Chicago Activists Push for Divvy Helmets

About one year ago, Chicago introduced its first official bike-sharing program, Divvy, which has been met with much success. Over this past year, according to Mayor Emanuel, 1.6 million Divvy trips took place and 23,000 people signed up for annual memberships. In a city committed to becoming the country’s most bike-friendly, only one issue could stand in our path: Divvy’s actual safety and liability. Bicycle accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm dive deeper into this issue and the proposals to fix it.

The problem currently at the forefront of conversation is whether Divvy should provide helmets along with the bicycle rentals – and, if so, how to reasonably manage this. At present, Divvy only mentions the importance of wearing a helmet in passing, just before the rider is allowed to take their rental.

Upon sliding your credit card into the Divvy kiosk, the screen prompts you with a few ‘Riding Tips,’ which include following the rules of the road, wearing a helmet, and yielding to pedestrians. Beyond that, wearing a helmet is not mandatory or even expected.

There are many reasons why Divvy decided not to require or provide helmets for its users; the Chicago Tribune columnist Neil Steinberg suggests that it because the program would not make a profit from renting helmets. He further argues that, instead of acting like a part of urban civic community, Divvy is acting more in accordance of a private company focusing only on increasing its bottom line.

Citi Bike, the New York City bike-sharing program, similarly encourages riders to wear a helmet but does not provide one for them. The New York City Department of Transportation provides a free helmet for renters at events throughout the city, however, these are few and far between. Every annual member of Citi Bike does receive $10 off one helmet at any NYC bicycle shop. Divvy annual members get a 20% discount when buying helmets, but only at a few Chicago shops.

Overall, Divvy is a great contribution to our city – it promotes a healthful, green lifestyle that should be embraced. However it is not without problems: Divvy’s supplier recently filed for bankruptcy, there are no stations south of 51st street, and a slew of software issues have been reported. For better or worse the city is becoming much more bike friendly, and Mayor Emanuel has been criticized for being anti-motorist in his plans to establish protected bike lanes throughout the city.

Some point to Europe as a model of what Chicago, with any luck, will look like in the coming decades. When traveling through Copenhagen or Amsterdam, rarely will you see a bicyclist wearing a helmet. This is because of the culture and infrastructure differences: both cities cater and protect bicyclists in ways American cities do not. In the U.S., motor vehicles take precedence over bicyclists and pedestrians.

In fact, many Europeans consider helmets to be completely unnecessary for urban commuting, as injury rates are much, much lower than in the U.S., where laws in certain states mandate helmet use. Many Americans are surprised by this, although if one takes a moment to think about it, it makes sense. Infrastructure changes such as protected bike lanes with separate light systems protect riders far more than helmets can. It not only promotes the overall number of cyclists on the road, which in turn provides safety in numbers, but also makes motorists more aware and considerate.

In Boston and Washington D.C. only four out of five bike-sharing riders regularly wear helmets, numbers that seem to translate to Chicago. Similar programs in other cities, such as the one in Melbourne, Australia, require helmets, however, this program is considerably less popular than its American counterparts (with about 150 rides per day). These facts lead city officials to be more lax about the helmet rules, believing that if helmets were mandatory it would kill the easy-going vibe of the program.

Reinforcing this point, the bike-sharing program in Mexico City recently retracted its mandatory helmet laws, to encourage riders to use the program. It goes without saying, however, that most North American cities are far lacking in bicycle-friendly infrastructure. Every effort Mayor Emanuel puts into improving these conditions is met by uproar in those communities, where motorists feel unjustly encroached upon.

For now, although there have been massive gains in the right direction in Chicago, it is still wisest to wear a helmet when bicycling. We are a far cry from Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where more than one-third of all daily trips are made on bicycle. Our team of bike crash lawyers urges those injured on bicycles to contact our office right away. We have been working in this area of law for over 35 years, and will continue to report on cycling issues throughout the country. Our legal advice is always free of charge and no-obligation, and available to injured crash victims nationwide.

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