Saskatoon turns down helmet law: city, cyclists, agencies urged to work together for cyclist safety

      By Darrell Noakes, Saskatoon, SK


      SASKATOON, APRIL 17, 2007 --- Saskatoon city council voted unanimously to turn down a helmet bylaw Monday night, April 16, ending nearly two years of debate that at times threatened to divide the community. Council voted to receive the bylaw proposal for information only, effectively stopping it from proceeding. A friendly amendment was added that council would work with community organizations to pursue an education program.


      The decision leaves the door open for another bylaw proposal in the future.


      Cyclist Rob Phillips, who spoke against the bylaw earlier in the evening, asked after the vote whether the decision means everyone will be back doing this again.


      "Not for a very, very long time," said Mayor Don Atchison to a round of relieved laughter from the public gallery.


      Dr. Cory Neudorf, Saskatoon Health Region chief medical health officer, met outside council chambers briefly with everyone on both sides of the issue, promising to bring all sides together to work for safer cycling in Saskatoon.


      Council had been deadlocked on the issue for nearly two years. In September, 2005, city council's administration and finance committee drafted a proposal for mandatory helmet use while cycling or engaging in other "wheeled activities". The following March, the committee sent a draft bylaw back to administrators with more questions.


      Two weeks ago, on April 2, the committee considered a revised draft, but, unable to reach consensus, sent it back to council for a final decision to be made before the proposed May 1 implementation date.


      Each time the proposed bylaw appeared for discussion, council had been besieged by proponents and opponents who at times heckled one another.


      During Monday's debate, five cyclists made impassioned pleas for council to reject the bylaw as unworkable. An equal number of injury prevention advocates argued in favour of the bylaw.


      Council members described strong public condemnation.


      "The passion in the community is unbelievable," said Councillor Bev Dubois.


      She received hundreds of calls from citizens complaining about the proposal, some vowing to tear up any tickets they received, and not one in support of a bylaw, she said.


      "The police do not have time for this," said Dubois.


      Council member Pat Lorje said that with Canada suffering under "an epidemic of obesity, we need people to be more active. We need to encourage cycling."


      "We need to find a positive, not punitive, route," she added.


      Charlie Clarke said that as one of the newest members of council, he found the experience to be a "rapid education".


      "I'm a parent," he said. "I love cycling. I'm just not convinced this is the right tool in Saskatoon."


      For inner city youth, with whom Clarke worked previously, helmets are "not a number one issue", he said.


      Clarke said he would support anything that would increase cycling in the city, but that the proposed bylaw was the "wrong tool for the job."


      "We need to make Saskatoon more bicycle friendly," said Councillor Darren Hill. "Responsibility begins with education, not imposition."


      The city, health region and other organizations should provide road safety education for cyclists, he said. Motorists should receive education on interacting with cyclists, he added.


      Councillor Myles Heidt drew attention to the city's comprehensive bicycle plan, adopted by the City in 2002.


      "We have a plan, a very good plan," he said, adding that the city needs to make a commitment to make funding available for the plan's implementation.


      Public authorities should focus on other issues, he said.


      "We have 1500 kids who don't go to school," said Heidt. "We have more who are not vaccinated. We have more important issues - child hunger, and those kinds of things."


      Councillor Glen Penner proposed the friendly amendment, saying that the city needs to continue to pursue education programs and to seek partners to promote bicycle safety.


      Councillors Dubois and Clarke said that if helmet legislation is considered, it should come from the provincial government.


      Councillors Heidt and Maurice Neault had said previously, during administration and finance committee meetings, that they thought helmet legislation should be a provincial matter.


      Saskatoon, population 234,000, has the second highest proportion of cyclists in Canada, with 2.51% of commuter trips made by bicycle. Cycling increased by about 35% between 1996 and 2001, the last year for which census figures have been published, the fastest rate of growth experienced by any city, resulting in 2,665 commuter cyclists by 2001.



      Darrell Noakes

      April 2007

November 2008
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