Meet E.J. She is Today’s Nice Stranger. Well actually, I “met” her last week on Twitter when she commented that she wants to fit bike riding into her life. We then agreed to meet in person so I could hear about her barriers to participation and perhaps provide some suggestions to help her meet her goal. We hung out at the new Whole Foods (where there was not one bike parked in the special bike-parking in the garage, by the way) in a violent-for-bike-riders section of Midtown Atlanta (not far from where two scooter riders were recently killed in separate incidents).
E.J. is a lawyer/litigator specializing in copyrights/trademarks/contracts (and more), especially for arts and entertainment clients. Her tagline is “Be creatively legal,” which I love. She grew up, attended college, and went to law school in Michigan, and then moved to metro Atlanta in 2013 with her son (whose father died years ago). She lives somewhere where it is not possible to ride bikes safely or easily (hello, Gwinnett County), but she takes a commuter bus into Atlanta frequently and believes she could realistically work bike riding in Atlanta into her life two-to-three times a week. I gave her some tips about route selection, taking the lane, common crash scenarios to avoid, and how to use Relay Bikeshare (now that Jump is gone). She’s gonna try it. She even joined Team Trusting the Journey in the Atlanta Bike Challenge for Biketober, plus she’s recruiting her cousin to join as well!
We had a terrific discussion about helmets, by the way, and here’s the bottom line: Until we get over our helmet fixation in this country, we are simply not going to have forward movement on bikes as a viable mobility option (especially for women, and women of color in particular).
And it’s not just about hair (although the time and expense of maintaining a professional style that can get ruined by the sweat of a helmet is no small matter so please do not trivialize this issue, plus current helmet designs simply do not fit many natural hair styles and ones such as those with braids). Here’s the life-and-death paradox: Studies show women get passed by motor vehicles more closely than men, yet studies also show that bike riders without helmets may be passed with more room as they are seen as being more vulnerable. Therefore, not wearing a helmet may actually save a woman’s life*. (Note: I do choose to wear a helmet almost all the time, so please don’t @ me. I am just pointing out reasons why someone may choose not to, and why it is not such a clear-cut decision.) (For the record, E.J. is planning on cutting her hair and wearing a helmet.)
Additionally, although a helmet can certainly protect a head if it hits the ground, not one helmet to date has been crash-tested with an automobile. If hit by a motor vehicle driver, you are more likely to die of internal injuries (especially as a woman or child because of our typically-shorter stature) because today’s vehicles are bigger and hit us higher up than in the past (which might have hit us in our legs and tossed us over the top of the vehicle rather than under it). Note that places where bike riding is separated from motor vehicle traffic have a very low incidence (and need) of helmet-wearing.
Also, we’re on like day 80-something over 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Atlanta this year so far (average number of days over 90 degrees is 37) and helmets on a headful of hair feel like you’re a turkey in one of those Martha Stewart basting bags (in my opinion) so if I’m riding an upright bike at the pace of seven miles per hour on a separated path where I’m stopping frequently to take photos and I’m not wearing a helmet, hold the shaming (as happened twice to me by men-in-lycra in that scenario recently, as well as by another man online when I posted a video that showed me without a helmet).
Anyway, whew, I didn’t mean to get into all that here, but there’s a lot of food-for-thought in that topic and that’s just scratching the surface of it. The most important suggestion I have is that any planning, design, or implementation team involved in any aspect of bike policy, infrastructure, or product development must have diverse voices at the table. For those of us living these issues daily, this is not brain surgery (and, frankly, we’d like to avoid that, in a way that actually works).
Back to Team Trusting the Journey, now we have one spot left. I have personally reached out to five people whom I think would enjoy this team and be a positive addition to it, but as of right now the spot is still open. Who will claim it? Perhaps it will be you.
* Note, of course, that all bets are off if a driver is distracted or impaired