On the surface, it would seem like a no-brainer.
But in June 2005, when the issue of a bike helmet law for children came before the Spokane Valley City Council, then-Mayor Diana Wilhite called it a “tough issue.”
“It’s a parent’s responsibility,” she said, casting the deciding vote to swing a 4-3 decision against a new law that would have required kids 5 to 16 years old to wear helmets when bicycling, skateboarding or riding in-line skates and scooters.
The issue certainly drew community interest, as parents, law-enforcement officials and concerned citizens packed council chambers on two separate occasions to testify. Richard Munson, then a council member, received 29 e-mails on the issue – but only three were in favor of passing the ordinance.
At the time, Staci Schlerf – whose daughter died in a bicycle/car collision just a few weeks earlier than the council took up the issue – testified against making helmets mandatory on children.
“If the government always tells us what to do, we’ll never learn anything,” she said. “You lose the value of the less on by taking away the opportunity to make mistakes.”
Bike helmets aren’t exactly the first priority of law-enforcement – even in cities like Spokane, where there is a ordinance on the books, it’s more about awareness than writing tickets, said Officer Teresa Fuller of the Spokane Police Department.
“It’s not enforcement, it’s education,” Fuller said.
Fuller, along with Marion Lee, a public health educator who specializes in injury prevention with the Spokane Regional Health District, spoke before the health board on May 27 to request that a resolution be passed to encourage kids to wear helmets for whatever wheeled outdoor activity they partake in.
“We want to get more people to wear helmets – adults, too,” Lee said.
She reported that in 2007, there were 1,300 reports of wheeled-sport injuries in Spokane County. She added that a study in 2008 showed that 90 percent of kids never or rarely wear helmets, and 60 percent of that group includes the ones getting injured.
According to Lee’s statistics, a trip to the emergency room for an injury sustained while participating in a “wheeled sport activity” typically costs $7,400 while hospitalization can cost $22,000.
The health board agreed to vote on a resolution to support bike helmet use on its June 24 agenda.
While Spokane Valley doesn’t have an ordinance in place – Spokane adopted a helmet law for children in 2004 – Spokane Valley does add a line item of $3,000 each year for helmets that are given away at bike rodeos and other events put on by the Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort.
“(Spokane Valley) has been very positive in that aspect,” Lee said.
Lee also mentioned the city of Liberty Lake is incorporated helmet safety into its “complete streets” concepts for its road infrastructure. Spokane Valley, too, is working on bike/pedestrian master program with a meeting scheduled for June 16 to solicit citizen input (see related story on page 1).
Bike lanes are planned to be a part of an effort to make safety improvements to Broadway Avenue from Park to Pines road that will mimic what already exists on the busy arterial between Pines and Sullivan. Four lanes would be converted to two with a center turn lane and bike lanes between the curb and roadway.
While bicyclists have been present at recent Spokane Valley City Council meetings and voiced their support – bike lanes slow traffic down and have a “calming” effect for pedestrians, they say -- there are others who are less enamored with the idea of sharing the road with two-wheeled transportation.
“I still maintain the safest place to ride is on a sidewalk and on the Centennial Trail,” Allan Hinkle told the council on May 25, “not in bike lanes.”
A motion to cancel or suspend the Broadway project will go before the City Council on June 8. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague.
Meanwhile, a workshop on the city’s proposed Bike and Pedestrian Master Program is scheduled for Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., also at City Hall.