There’s a new effort to increase the rate of helmet use on Portland’s Biketown bike share system.
35 year-old Woodlawn neighborhood resident Aaron Feiger has launched an online petition, Facebook page and guerrilla marketing campaign aimed at persuading the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Biketown operator Motivate to make helmets available at bike share stations.
As first reported Sunday night by KATU, Feiger says he’s motivated by a simple goal: making riders safer.
In a phone interview this morning Feiger, a creative director with the Swift Collective ad agency, told me over 700 people have signed onto his petition since last Thursday and the topic has generated lots of “good dialogue” about helmet use on Facebook and in the news. To get attention for his campaign Feiger placed small stickers on the rear rack of Biketown bikes. The stickers featured a skull and a special code that allows people to instantly interact with the petition via Snapchat. (When I mentioned to Feiger that putting stickers on Biketown bikes was vandalism, he also acknowledged that the stickers are, “Something we’re going to mellow out on and focus primarily with our online campaign” and that the stickers already did their job.)
Feiger is a daily bike rider and self-described “strong advocate for cycling and bike share” who commutes about four miles a day from northeast Portland to downtown. A collision with a garbage truck six years ago taught him the value of wearing a helmet. “If I wasn’t wearing a helmet I might not be here today,” he said.
As he’s watched Biketown (which he pronounces “Bikey-town”) grow in popularity since its launch this past summer Feiger said he’s noticed a majority of people who use the system are new to cycling. “Those riders aren’t as familiar with the roads and maybe don’t bike that often. And those are people that aren’t wearing helmets,” he said. “So this campaign is really just to encourage Biketown and PBOT to look into posssible solutions to offer riders helmets.”
Feiger doesn’t want to make helmets mandatory (he knows that could discourage people who grab a bike on a whim), he just wants them available to people who want to wear one. He’s aware that studies shown mandatory helmet use can reduce ridership and he doesn’t want to take part in any fear-mongering campaign.
When I pointed out that his logo features a skull, he said, “That’s something I’ve been thinking about more and more since launching the campaign.”
“This is less about instilling fear among riders,” he continued, “I’m a firm believer if they make helmets available to bike share customers the last thing I’d want them to do is to use fear to encourage helmet use.”
With his connections in the product design world and at Nike (he has done advertising work for them in the past), Feiger might be able to move something forward. He said that new foldable paper helmet that just won a Dyson Award shows promise and he’s also looked into inflatable helmets.
But the ultimate solution might come from Biketown’s title sponsor, Nike. “I see all the money they spend on innovation… But what if they just created a design innovation team focused around a solution for cost-effective bike share helmets?”
Feiger’s next step is a meeting with Biketown GM Dorothy Mitchell which has been set up for him by a friend who works at Nike. In that meeting he hopes to move the discussion forward and bring in a few product designers who will present solutions.
For their part PBOT has had to answer questions about helmets from day one. Their response has been that there’s no feasible helmet solution available yet so they’re simply encouraging people to wear their own.
It’s important to note that bike share systems have an impressive safety record. The reason is the bikes are very heavy, slow, come with front and rear lights and are ridden in an upright position. Because it’s almost impossible to take risks and ride fast on a bike share bike they’re surprisingly safe — helmet or not.
UPDATE: Feiger has removed the skull from his logo. Here’s the new one:
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org