COUNCIL TURNS DOWN HELMET LAW
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
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
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
"We need to find a positive, not punitive, route," she
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
"We need to make Saskatoon more bicycle friendly," said
Councillor Darren Hill. "Responsibility begins with education, not
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
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.