Susan Stokhof, the Bicycle Mayor of Victoria, says the need for helmets is a sign of failed infrastructure and leadership. (Instagram/Susan Stokhof)

Victoria’s ‘bicycle mayor’ says helmet law signals ‘failed’ government

Susan Stokhof says helmets wouldn’t be necessary with ‘proper separated infrastructure’

The bicycle mayor of Victoria says helmets shouldn’t be necessary for cycling.

Susan Stokhof, the first bicycle mayor of Victoria – and the first ever in Canada – took to social media to share her views on helmet and safety gear for cyclists.

“In the Netherlands people come first in the street hierarchy and the car is the guest,” she shared on her Instagram account on June 1. “People are not forced into wearing safety gear and helmets to keep themselves ‘safe’ from people driving cars. The streets are designed for the safety and convenience of people, not car traffic. Therefore, the application of ‘safety gear’ becomes non-existent.”

READ ALSO: Woman dies after bicycle accident in Tofino

READ ALSO: Victoria bus drivers say shared space with cyclists not efficient use of new lanes

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In the Netherlands (NL) people come first in the street hierarchy and the car is the guest. People are not forced into wearing safety gear and helmets to keep themselves ‘safe’ from people driving cars. The streets are designed for the safety and convenience of people, not car traffic. Therefore, the application of ‘safety gear’ becomes non-existent. Forced application of helmet use & safety gear while cycling is a sign of a government who failed to provide proper separated infrastructure and is typical of a nation that worships car ownership and use, over the safety of people. Harsh words of reality, I know. Signs of a mature cycling city offer all different kinds of mobility choices for moving about your day. One of the most important lessons I brought home with me from my studies abroad at the University of Amsterdam is that it’s the people moving through the streets that matter most, not moving automobiles. The safety of the streets in The Netherlands is set up for people. The social consequences of a normalized cycling culture are far reaching and we think it builds trust and confidence and permeates every aspect of social life. ☞ Click the link in bio to read more.

A post shared by Bicycle Mayor of Victoria (@le_velo_victoria) on

Stokhof goes on to say that forced application of helmet use and safety gear is “a sign of a government who failed to provide proper separated infrastructure and is typical of a nation that worships car ownership and use, over the safety of people.”

Harsh words of reality, I know,” she said.

Stokhof was appointed bicycle mayor in April 2019 by BYCS, an international cycling advocacy group based in Amsterdam. She owns an online bike accessory boutique, Le Velo, and studied bike-focused urban planning in Amsterdam. Back in April, she told Black Press Media that Victoria needs to re-examine how it brands cycling.

“Even when we see Bike to Work Week, we’re always seeing people in Spandex,” she said. “My goal has always been to get out riding in style.”

Stokhof has spent the months since her appointment advocating for better cycling policy and infrastructure in Victoria.

On June 3 – World Bicycle Day – she posted: “Bicycle Mayors are the human face and voice of cycling progress. We are helping cities to uncover massive economic, health, and environmental benefits by rapidly increasing the adoption of cycling in cities.”

READ ALSO: Victoria sees Canada’s first bicycle mayor

Stokhof also said, on Instagram, the most important lesson she brought home from her studies at the University of Amsterdam is that “it’s the people moving through the streets that matter most, not moving automobiles.”

“The safety of the streets in The Netherlands is set up for people. The social consequences of a normalized cycling culture are far reaching and we think it builds trust and confidence and permeates every aspect of social life,” she said.

When asked about her comments on safety gear, Stokhof declined an interview but pointed to her social media comments and said, via Facebook message, that “there needs to be a healthy and rational discussion around the application of the helmet law.

“Unfortunately this seems to be difficult for people to have,” she added. “I have discussed my views exhaustively and I have constantly been attacked for them. I have noticed it definitely has to do with the fact that I am a woman in a public position that people feel they can bully me.”

Stokhof said comments from her male supporters are received far better than her own and she is “no longer interested in feeding that monster.”

The Canadian Paediatric Society’s Injury Prevention Committee says head injuries are among the most severe injuries sustained with bicycling and represent 20-40 per cent of all bicycling injuries encountered in Canadian emergency rooms.

Legislation in B.C. currently mandates cyclists wear helmets.

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[Love stories from Amsterdam… a series] Having just spent 3 weeks studying at the University of Amsterdam in their summer program, planning the cycling city I want to share everything I learned on what it takes to truly be a cycling city. I’m writing a series of blog posts, my love stories if you will, and they are that. Amsterdam is an amazing city. . This is my first post in this series and you can read the full story by clicking the link in my bio. (Why) The Dutch cycle. . ☞ Consider how the Dutch kept their cycling history alive when other countries couldn’t. It would take a series of important events, when put into motion; would create the Amsterdam we know and love today. . ☞ You may think the Dutch cycle because of the 29,000km of connected cycle paths or 7,000km of designated bicycle lanes or because of the flat terrain. Maybe it’s because there are 1.3 bicycles for every citizen (man, woman, & child) in the Netherlands and on average each person cycles 878 km per year. Or is it because, as a country, 4.5 billion trips are made by bicycle each year? Could it just be that the Dutch are unconsciously skilled at riding a bike? Sure, take all of this into consideration, but we’re just barely scratching the surface. . ☞ To understand why the Dutch cycle we first must understand their past to understand the present. I invite you to continue read the full post, (Why) The Dutch cycle and understand what it takes to be a cycling city. Link in my bio and enjoy the read. I would love to hear your comments so please leave them at the end of the blog post. . My husband is Dutch and, as all Dutch citizens know about their history, I asked for his opinion of the article, here’s what he had to say: “Very good article. I liked reading it. Of course there are a few things I would have said differently but all in all a good written article that I am sure will interest many people”. 😘

A post shared by Bicycle Mayor of Victoria (@le_velo_victoria) on

READ ALSO: Victoria brain injury survivors share harrowing stories



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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