Posted by Editoress on 04/18/07
Saskatoon Rejects Helmet Law Despite Safety Protests
By Darrell Noakes, Saskatoon, SK
Saskatoon city council voted unanimously to turn down a proposed helmet bylaw Monday night, April 16. Council voted to receive the bylaw 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 to inform people about the benefits of bicycle helmets.
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 2nd, 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 1st 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 related tales of 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, 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."
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 Myles Heidt and Maurice Neault had said during administration and finance committee meetings that they thought helmet legislation should be a provincial matter.
Saskatoon, population 234,000, has has the second highest proportion of cyclists in the country, 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 cyclists riding to work each day.
Also, see story in Tuesday's Star-Phoenix newspaper:
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