Oops: City safety campaign touted on signs showing helmet-less bicycle riders

Maybe it’s just something about north West Seattle and SDOT signage. First came the “HPM” speed-limit-sign saga, and now:

Among a series of new SDOT-placed signs staked beside the bicycle/foot trails along Harbor and Alki Avenues are at least two with that design – silhouettes of two people on a bicycle, without helmets, which are required by law.

After the signs were pointed out by Jackie from Upper Alki, which has a safety controversy of its own going on, we went out to see for ourselves, and then asked SDOT about the signs. Marybeth Turner said they’ll be fixed:

This sign is one of a set of five signs, each with a different image. One of the signs shows a silhouette with a retro image of two people without helmets on a tandem bicycle. My understanding is that sets of five signs were placed at six trails around the city. The signs inform people about the Seattle Trails Upgrade Plan (see SDOT web page about this).

A different bicycle image was originally planned for the set, but was replaced by the image you’ve seen by project staff and did not get our usual thoughtful review for public information materials. Although the image seems to portray bicyclists at a time before helmets were commonly used, we definitely want to promote helmet use, and would not normally approve an image of bicyclists without helmets. We are adding helmet stickers to the signs.

Only one of the sign designs we saw was clearly a promotion for the trail:

The others (including silhouettes of a runner, a dog walker, and someone with a small child on their shoulders) bore only the logos for SDOT and for the city’s Vision Zero safety campaign, including the one with the unhelmeted riders.

44 Replies to "Oops: City safety campaign touted on signs showing helmet-less bicycle riders"

  • westseattledood August 14, 2015 (8:38 pm)

    I shouldn’t really laugh out loud at this, probably.

  • seattletimebandit August 14, 2015 (9:09 pm)


  • JortSandwich August 14, 2015 (9:41 pm)

    Although I know this is the kind of comment that causes internet comment boards to explode in rage and fury, I would note that a true “Vision Zero” city would actually allow for cyclists to ride without helmets.

    “Vision Zero” would mean that the streets and infrastructure are designed as such that cyclists don’t need to protect themselves from automobile drivers who are killing them on the street.

    Ideally, cyclists would NOT have to wear helmets, because they would not be in danger of automobile-caused collisions.

    Only 0.5 percent of cyclists in The Netherlands wear helmets, yet they have an incredibly low rate of cyclist deaths. Do you think it’s because of luck? Or perhaps because they’ve designed their cities to accommodate cyclists at the expense of automobile convenience?

  • AMD August 14, 2015 (9:51 pm)

    I can’t wait to see these helmet stickers. They better be epic.
    @JortSandwich, I can’t speak for other riders but I’ve crashed a few times from potholes, slick roads, and some bad decision-making. Even with cars out of the equation, a helmet still seems like a good idea.

  • JortSandwich August 14, 2015 (9:54 pm)

    Seattle’s GOAL should be for cyclists to be so plentiful and so well-protected that they do not need helmets to ride their bikes to be safe. I think this sign represents an ideal future-state.

    The goal should be that cyclists should inherently be safe because it should be harder for automobile drivers to make the mistakes that kill and injure cyclists. The headline to this piece shouldn’t start with, “Oops!” It should be: “Coming soon!”

    Now, I understand that this would slow down people’s automobile commute times and cause for some inconveniences, but, you know, fewer people would die and be seriously injured, and more people would use alternative transportation if they viewed it as a safer and more convenient alternative. So there are trade-offs. On one hand, 10 minutes of commute time. On the other hand, people would live.

    But then again we could just assume that the half-million or so people moving into this county in the next 25 years should all get personal automobiles and we should build a duplicate street system on top of our current one at the expense of billions of dollars to accommodate the growth. I can see how this is a difficult topic.

  • fiz August 14, 2015 (9:55 pm)

    Adding helmet stickers?!
    Hey, thanks, I needed a good chuckle tonight!

  • JortSandwich August 14, 2015 (9:59 pm)

    Perhaps the need to preserve the supremacy of the automobile as the foremost consideration in public transportation needs should mean that we build the “duplicate street system” UNDERGROUND! I know a tunnel boring machine near the waterfront that will be available in a few years (maybe!).

  • Diane August 14, 2015 (10:01 pm)

    good point JortSandwich; thanks

  • bill August 14, 2015 (10:07 pm)

    “Help improve our trails!” My @$$! The clever crew who installed these insipid signs placed a bunch alongside the trail along Spokane St where the sidewalk has been heaving up for over a year. The hump is now tall enough to be about an inch from causing a pedal strike. I reported the hump to SDOT over a year ago, complete with a picture. (Assuming the FindItFixIt app actually works — there is little evidence it does.)

    I expect that when someone eventually crashes on that bump the coverage will focus on whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet, rather than why the city neglected to fix the problem before it became a safety hazard.

  • ltfd August 14, 2015 (10:14 pm)

    Jort, while you may have a point concerning lower bicyclist death rates in the Netherlands (flatter terrain and more separated bike ways), I doubt the success of the Zero Vision campaign.

    In 22 1/2 years with the fire department, every life-threatening or deadly bicycle accident that I have responded to involved bicyclists that DID NOT get struck by a moving automobile; certainly, I have been to innumerable auto-bike accidents with minor or non life-threatening injury. Of course, there have also been many serious/deadly car-bike incidents in the city- I’ve just been to ones caused by the bicyclists themselves:
    – launching down a stairway; dead
    – slamming into the back of a parked truck; dead
    – riding drunk, crashed head to pavement; dead
    – downhill drunk, hit a parked car; critical
    – head-on vs. another bicyclist; aortic aneurysm

    Bicyclists can kill themselves just fine without the help of automobile drivers. Wearing helmets would help prevent deaths either way.

  • clueless August 14, 2015 (10:44 pm)

    omg…I had no idea there was a helmet law here. I’ve been riding my cruiser at Alki for years helmetless without hassle. #refusetouse

  • Brontosaurus August 14, 2015 (11:17 pm)

    Jort, you’re right about the Netherlands being an ideal country for cycling. I don’t know about their helmet stats but I was always under the impression that helmets were mostly for accidents that don’t involve motor vehicles. Kids, for example, can easily fall off and hit their heads. I know I always feel safer when wearing a helmet, and I don’t ride anywhere near traffic (just bike paths and trails). Too scared to ride in traffic.

  • ChefJoe August 14, 2015 (11:23 pm)

    Jort, it’s the county law, but still a good one until cyclists are more consistently separated from auto traffic.

    The Netherlands has several bike habits/laws many non-cyclists here would appreciate too… cyclists who generally move at a slower pace, are prohibited from sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, and are required to use bike lanes when they’re available.

  • dsa August 14, 2015 (11:42 pm)

    Maybe they are better bike riders.

  • Kimmy August 15, 2015 (12:03 am)


    Interesting thought. I have a friend who mentioned a study noting that drivers were more reckless with their driving around cyclists with helmets on, than cyclists without. I wish I could track the studies down, but this article touches on this and other issues you pointed out: http://www.fastcoexist.com/3048883/the-case-against-bike-helmets-and-for-better-bike-infrastructure

    It’s a worthy discussion to have as we continue to improve our roadways and transportation infrastructure. I don’t bike in this city, but when I am on roads with autos, I wear a helmet. Otherwise, I don’t.

  • jody August 15, 2015 (12:30 am)

    I’m amazed that someone actually tries to compare Amsterdam with Seattle or use it as a benchmark. Having lived and worked there recently, I’m sorry to say there is no comparrison!
    1) Amsterdam has a smaller land mass than Seattle
    2) Amsterdam has almost double the density that Seattle has
    3) Amsterdam is FLAT
    4) Amsterdam has an amazing metro system
    Please don’t compare tulips to lemons!
    SDOT’s attempt at social engineering is well beyond the scope of their mandate.
    Why don’t they stick to, or should I say, start to FIX the deteriorating roads we have as opposed to try to engineer us out of our cars.

  • alkiruse August 15, 2015 (1:43 am)

    Has anyone ever been cited for not wearing a helmet in Seattle? Just curious.

  • dis August 15, 2015 (6:58 am)

    AS a dual citizen who lived in Europe for 17 years, I just have to laugh when someone tries to compare any European city with Seattle. I love Seattle, but Europe is light years ahead of us in re: rapid transit, and therefore also bicycle infrastructure. The two are intimately connected, and trying to fix one without the other is just foolishness. Every European city is FAR more dense than Seattle, as poster above noted, and also has grocery stores, shoe stores, book stores, stationary, bakery, etc in every little neighborhood. This is a HUGE factor in the success and utility of biking…..

  • sbre August 15, 2015 (7:11 am)

    With over 28,000 miles on my two bikes and three accidents where my helmeted-head actually made contact with a hard surface (road twice and a concrete pillar the third), I would say that represents a GOOD REASON why cyclists SHOULD ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET!!
    The auto traffic is just part of the danger-equation.

  • JN August 15, 2015 (7:13 am)

    I’m supportive of the abolishment of the helmet law for adults, but I personally use one anytime I commute to work downtown or when I am out on a training/recreational ride. I encounter 30+mph speeds, so having a helmet on will protect against a fall. I know it will not, however, really do anything in a collision with a car, but at least in the ensuing insurance/legal proceedings I can be in full compliance with the aforementioned helmet law.

  • Rick August 15, 2015 (9:15 am)

    The moon would be ideal for cyclists. Only one 4 wheeled vehicle there,verrry low speed limits and if you were to fall off your moonbike you’d still have time for a few selfies before you plowed into the mondust like a feather. Talk about your bike utopia!

  • PistolAnnie August 15, 2015 (9:15 am)

    kimmy, I’m so glad u brought that up! I’ve felt for a long time helmets dehumanize bicyclists, and also contribute to discouraging people from riding. This helmet law needs to go away. And LOL on these stickers!

  • helper3 August 15, 2015 (10:31 am)

    Helmets save people from a life-time of regrets, pain and health problems. Various people I know did not have helmets on and now face a life-time of “I wish I had” as they face the physical challenges in front of them. One has traumatic brain injury. “Do not feel like wearing it this time…..too hot.” or some other reason. As with seat belts, they do save lives & regrets.

  • carol August 15, 2015 (10:34 am)

    My husband got a ticket (I think it was $140) for no helmet the one day he forgot his. And I always wear a helmet; it’s not the cars, it’s falling on my head from 5 ft onto concrete.

  • CanDo August 15, 2015 (11:09 am)

    I would like to know how much SDOT will spend on this project which doesn’t involve any actual hands-on work at the trails. Is one person going to do this sitting at a desk? Will there be a committee who goes out and rides the trails to do their assessment? How much did the design, printing and placement of those helmet-less signs cost and how much will the extra helmet stickers cost in addition? Very curious about how much funding is going into the project, but that’s the kind of thing I think about while sitting in gridlock around the town (both in cars and buses), particularly when it rains, like yesterday and most of the winter. It’s unlikely I would ride a bike in the pouring rain. I do admit to laughing at the sign article. Couldn’t help it.

    “Project Description

    SDOT is preparing a Trails Upgrade Plan for the city’s multi-use trail network to improve the trails and encourage their use. Work includes:
    •Assessing existing trail conditions
    •Updating maintenance plan
    •Evaluating trail expansion needs
    •Updating to design guidelines and policies
    •Designing concepts for three to five locations
    •Determining prioritization at trail crossings (e.g. who goes first?)”

  • sam-c August 15, 2015 (11:20 am)

    +! fiz. just add stickers! like those funny hula hoop stickers you see added to a lot of pedestrian signs.

    my helmet pet peeve….. I ALWAYS see people riding along with their helmet hanging from their handle bars. I really don’t understand that.

  • brizone August 15, 2015 (11:43 am)

    Geez, is there ANYTHING that SDOT can get right? I’m still annoyed at how badly they botched the Spokane St viaduct rebuild. I really wish they’d either hire people who know what they’re doing, or at least get some adult supervision over there…

  • Me August 15, 2015 (12:52 pm)

    Nevermind the helmet stickers – he’s sitting on her handlebars! Those kind of dare devil antics are an accident just waiting to happen. Tsk tsk…

  • ChefJoe August 15, 2015 (1:21 pm)

    Kimmy and pistol annie, I think we should also look into getting rid of the seatbelt laws for cars. They’re constrictive and make drivers think they’re part of the machine in a way. Drivers would be far more careful (and probably cognizant of the dangers) if they were sliding around on a seat during hard turns and people who did dangerous things to get in accidents were thrown from their vehicles more regularly.
    Safety equipment is a poor substitute for a system where everyone was better at avoiding accidents.
    wow… it’s easier to type than to actually imagine trying to say such things with a straight face.

  • Kimmy August 15, 2015 (4:18 pm)

    ChefJoe- not sure why this was directed at me since I didn’t suggest abolishing “safety” laws, but happy to know you found it funny. Stickers should also provide us more comic relief.
    We often forget to mention the long term costs of safety laws. For example, seat belts and helmets. If an individual suffers less damage by wearing a helmet or a seat belt, it’s in the states best interest to make it a law as it can decrease the total cost of care and heath expenditures of its citizens. A severely injured individual could become disabled, in the legal sense of the word, and cost the government thousands of dollars during the years of their care, depending on their personal insurance level and litigation results. It can save the jurisdictions in lawsuit payouts, possibly. In theory, here we don’t just let people die because they failed to engage in injury mitigation or safety practices. These laws could have more to do with saving money and “CYA” than safety.

  • metrognome August 15, 2015 (6:51 pm)

    if you’ve ever meet anyone who lives with a serious head injury, you’d probably wear a helmet 24/7. if you don’t wear a helmet when riding a bike, skateboarding, etc., you might find this TV show instructive; plus, you’ll learn a new way to pronounce ‘centrifugal.’

  • PistolAnnie August 15, 2015 (8:32 pm)

    Chef joe- oh I see. I didn’t realize there was no difference between going 65 on the highway and going 10 on a bike.

    Did u also know that helmets don’t prevent accidents? Maybe we should encase cyclists in some kind of a hard protective shell…which would probably be too heavy so lets power it with gas…

  • Mike August 16, 2015 (1:42 am)

    “I encounter 30+mph speeds, so having a helmet on will protect against a fall. I know it will not, however, really do anything in a collision with a car”
    hitting pavement, a pole, a wall, another cyclist at 30 mph is pretty much the same as hitting a car while it’s going 25mph and you’re going 5mph. Welcome to physics 101.

  • Mr. B August 16, 2015 (10:48 am)

    I bet those helmet stickers will cost taxpayers $100,000.00

  • JN August 16, 2015 (11:13 am)

    Mike, I don’t think you understood my point. I was saying that a collision with a car would cause more damage to my body than my head (I’ve had drivers run stop signs and hit me, never once hit my head. I have hit a patch of gravel once and fallen at a slow speed, I did hit my head there with a helmet on). If you even looked at helmet safety ratings, they are only rated up to 15-20mph, so no, a strike with a car will do nothing. Look up your info before citing “physics 101” at me, please.

  • ChefJoe August 16, 2015 (12:22 pm)

    JN, even if helmets aren’t rated for high speeds, they absorb some of the energy as they shatter and can help. IE – if your apartment is engulfed in a fire and you absolutely have to jump from a window, you want to aim for the bushes and not the ground.

  • Mike August 16, 2015 (12:23 pm)

    JN, head injuries are the only thing helmets will help with. Your rebuttal to my comment does not even make sense.

  • JN August 16, 2015 (5:13 pm)

    Mike, if you actually knew much about the issue you would realize that helmets are a placebo in collisions with cars. A collision with a car will the vast majority of the time accelerate your body past the speed the helmet is rated for. That is why when a motorist hits a cyclist while speeding at 60mph, it is ridiculous to comment on whether or not the cyclist was wearing a helmet when it wouldn’t have helped, and may even have caused harm by snagging or catching something and rotating the head in an injurious manner. I’m still waiting for there to be a mandatory helmet law for every single activity we do: think of all the pedestrian lives we could save if only they were wearing helmets! After all, when a pedestrian is hit by a car they most likely strike their heads, or simply stumble and fall and strike their heads. Why shouldn’t pedestrians wear helmets, when the same incidents and circumstances cyclists have (dealing with motor traffic, poor surface conditions) also affect pedestrians? Just wondering…..

  • ChefJoe August 16, 2015 (8:25 pm)

    JN, I’m convinced. When we get around to permitting pedestrians to walk in the roadway (not cross) and instruct them to claim the lanes then we should require those pedestrians have helmets.

  • JN August 16, 2015 (9:48 pm)

    ChefJoe, I’m just applying the logic I have had quoted to me by doctors and so-called experts on mandatory all ages helmet laws: If it saves even one life, it’s worth it. I think you missed the point of my previous comment.

  • Josh August 18, 2015 (8:30 am)

    Good for the city!

    It’s clear that mandatory helmet laws have a negative impact on public health by discouraging many people from bicycling because of an exaggerated sense of danger and the inconvenience of re-doing hair after wearing a helmet.

    It would benefit public safety for the Health Department to repeal its big-nanny helmet law, but until it does, I applaud the City for encouraging noncompliance with the Health Department rule.

  • James D. August 18, 2015 (8:51 am)

    I promoted helmet use in the 1970’s before it was popular. In fact, Bicycle Helmets weren’t even available… I had to beg for a FOOTBALL Helmet, which they wouldn’t even give me…
    So, we’ve come full circle…

  • anonyme August 19, 2015 (8:25 am)

    “I’ve felt for a long time helmets dehumanize bicyclists”


    Only in Seattle…

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