Saturday 12 February 2011

Cycling into the news

"Illegal" parking shows popularity of
Cycling; but government doesn't
support it.  From
Designing HK.
The letter I wrote to South China Morning Post on 28 January led to the letters editor writing to me with some questions, which I answered, then to contact from the  chairman of the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance, which I copy below.
Then there was an editorial on bicycles for Hong Kong, in the SCMP of 7th Feb, and an article yesterday by Martin Turner yesterday (pdf's below).  So seems things are moving along a bit, and it would be great if there could be some movement on two issues:

  • (1) A bike path round the whole of Hong Kong island.  This would actually be "easy" do to, in that it "just" requires the government to say "make it so", and it can happen.  As Martin notes, lots of the land on the north side is government land and/or unused.  And 
  • (2) Electric bicycles: changing licencing laws (the Transport Regs) to allow us to ride these in Hong Kong. Which, btw, we still ride around here in DB, "hoping" to be nabbed by a policeperson so that we can have a test case in court.  But DB is so safe that the police are rarely even here...... sigh.....  See my submission to the Department of Transport here.

Copies of recent corro:
Hi Martin,
I’ve not done much about bicycles lately, but glad to be in touch and help if I can, esp re electric bicycles. I’ve also thought a nice strategic goal for the government would be to aim for a cycle path right round Hong Kong Island!  Just think what that could do, to focus the minds....  Did you see Tom Holland’s Monitor piece in today’s SCMP, re the government locking bicycles up?
I did a submission to the government a couple of years back, on e-bikes, here 

(If you can’t access the link, I can send you the PDF).  The government sent a non-committal response, and I got caught up with other stuff so didn’t pursue it.

BTW: John Lee the letters editor of the SCMP has asked me for more details re the letter I sent (about helmet laws), and here’s my response to him here below.  He hasn’t run the letter yet, though I’m guessing he may.


Dear John [Lee, Letters editor, South China Morning Post]

Re your question as why there were increased hospital admissions after helmets were made compulory, from the quick research I’ve done, there appear to be at least four reasons:

(1) Risk compensation: “One possible explanation [for more injuries after helmet laws introduced] is risk compensation. Cyclists feel protected by helmets and so may tend to take more risks.... In the US... increased helmet use is associated with an increased fatality rate”.  (from P.7 of article referenced in next para).

(2)  Number of cyclists: There’s also an effect from the increased number of cyclists: it’s an inverse relationship: the more cyclists, the safer for individual cyclists; since there were fewer cyclists after the helmet law, there was a corresponding increase in the per-cyclist number of injuries from cars. There’s much more detailed discussion of this in the paper.   (“Head injuries and bicycle helmet Laws” by Professor D.L.Robinson, 1999.  This is a PDF, accessed off the site, and not a link though I can send the PDF if you like.)

A later study in the British Medical Journal (2006) supports this judgement: it concludes that the overall drop in number (not rate) of injuries after helmet laws was due to the reduction in number of cyclists, not because of injury prevention afforded by the helmets.  That one is viewable online, here.

(3)  Behaviour of motorists: The University of Bath study of 2006 suggests that “Wearing a helmet puts cyclists at risk”.  The reason appears to be that cars go closer to cyclists when they see they are wearing a helmet.

(4)  Increased area that can be struck: Another possible cause includes a doubling of the head size likely to make impact — due to the size of the helmet — increasing likelihood of rotational brain injury.  (I don’t have a reference for this one).

All this sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but there it is. I just happened to have been reading about bicycle helmet laws, when I saw the article about Andrew Cheng Kar-foo’s proposal to make them compulsory  and I realised that there’s more to it than meets the eye..

On 02/02/2011 5:02 PM, "Hong Kong Cycling Alliance"  wrote:


I was very interested to see your advocacy  of electric bikes in Hong Kong.

At Hong Kong Cycling Alliance, we are working to have cycling encouraged and enabled by the government. We are surprisingly hopeful that Hong Kong can catch up with so many other cities that have embraced cycling over the past decade or two.

Electric bikes can surely have a role in that change.

I also concur with your doubt of the efficacy of mandatory cycle helmet laws.

It would be good to be in touch with you.


Martin Turner
Hong Kong Cycling Alliance

"Cycling the path to a vibrant harbourfront", Martin Turner, South China Morning Post, 11 Feb 11. PDF.
"Accidents highlight need to create cycling culture", Editorial, South China Morning Post, 7 Feb 11. PDF.