And then I thought,

wearing a helmet when cycling on Hämeentie wouldn’t actually make it more safe. It’s a pseudo safety if anything. Hämeentie, for those not living in Helsinki, is quite a big street.

One of the 2 main traffic arteries starting in the centre. The first part is actually called Kaivokatu. After a large roundabout it continues as Unioninkatu, crossing the Pitkäsilta bridge to become Siltasaarenkatu. Then with a slight turn to the right at Hakaniemi it continues as Hämeentie further North-East. It passes Sörnäinen, and then a few kilometers onwards it turns right again towards the Arabia city district. The big street continues as Kustaa Vaasan tie.

Some further clarification of the situation: The outermost lanes on either side are reserved for buses, then a car lane, and the tramtracks are placed in the middle of the street. The sidewalks vary in width, and are on both sides along the entire street. Where there is a cycling path, it’s situated on the sidewalk.

The parts where there are cycling paths are between the roundabout and Pitkäsilta bridge, and from Sörnäinen onwards. The busiest stretch is between the centre and Kustaa Vaasan tie. Where there aren’t any cycling lanes or paths, cyclists are either expected to walk on the sidewalk, or to cycle on the right side of the street. As mentioned those are the lanes for the 67 different buses, and there are numerous busstops along Hämeentie. I’m actually not sure how many buses that makes per hour, since most of them go several times per hour.

My daily bike commute between Hakaniemi and Arabia feels like a new adventure every time. I forgot to mention that the street has quite some height differences (going up from Hakaniemi), not to mention the gazilion traffic lights, serving the handful of pedestrians going to or coming from the tramstops (3 of those), and regulating the traffic at an occasional intersection (7 of those) on the 1 kilometer between Hakaniemi and Sörnainen. I’ll focus on this part of the route.

Cycling up the street, close to the curb, I hear the roaring bus engines coming up behind me. I keep more space than strictly needed between myself and the curb, in order to have some reserve when the buses and trucks pass me. Some actually switch to the other lane in order to pass me. Many others, however, do not, and pass me so closely, that I actually need to take the space I have in order to actually get passed by, rather than to be pushed onto the sidewalk. Facedown. My theory about this is that the drivers don’t actually realize how much space would be safe to keep, and perhaps they also underestimate my speed. It has also happened a few times already that someone behind me honked. Being both stubborn and scared, I don’t look over my shoulder to figure out what the problem is. Two options: either they honked at me because I’m in their way, or they honked at another driver. Neither are things I can change.

What freightens me maybe more when cycling there is to get hit when a bus leaves from a stop. I look at the indicator carfully as long as I can, and when they keep the right one blinking, I dare to overtake the bus. Hoping that the driver doesn’t suddenly pulls away again, without realizing I’m cycling somewhere next to the bus. I daren’t think too deeply about what could happen then, but I do realize that a helmet wouldn’t save me.

Cycling on Hämeentie at any part where there are no cycling lanes is bordering maddness. Now that I have been cycling there daily for a while, I have come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t actually matter if I wore a helmet. Buses would still pass as close, and drive off from stops without taking my speed (or presence in general) into consideration. Two other things could make a difference: a cycling lane, and respect from the drivers. The latter being crucial. As soon as they acknowledge the rights bike riders have to cycle on Hämeentie, it would become a lot safer to cycle there. If only they would consider what it’s like to be on a bike, riding amidst their fast vehicles, I wouldn’t have to fear not to be seen. They would be aware of the possibility of there being a bike, with it’s vulnerability, and as a result take proper care not to jeopardize the biker’s life.

Wearing a helmet doesn’t contribute to that awareness. It will never achieve that awareness. Wearing a helmet will not make it any safer to cycle anywhere.