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Bike Helmet Bill Could Dampen San Diego Bike Sharing Enthusiasm

Photo caption: Bikes lined up at a downtown checkout station for the San Diego bike sharing ...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Bikes lined up at a downtown checkout station for the San Diego bike sharing company Decobike in January 2015.

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After a year of delays, bike sharing finally got rolling in San Diego, but a new California bill requiring bike helmets could put a damper on the activity.

Bike sharing is only about a month old in San Diego, and it’s already facing challenges. One of them could come from a new California bill that would make it mandatory for riders to wear bike helmets.

Bike sharing company Decobike doesn’t provide helmets with its bikes, so if the bill passes riders would have to bring their own.

That means the bill could put a damper on bike sharing, and possibly bike riding in general, said Samantha Ollinger, director of the bike advocacy group BikeSD.

Photo by Claire Trageser

Samantha Ollinger, director of the bike advocacy group BikeSD, rides her bike at San Diego's waterfront park, Feb. 24, 2015.

“I think one of the things when you think about bike share or even bike rentals is it removes the spontaneity, having to look for a helmet," Ollinger said. "Having to share a helmet I think most people would be kind of grossed out by. So I don’t think it would work in that sense.”

DecoBike didn’t respond to requests for comment on the bill, but its website says riders are encouraged to wear helmets. Ollinger said helmets shouldn't be required for Decobike bicycles.

They have three speeds, she said. “You’re not going very fast. Unless you really have terrible balancing skills, falling down and hitting your head is not going to be something to worry about,” Ollinger said.

State Sen. Carol Liu, who wrote the bill, said the number of bike riders injured in accidents is increasing. In California in 2012, almost 14,000 cyclists were hurt in crashes. In 2008, the number was just under 12,000, according to the California Highway Patrol.

“Any responsible bicycle rider should wear a helmet,” Liu said in a statement. “This law will help protect more people and make sure all riders benefit from the head protection that a helmet provides.”

Anyone riding without a helmet could get a ticket and be fined up to $25 under her bill. It would also require riders to wear reflective clothing at night.

Ollinger said while she appreciates the intent of the bill, more important laws are needed that could increase cyclist safety, including reducing the speed limit on city streets to 25 mph.

"Drivers are driving way too fast because of how our roads have been designed, and focusing on making sure that our roads accommodate bicycle users, pedestrians and drivers is really the way forward,” she said.

Andy Hanshaw, director of the San Diego County Bike Coalition, told KPBS Midday Edition that making helmets mandatory would decrease the number of riders.

"We do encourage helmet use," he said. "However, we do not support mandatory helmet laws because it has shown to be a deterrent. If we can get more people riding for transportation, our streets can become safer."

Ollinger said she does not know of any "legitimate bike advocate who’s in any way in support of this bill."

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