Knesset seeks ways to help boost number of bicycle riders

As a follow-up to the "Helmet Law" passed last July, which removed the requirement for bicycle riders to wear helmets, the Knesset will be discussing the "Bill to Encourage Bicycle Transportation" on Wednesday. The bill will be proposed by nine MKs - including Dov Henin (Hadash), Michael Melchior (Labor) and Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) - and is supported by over 70 other MKs. The bill requests government funding for various projects, such as increased bicycle parking in cities, bicycle lanes on city streets, room for bicycles on buses and trains, and showering areas in workplaces of more than 40 employees, to improve the safety and convenience of Israel's bicycle riders. Through making bicycle riding more accessible, the bill also tackles some of Israel's larger health and road-related problems. "Bicycles are a good answer to the increasing gasoline prices, pollution, traffic, and health problems," says MK Dov Henin. According to the State Authority of Statistics, in 2006 there were 363,000 privately owned bicycles in Israel, and the number has been increasing by 20 percent annually. In the past few years, the Israel Bicycle Association (IBA) has received requests from over one hundred cities throughout the country for assistance in launching bicycle safety projects. The proposed bill will address the bicycle safety concerns of the IBA and will enforce previously passed associated bills such as the "Helmet Bill." The "Helmet bill," also proposed by Henin, encourages but does not require the wearing of a helmet while riding a bicycle. The purpose of the bill is to make biking easier for potential riders, thereby increasing the number of riders on the streets. Although it is too early to tell, since the bill was passed in July 2007, the IBA believes that more bicycle riders on the streets leads to an increased awareness of bikers by automobile drivers, resulting in decreased car accidents. To illustrate this claim, Tel Aviv, which currently has 87 kilometers of bicycle lanes, has both the highest number of bicycle riders and the lowest number of car accidents, proportional to its population, than any other city in the country. The proposed bill's implications go beyond safe bicycle riding and may affect other aspects of Israeli life. "The 'Bill to Encourage Bicycle Transportation' has safety, health, environmental and economical benefits," Yotam Avizohar, the director of the Israel Bicycle Association told The Jerusalem Post. "It will improve the quality of life for all Israeli citizens." "Tomorrow the Knesset will stand a test," said Henin in anticipation of the upcoming discussion and vote, "And we, the Knesset members, will be able to determine if we only discuss the environment or whether we actively work to protect it."