Whizzing down Commonwealth Avenue through Kenmore Square, Berklee College of Music student Jon Cox could not have looked more hip. He was riding an aqua and chrome vintage bike. The tattoo on his arm showed symbols from an early Led Zeppelin record. He was yawning.
And since he was unencumbered by a bike helmet, he was listening to Mumford & Sons through oversize headphones — oblivious to the large sign he pedaled past featuring a graphic image of a cyclist with a gashed and bloodied face. “Still think it’s the helmet that’s unattractive?” the message read. “There are no good excuses.”
Maybe not, but there are excuses for going helmetless: “I’m pretty broke,” Cox said when stopped for an interview. Then he added, “I’ll be really careful.”
With a growing number of bike lanes in the city — it’s up to 60.3 miles — and its rent-a-bike Hubway program taking off, Boston is aggressively targeting cyclists like Cox in two new ways: with a $40,000 “Wear a Helmet” campaign, replete with scary pictures, and with the city’s first-ever helmet vending machine about to be installed.
The question is whether cyclists like Cox will ever be persuaded to change their ways, even when there are studies showing bike helmets decrease the risk of head and brain injury by 65 to 88 percent. Wearing a helmet is something Cox acknowledges he should be “more cognizant” of, but he never seems to get around to it. “I guess you could call it some sort of strange laziness,” said the 21-year-old guitarist in the band Telescope Casual.
The advertising campaign, which is winding down this month, was developed by the Boston Public Health Commission in conjunction with other city agencies, cycling groups, and bike shops and is the latest effort in a push by the city to improve bicycle safety. Dr. Huy Nguyen, the commission’s medical director, said the goal of the ads is to reduce head, brain, and facial injuries by increasing the use of bicycle helmets.
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