Use your head

While our city may be known for its sheer number of cyclists, only a fraction of avid bikers use their bicycles for transportation. While MinneapolisâÄô new bike-share program will advocate this, it lacks a clause for helmet use. ItâÄôs getting colder outside and you probably donâÄôt want to think a great deal about getting on your bike and pedaling to class anymore. Even with mittens, the fingers start to numb and the air feels a little like knives when it enters the lungs. Although I know a few bikers who brave the snow and slush of Minnesota winters with treaded tires and exceptional skills to break in icy intersections, I donâÄôt happen to be one of them. âÄúSo why on earth is she writing about bikes âÄî again?âÄù you gripe. Because the city of Minneapolis has released its plans for the bike-share program it promised after the Republican National Convention. Minneapolis is working with the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation to fund and initiate the program by May, 2009. According to a Thursday article in the Star Tribune, âÄúThe cityâÄôs goal is to have 1,000 bikes at 75 self-service kiosks located around downtown, Uptown and the University of Minnesota campus.âÄù For an annual fee of $50 to $75, members of the program will be able to buy unlimited rides. Or, for visitors or occasional use, day passes will be available for $5. Each of the 75 bike stations will have approximately 20 bikes and riders will use key cards to unlock cycles for an allotted half-hour use. A consultant for the project, Bill Dusset, told the Southwest Journal last week that while our city may be miles ahead in the number of avid bikers, many are on a joy ride rather than running errands. Thus, the program aims to facilitate a shift from a simple ride around the lakes toward transportation from place to place. While perhaps novel to Minneapolis, this kind of bike-sharing is hardly new. According to MITâÄôs campus bike-share program, the first public system was launched in 1968 in Amsterdam as a garbled collection of bikes for public use. Though the programs began to spread, there was great trouble with vandalism and theft: Bikes were simply kept by the riders who borrowed them because no sense of accountability ensued. But Europe wasnâÄôt isolated in its struggle to hold on to bikes; the first programs that were attempted in the United States in the âÄò90s also struggled. In Portland, Boulder, Princeton and our own Minneapolis, summers would begin with hundreds of bikes and end in a handful of tires and gears. But after a few decades of failed attempts, Copenhagen, Denmark sported a newly styled program in 1995, that most programs âÄî including the new plan for Minneapolis âÄî are modeled after today. In Copenhagen, theft was battled by using distinct bikes and a coin deposit to unlock the bike from its rack. The bikes were custom made with parts dissimilar to traditional bikes. Likewise, the bikes of Minneapolis are to be a sign of the times in more than a couple of ways. The design of the bike stems from the city of Montreal. The design is by the Stationnement de Montréal, the cityâÄôs parking authority, which is launching its own program next spring and beat six other companies competing for MinneapolisâÄô design. These innovative bikes will have lights powered by an electrical charge generated by the rider. A heavy-duty unisex frame supports a front-hanging basket and a broad seat is designed for quick adjustment. The bikeâÄôs chain will be covered âÄî its gears and breaking system internal to the hub. The bike docks will be solar powered and put into storage come winter time. One of the only foreseeable hiccups in the $3 million program is that it wonâÄôt be providing helmets to its riders. While passing helmets from head to head seems a little unsanitary, and most bikers would probably prefer to wear their own, the idea should be addressed. According to the Mayo Clinic, the reason to wear a bike helmet is simple: if you fall, your helmet hits the pavement instead of your head. WhatâÄôs more, even the most skilled bikers crash every 4,500 miles. If that crash happens to be with a car, the injury will be more severe. Helmets.org notes that a high percentage of brain injuries can be prevented by a helmet âÄî an estimate of 45 to 88 percent. Two thirds of cyclistsâÄô deaths are caused from traumatic brain injury; wearing a helmet is like buckling your seat belt. It just makes sense. The bike-share program will undoubtedly increase the number of bikers on the roads over the summer âÄî especially in the high traffic areas of downtown Minneapolis. As the number of bikers increase, the likelihood of accidents does too; the city would be irresponsible not to provide the option for biker-sharerâÄôs safety on the road. Proper headlights and taillights have been accounted for by the laws of Minnesota and the bikes have been well equipped. But just because the wearing of helmets hasnâÄôt been mandated by law doesnâÄôt mitigate the importance of their use. The city has the winter to mull this one over and I urge program organizers to consider the large risk they take in abandoning the safety of riders. And though weâÄôll have to get through the winter before we break out the bikes again, it appears there will be plenty of options to do so next spring. With such sleek cycles around the city, everyone will look hotter in a helmet. Kelsey Kudak welcomes comments at [email protected]