CYCLING IN DUBLIN is, at the best of times, a dangerous thing to do. As we head toward the darker, colder days of autumn and the clocks go back many road users need a few weeks to readjust.
At this time of year the car becomes a sanctuary of comfort for many motorists – heating up full blast, radio on to break the monotony of sitting in the heavy traffic that the school days bring. And of course there is the build up of clutter – the spare jumper, an umbrella, countless empty coffee cups, hats, scarves and all the other things we might need “just in case the weather turns bad”.
At the same time roads become more of a challenge for the cyclist who is dealing with the elements head on. Stronger winds, slippy roads and heavy showers often prove too much for many who revert to public transport or the car. According to Cyclingindublin.com the trend is that there is safety in numbers for cyclists. The more there are on the road the fewer accidents and fatalities there are, so as the fair weather cyclists drop off the risk increases for the hardcore.
I am both a cyclist and a motorist but I cycle a lot more than I drive. I figure I am a mid-table rule-breaking cyclist. I do run red lights, I have cycled on the footpath and I often forget to signal when turning.
There are of course those cyclists who would never dream of bending the rules of the road and part of me salutes and appreciates them and yet another part of me wonders why they wait at a pedestrian crossing when there is no one else around for a two-mile radius. There is the other end of the spectrum where the rules simply do not exist; it is a world often occupied by those who cycle either very rarely or all the time, such as a courier friend of mine genuinely believes that he has a different entitlement to the road then other users.
“I am a mid-range rule breaker”
As I say I am a mid-range rule breaker. As the law of averages or just good old dumb luck would have it on Monday morning I got a smack of a car. A Micra was turning left off Lower Gardiner Street onto Talbot Street. The driver forgot to indicate, and as she turned left I careened into the side of the car. The young woman jumped out of the car, apologised profusely and asked me if she should call an ambulance. After a couple of minutes we were all smiles and both went on our separate ways.
As the woman was getting back into her car she apologised again and said “I just didn’t see you”. The fact that she just didn’t see me was the thing that I found surprising as I do my best to look like a Christmas tree when I am cycling. I have three lights – two on the bike and one on my helmet, and a fluorescent yellow bomber jacket so I am fairly noticeable.
I realised that it wasn’t so much that she hadn’t seen me, but that she wasn’t looking for me. She was genuinely surprised that a cyclist was on the road, as are many motorists. The 2011 census recorded 39,803 cyclists regularly using Irish roads and yet despite these figures many motorists see cyclists as these annoying things that try and squeeze past your wing mirror every now and again.
The woman in the Micra mentioned to me that she had recently passed her test. It is a while ago since I sat my driving test, but if I recall correctly there is very little attention given to cyclists. I am not suggesting that a licence should be required to cycle a bike but it might not be a bad idea for a learner driver to cycle around the city for a few hours to give them a better understanding of why cyclists do certain things. For example when a cyclist suddenly stops or swerves a few inches into the road he is not playing chicken with a car but is most likely avoiding one of the man potholes that pockmark the street and roads of Dublin.
“The mysteries of The Cycle Lane”
However, a few hours of cycling would not be enough to explain the mysteries of The Cycle Lane to the novice. Cycle lanes are without doubt the single most dangerous feature on Irish roads for the cyclist, above pedestrians, motorists, even above other cyclists, because they give a false sense of security. I have often chuckled at seeing someone on a Dublin Bike swear blind at a bus because the driver cut across the cycle lane, only to have the bewildered bus driver ask the cyclist how he, the driver, is supposed to pull into the bus stop. He may even point down to the road markings which clearly signify a bus stop.
“But it’s a cycle lane,” the cyclist will plead.
“Yes, but it’s a bus stop too,” the bus driver will tell him as he drives off, leaving the biker scratching his helmetless head and thankful that he wasn’t squashed like a bug by the bus.
Cycle lanes appeared in Dublin the late 1990s and as the City Council website brags, “There are now almost 200km of on-road cycle tracks, bus lanes and off-road cycle tracks that cyclists can use. We’re also continuously expanding and improving the network”.
“Accidents continue to happen”
There is something distinctly botched about the cycle lanes in Dublin. They are incomplete, dangerous and it is very difficult to find someone in Dublin City Council who will put their hand up and say, “Yes, I’m the one trying to sort them out”.
Despite budget cuts the RSA continue to do steadfast work, but accidents continue to happen. According to the Garda Press Office there have been seven cyclists killed on Irish roads this year: an increase on 2011.
I am not for licensing or taxing cyclists, but the way cyclists view themselves, and the way in which they are viewed by other road users must change. Surely the government who have become very good at guiding public opinion when it comes to voting on various referenda can turn their hand to helping make Irish roads safer for cyclists, especially at this time of year.
Eoin Lynch tweets at @Eoinlyncho