feel about this, but they do seem to be more visible.
      Boston Biker
    • City Streets Are Not Bicycle Race Tracks September 29, 2014
      TweetThere are times when city officials consent to closing city streets to traffic for the purpose of allowing a sanctioned bicycle race to take place. The purpose of closing the streets to traffic is to protect the safety of pedestrians, … Continue reading →
      IsolateCyclist
    • Help DotBike Count Bikes! September 25, 2014
      TweetGot this from DotBike, if you have some time and live in Dorchester give it a read!   —————– Hi DotBikers! Great news, Dorchester is on the map!  Please help keep us there! Dorchester has been included in the annual bike … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Visibility When The Sun Is Low In The Sky In Autumn September 25, 2014
      TweetVisibility is often a problem when driving a car. Many things can reduce visibility. Some of them are man-made and others are caused by nature. Driving in autumn is an example of the latter. Late in the day, the sun … Continue reading →
      IsolateCyclist
    • Visibility When The Sun Is Low In The Sky In Autumn September 25, 2014
      TweetVisibility is often a problem when driving a car. Many things can reduce visibility. Some of them are man-made and others are caused by nature. Driving in autumn is an example of the latter. Late in the day, the sun … Continue reading →
      IsolateCyclist
    • Bicycles As Part Of A Business Model September 22, 2014
      TweetOver the summer, I read a series of articles written by a member of bicycle advocacy group in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was surprised to see how different Philadelphia was in terms of their approach to incorporating cycling into everyday life, … Continue reading →
      IsolateCyclist