Austin B-cycle is a happy medium between wanting to ride a bike and dealing with the costs of owning one. I can get to a Sunday evening church service or a class without having to pull out the U-lock or worry about taking my bike home. Best of all, it’s free for students.
But we should also keep our safety in mind when we’re biking.
A University Health Services survey conducted in spring 2017 found that 35.4 percent of students did not wear a helmet when riding a bike in the past couple of months, and 25.8 percent wore a helmet “rarely” or “sometimes.” When we wear a helmet, we reduce our risk of serious head injury by nearly 70 percent, a 2016 Australian study shows. It’s easy to quickly grab a bike from a bike dock to head downtown or get across campus, but most of us don’t carry helmets with us regularly. To reduce the risk of injury, B-cycle could get more students to wear helmets if they provided them at the point of service.
“A simple fall could kill you,” said Randy Swart, director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. “With a helmet, you’re unlikely to die from a simple fall.”
I myself have narrowly missed pedestrians when I bike on Speedway, which could have toppled me and another hapless student. Even simple falls like that could lead to head and neck injuries.
Swart said the bikes are heavy and slow, which means the chances for crashing on those bikes is low. But nevertheless, people do still crash on shared bikes. Last year, a bus ran over a New York City bicyclist riding a Citi Bike. These fatalities are rare, thankfully — there have been only two on shared bicycles in the last seven years among bike sharing systems — but no one knows the number of non-fatal fatalities, which is surely higher.
Swart said non-fatal bicycle injuries are not counted in the accident rates because emergency services teams usually do not track whether the bicyclist wore a helmet — if injured bicyclists even seek medical attention at all. Basically, that means that we don’t know how often cyclists get injured. But if they do get injured, wearing a helmet reduces that risk dramatically.
B-cycle does not provide helmets right now, and they really should find a way to do so for the safety of students. Many B-cycle trips are spur-of-the-moment, whether deciding to make a trip downtown or trying to make it across campus for class. Spontaneity clashes with safety, and students shouldn’t have to choose. B-cycle encourages riders to wear helmets, but doesn’t provide them with the means to do so.
Boston piloted, but discontinued, helmet vending machines. Only a few cities like Vancouver offer helmets to riders. They are secured with a lock to each bike, and they include disposable liners for hygiene. Austin B-cycle declined to comment for this column, but they should consider something similar. Riders deserve protection on a crowded campus where pedestrians, bikes and cars share space side by side.
Students in the meantime should always wear a helmet when riding bicycles. It’s fun to let the wind mess your hair up, but it’s safer to cover it up.
Wong is a Plan II and Government senior from McKinney. He is a Senior Columnist. Follow him on Twitter @CalebAWong