Helmets, dedicated bike routes improve cycling safety, city report says

Winnipeg city councillors exchange barbs over bike lanes

A report into cycling safety in Winnipeg comes to the common-sense conclusion that cyclists who wear helmets and travel on routes where bikes don't mingle with motor-vehicle traffic are at the lowest risk of injury.

But the report, which was commissioned with the intent of possibly making helmet use mandatory, makes no recommendations to the city about enacting new city regulations or enforcing existing provincial road-safety rules.

"The two most important interventions available to improve cyclist safety are cycling safety devices (i.e.: helmets, lights and bells) and cycling infrastructure," says the report by Winnipeg active-transportation co-ordinator Stephanie Whitehouse, which will come before council's protection and community services committee on Monday.

Last June, that committee asked the city to study requirements for all cyclists to wear helmets and for all bikes to have bells or other sound devices at night. Whitehouse proceeded to conduct a review of research literature in other cities.

Keeping cyclists away from cars by building dedicated cycling infrastructure also prevents injuries, she wrote.

"Designing cycling routes separated from vehicles and cycling on low traffic streets is associated with a reduced risk of injury," Whitehouse wrote.

The city is in the midst of expanding its cycling-infrastructure network, against opposition from several city councillors, including Transcona's Russ Wyatt.

Most Canadian cities follow provincial rules regarding helmet use, the report says. In Manitoba, people under 18 must wear helmets while riding bikes.

In jurisdictions where helmet use is mandatory, actual use only increases when that legislation is accompanied by enforcement of the regulation and education about bike helmets, the report says, and there's only "limited evidence" mandatory helmet-use legislation discourages cycling, as Bike Winnipeg representatives have said.

Whitehouse found no literature about the effectiveness of bike bells or other sound devices in improving cyclist safety, though there is evidence that permanently using running lights reduces the probability of collisions.

Protection and community services chairman Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) said the report makes him inclined to pursue construction of more cycling infrastructure.

He said he would consult with cyclists before considering a mandatory helmet bylaw.