A Dallas City Council committee next week is expected to formally recommend changing the city’s bike helmet laws.
Right now, everyone has to wear a helmet while riding a bike. Several city council members said that ordinance is a major obstacle to expanding a pilot bike share program next year.
The Quality of Life and Environment committee will formally recommend on Tuesday morning that the ordinance be changed so that only those younger than 17 need to wear helmets, said council member Lee Kleinman.
He said there'd been some discussion about getting rid of the ordinance altogether but he expects to move forward with the plan to require helmets for children.
Once the committee makes its recommendation, the issue will be voted on by the full City Council. Kleinman said he's hopeful the ordinance can be changed before the July break.
The city already has funded about 35 bikes as part of a pilot Bike Share program this autumn in Fair Park. The helmet requirement was a major hurdle to expanding that program, Kleinman said.
He said purchasing them is an unnecessary and burdensome cost, and riders would be loath to rent them anyway.
The City Council wants to reduce traffic congestion and promote taking bicycles to run errands around town, instead of using a car.
The manager of Highland Park bike shop Bicycles Plus said he always wears a helmet because of several scary falls, but understands many casual riders don't want one.
"'This looks so dorky.' We get that one a lot. Certainly there's nothing super stylish about a bike helmet. But it is about safety," said Dallas Perry.
There's also a lot of confusion that the ordinance even exists.
"I didn't know it was for adults. I knew they had something for kids but I thought it was optional for adults. Honestly," said helmetless bike rider Susie Delagarza on the Katy Trail.
Along the Trail, it's easy to find riders with and without helmets.
Amanda Clayton got in a nasty crash last week, and believes her helmet saved her from a serious injury.
"I hit a bump, wasn't paying attention. Didn't have a good grip on my handlebars, flipped over, and the bike went with me. It felt like slow motion," Clayton said. "I remember thinking, 'Hey, the helmet works.'"
Clayton showed NBC 5 the small chip in her helmet where she hit her head. She said she’ll buy a replacement helmet soon. Her story inspired Delagarza to get a helmet.
"I'm definitely going to get a helmet now," Delagarza said. "Even if they change the rules, it's still a good idea."
Both Clayton and Delagarza said requiring adults to wear a helmet isn’t the best way to promote bike use around the city.
"I think everybody should be able to do what they want, as an adult they can make their own decision," Delagarza said.
"I'll always wear one, but I think you should be able to do what you want to do, whether you want to wear one or not," Clayton chimed in.
Bicycles Plus sells about 50 helmets every week, and manager Dallas Perry admits they would lose a lot of those sales if the ordinance changes. But he added that expanding the bike share program next year throughout the city would generate interest in bicycling, and that could mean more bike sales.
"It would help open up a lot of people’s minds, for those where bike use isn't a part of their daily life right now, it might help broaden their perspective," Perry said. "It would go a long way to helping people get on bikes, kind of discovery how awesome a bike is as an alternate form of transportation."