St. Albertans regardless of age could be required to wear a helmet when using most non-motorized modes of travel within city limits, as part of a series of amendments coming to the city's traffic bylaw next month.
While the proposed changes also include E-scooters, those on skateboards, rollerblades, inline skates, bicycles, and non-motorized scooters may need to wear a helmet when travelling or using city facilities such as the Woodlands Skateboard Park, or they could potentially face a $100 fine.
City peace officers will use an education-first philosophy when it comes to enforcement, meaning fines will only be issued as a last resort, council heard on May 16, when the amendments passed first and second reading.
Currently, the city's traffic bylaw only mandates helmets for those under 12, however bicycle riders of all ages have been required to wear a helmet since 2006.
Coun. Ken MacKay, who first put the traffic bylaw amendment forward last month, told the Gazette that throughout his 34-year policing career prior to serving on council, it was obvious that wearing a helmet played a role in preventing serious injury.
“I'm not naïve enough to believe that everybody will wear a helmet or that even the municipal enforcement officers are running around looking for that as a violation, but it's important for education and it's important for our community,” MacKay said. “I just think if we're going to have any possibility of (injury), it's always better to have safety.”
“People drive cars but you still need to put seatbelts in, you mandate speed limits on the roadways, you put in other safety precautions like red lights and other traffic controls, so I don't see this as being anything really different.”
Mayor Cathy Heron also compared the proposed new helmet regulations to seat belts in cars.
“There's a lot of people that will talk about individual rights and individual decisions but to me it's very similar to a seat belt,” she said.
“It frustrates me when you see kids riding their bikes with their parents and the parents aren't wearing helmets but the kids are ... helmets save lives and it's obvious.”
Although he voted in favour of the bylaw amendments at first and second reading, Coun. Mike Killick said he would prefer if the city left helmets as optional for adults.
“I had hoped that we could've rolled that back to age 18 and align it with many other municipalities and the provincial government guidelines for age 18 but ... that clearly wasn't supported by the rest of the council,” he said.
A number of other amendments to the city's traffic bylaw also passed first and second reading on May 16, including the explicit prohibition of ‘tandem’ riding on E-scooters, or two people riding the same scooter.
As well, the point at which the speed limit changes from 50 km/h to 70 km/h on Sir Winston Churchill Avenue near the Poundmaker Road intersection will likely be shifted some 230 metres east of the intersection.
The intersection has become a “point of conflict” as more and more pedestrian use of the area occurs, read a documemnt prepared for council by the city's transportation manager, Dean Schick.
“An intersection is not an optimal location for a 20 km/h change in speed,” Schick wrote.
The shifted location of the speed change would allow “for the 70 km/h to 50 km/h transition to occur well before the Poundmaker Road intersection and for drivers to be reaching this reduced speed as they enter the city or maintain the reduced speed as they exit the city and travel through the intersection,” Schick wrote.
The traffic bylaw amendments would have passed all three required readings unanimously on May 16 if not for Coun. Shelley Biermanski being the lone opposition vote.
“The helmet bylaw has been here for years and I don't think that we need to go out and fine people for things that they've been doing a great job (at) until this point in time,” Biermanski said during the debate. “By this process, we're having separate laws than provincial mandates so when people come from the border of Edmonton to St. Albert unless we have any signage or some sort of means of telling them no one's going to know that we have different bylaws in St. Albert.”
“We've made it more complicated than it needs to be is my opinion on this,” she said.
The third reading of the proposed amendments will now be scheduled for the next council meeting on June 6.