By Anna Lothson
It hasn't made its way to the village board docket yet, but a proposed resolution requiring children younger than 16 to wear a helmet when biking in town has been backed by the Oak Park Board of Health.
The health board previously sought funding for similar safety programs in 2009 and 2010, but when grant funding wasn't available the plan hit the brakes. Now the possibility of an ordinance, along with an official report written by health board member Dr. Ravi Grivois-Shah, is ready for the village board.
In Cook County there are at least six towns that have bicycle helmet ordinances, typically for kids under 16, including River Forest. Although Oak Park's neighbor has the law on the books, police don't hand out tickets to offenders; rather, officers are encouraged to hand out "tickets" for items like free ice cream for those actually wearing helmets.
The report from the health board has been sent to the village manager's office and could be taken up by board by the end of the summer. Oak Park Public Health Director Margaret Provost-Fyfe said sometime in July is possible, but it may not come up until after the board's August break.
Grivois-Shah, an avid biker, said from personal experiences he's seen how important bicycle safety is for everyone in a community, not just kids. He emphasized the ordinance isn't financially driven as the group isn't recommending any type of official ticket be issued. Instead, the new ordinance would give parents a new tool for enforcement and hopefully raise awareness, he said.
The doctor's report cites national statistics about the dangers of riding a bike without a helmet, specifically pointing to a number that shows that 70 percent of fatal bike accidents are a result of head injuries and 90 percent of those were because the bicyclist didn't wear a helmet.
"With this ordinance, we hope to raise awareness on helmet use, something simple residents can do to prevent injuries," Grivois-Shah said. "Data have been clear that having ordinances like these do make a difference in terms on increasing bike helmet usage and decreasing biking injuries."
Oak Park hired the Active Transportation Alliance in 2008 to develop a 10-year plan to help develop Oak Park into a more bicycle-friendly community. This ordinance proposal, along with plans that call for more bike lanes, shared-road line markings and additional signage for bikers, may be part of a more comprehensive biking plan for the village.
Grivois-Shah said along with the ordinance recommendation, the group hopes to reach out to organizations that sponsor programs which promote or even provide helmets to kids who need them.
"Our goal wasn't just to have the mandate itself but to have more of a community response — to make the streets as safe as possible," Grivois-Shah said.