Letters to the editor, June 19, 2014

These are the letters and comments from the print edition

Wheels and feet

I'd like to respond to a key detail in the letter against bike helmets by Coast reader Michael Murphy, namely, the notion that because most transport head injuries occur in automobiles that it is somehow hypocritical to require bike helmets, but not car helmets ("Brains matter," Feature by Erica Butler, June 5/Letters, June 12).

On the face if it, the argument sounds absurd and the reason is obvious: most transportation has long been motorized, so inevitably, compared to biking, head injuries will be higher in sheer numbers in automobiles. We would require a better metric, like head injuries per kilometers driven/ridden, to make a fair comparison.

Beyond that, I find the argument that a helmet law has massively discouraged cycling by making it seem more dangerous and thus encourages sedentarism to be specious. But I acknowledge it would be interesting to do a survey to establish if such laws actually do discourage becoming active thru biking, so that we argue from evidence.

It's simple self-preservation to wear a helmet on a bike, especially when riding in mixed traffic. As with smoking, sometimes people need a nudge to do the right thing. (Oh yes, and we fellow taxpayers salute you helmet wearers, as well.)

It all makes me wonder if Michael wears a seatbelt while driving his car. How about while drinking? Only if you get to the falling down stage, Mike. Cheers! —Byron Rogers, Lunenburg

There is a lot of talk about sharing the road network which, by the way, includes sidewalks. Yes, absolutely, we must learn to share. There is a tendency, though, to focus on anecdotal experience rather than to investigate the fundamental problems.

Would you believe the discussion about sharing roads actually dates back millenia? Perhaps the Romans got the discussion rolling in earnest as they created amazing networks of paved roads across tens of thousands of kilometres to transport messages, goods and armies across their empire. And roads are only one example in the long list of networks that are the very means by which society is evolving at all scales, from local to global. Think of railways, airlines, ocean routes, telephone wires, subsea fibre optic cables, radio and satellites. A relevant question has always been "How will these networks be shared?" Now is truly the time to produce better answers.

The majority of pedestrians and cyclists are in fact also motorists, but there are unfortunately a growing number of motorists who are not cyclists or who are not even pedestrians in any practical sense. This is a grave problem, not just because of the impact on health and the environment, but because more motorists means fewer pedestrians and cyclists have safe and efficient access to the road network.

So how shall we share the road network? The most effective answers involve questioning our use of automobiles. These machines have many wonderful applications. Cities, though, can be built to maximize freedom of movement for people rather than machines. How do we do this in Halifax? We learn from the cities around the world where the road network is shared the most fairly. Then we discuss our local requirements and possibilities.

Do you want a simple step that can be implemented right now? Existing speed limits should be more rigourously enforced. With time, the limits should be reduced on residential and urban streets. These assertions are grounded in basic physics and will save many lives while reducing pollution and costs to taxpayers.

Did you ever consider how efficiently people could be moved

across the Northwest Arm, or even the harbour, using the same reliable gondola lift technology that is used in ski resorts all around the world? We are limited only by our collective imagination, and by our willingness to face our addiction to the apparent convenience of the automobile. —John Shimeld, Halifax

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