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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 13 October, 2019
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New fines begin the overdue fightback against pesky cyclists

With the backing of powerful bureaucratic interests, cyclists have been getting a free ride where it comes to their responsibilities on the road.

Aaron McKenna

AS OF YESTERDAY,  GARDAÍ can enforce new on-the-spot €40 fines for cyclists who commit a range of dangerous no-nos, offences that already carry parallel penalties for motorists. The move is the beginning of a long overdue fight back against aggressive, dangerous and boorish cyclists whose number has increased in tandem with the burgeoning popularity of the transport mode.

Many cyclists were shocked when gardaí began a crack down campaign last year, stopping dangerous cyclists and giving them a telling off. Drivers are often maligned, not always without merit, for being boorish and inconsiderate on the roads. It is a well recognised problem, with a lot of penalties, enforcement and investment into prevention.

Cyclists, on the other hand, have been getting a relatively free ride where it comes to their responsibilities on the road, and there is a feeling of lèse-majesté when criticism of their behaviours are discussed.

Backing of powerful bureaucratic interests

Cyclists have had the backing of powerful bureaucratic interests, for it seems every senior civil servant and county manager involved in roads policy likes to cycle in to work from the leafy inner suburbs of Dublin. These officials sound like they’ve been off sipping taxpayer-funded coffees on fact-finding missions to fine European cycling metropolises.

Watching the world peddle by down the canals of Amsterdam or along the wide thoroughfares of Copenhagen, they have been dreaming of a Dublin to rival their cultured idols. Anti-driving policies have been ramping up, with lane closures morphing into proposals now to cut off key arterial routes in the city to motorists entirely.

Cycling in and of itself is a good thing. In an age of ever more corpulent frames, it’s positive to turn commutes into exercise. But cyclists do not live in isolation, and the attempts to cram European-levels of cycling into our narrow, winding and unsuitable streets is leading to ever more friction on the roads.

I passed through Eindhoven recently, where a walk from the central station to the PSV stadium took me through a network of roads built entirely separately for cyclists and pedestrians. When I got home this fantastic achievement of city planning was put in stark contrast beside Jurys Inn at Christchurch, where a number of cycle lanes have been painted over roads in such a way that were I to stand in the car lane my arms would impede a passing cyclist.

Of course Eindhoven city planners, like many of their European peers, have the Second World War to thank for their free hand to build for the modern world. In other places, like Copenhagen or US cities that are taking up cycling, there are many extra wide thoroughfares on which to plant, at worst, properly spaced lines on roads to delineate cycling and motoring space.

Dublin grew organically in such a way that we really only have a handful of major avenues, and little room to meet the increasing demand for car, bus, Luas and bike lanes.

Drivers should not be forced off city streets

An accommodation needs to be reached in our cities and across the country. The idea that motorists should be forced off the streets to make way for cyclists is ideologically driven twaddle from city planners. Drivers pay for their right to use the roads by contributing a ton of VRT, motor tax, and 57 cents in every euro of petrol going to the exchequer.

If drivers switch en masse to using the bus or cycling, you can also bet that those taxes will go up to cover the shortfall from our newfound good habits. Just ask drivers who flocked to low CO2 emission cars what happened when the tax incentive to do so started costing government real money.

Our cities aren’t going to get bigger, and we’re not going to start demolishing buildings to make the streets wider. So the accommodation needs to involve better behaviour from drivers and cyclists alike, backed by a robust and enforced system of penalties.

There are private speed vans and a traffic corps deployed on the roads to catch out bad driving, and we need to see a similar enforcement against cyclists who break traffic signs, don’t use lights on their bikes, or generally cycle recklessly. There could also be a few more enforced rules, such as to fine cyclists who move slowly between packed cars in traffic and knock their handles off them (I say, without a trace of bitterness).

Rather than cut off city centres to private motorists, such as with the plan to cut off College Green entirely in Dublin, we could introduce congestion charges. Drivers need to recognise that a city centre is both well provisioned with public transport and congested, and so it would be appropriate to pay a usage charge for the convenience of driving through it.

Anti-motorist planners need to recognise on the other hand that motorists already pay for the privilege of being on the roads, and can’t be cut out entirely. These new fines will promote better behaviour and ultimately safer roads.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and columnist for TheJournal.ie. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Read: Are you a cyclist? Here are the 7 offences you can get fined €40 for >

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