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INDOpinion

Fresh attitudes needed around cycling in Cork

Wednesday, 1st August, 2018 4:54pm

As a society, we have become hellbent on ensuring that our roads are good enough to transport cars by the lorryload, with no thought given in the round to the road experience for cyclists and pedestrians.

We may have cycle lanes but far too often around our city and county, they peter out into nothingness, leaving cyclists isolated once again on our road.

Take a ride through the city centre sometime on a bike. Head up Western Road. The dips and bumps and craters exist not in the middle of the road – although there are plenty of roads around our city with such deficiencies – but rather on the areas of the road most cyclists are likely to cycle, along the edge.

I remember growing up cycling to school being stopped by a garda for cycling on an empty stretch of footpath because the amount of cars travelling Skehard Road was pushing me day after day to hit the kerb and nearly come off the bike.

I got an earful for being on the footpath but no consideration that the alternative could lead to something far more serious than a bike on a footpath.

I don’t tell this story to garner a reaction, but rather as an excerpt of how many people viewed cycling then, as many still do now.

Pedestrians think cyclists should be on the road. Motorists think cyclists should be on the footpath. If we are serious about utilising alternative transport in Cork, we must create a sea-change in our opinions of road users like cyclists.

That only comes with concrete action. If you look at the continent, cycle lanes are protected by barriers, ensuring that the only road user that can cause an accident in those lanes are other cyclists.

Many motorists in Ireland today veer into cycle lanes to make their dash on a corner, stop at the cycle lane head at traffic lights and generally try to bully cyclists off the road. Why is that?

Is the momentary delay of your journey in a mechanically propelled vehicle justification for potentially causing a serious accident?

There are those who will argue that cyclists themselves are not heeding safety correctly. No helmet. No hi-vis jackets.

This, in turn elicits sharp responses from the cycling community which further polarises the two camps. You’re either pro-cycling or anti-cyclist. There is no in-between, as exchanges on Twitter demonstrate.

The resolution must come from the State.

There have been some achievements that should not go unacknowledged.

The provision of cycleways are positive, we just need to upgrade them for modern road use.

The public bike scheme is a massive success, but the resistance to extending it to the suburbs like Blackrock and Douglas and colleges like CIT baffles even the most casual of observer of public services.

There is an onus of all those involved in the provision of our roads and public services to continue to upgrade and innovate and maintain.

When a road is built, we don’t dust our hands off and say ‘that’s that’. It requires maintenance, observation of usage, tweaks as to how it might operate better – the same must be implemented for cyclists and cycle lanes. The first step is for the Government to implement the law agreed by all parties and heralded by Safe Cycling Ireland.

As the campaign themselves say: “As a cyclist, and vulnerable road user the need for self preservation makes you ride defensively, taking every possible danger in to account. The only danger that you can’t see is the one that is coming from behind. Cyclists hope that other road users overtaking are obeying the road rules and keeping their distance, but unfortunately at the moment, that distance is not defined.

“This creates a situation where cyclists take to the roads with a great degree of uncertainty. This should not be the case if we are to follow Government policy in increasing the amount of journeys carried out by bicycle.

“This 1.5 metre rule would help to create an environment of safer cycling across the board giving cyclists a 1.5 metre cushion when being passed by a motorist. It is also a great piece of legislation to educate the public about how much space to leave when safely passing a cyclist. Put simply, Government and the gardaí would have a standard to measure what is a safe overtake in relation to cyclists.”

It’s reasonable and seeks to protect both the motorist and the cyclist. So why the delay? Because we still have in officialdom those who do not understand cycling and alternatives to the mechanical vehicle.

It’s time that changed. The Minister (for Transport Shane Ross) needs to implement the law, which is supported cross-party.

It’s one thing to say you’re in favour, it’s quite another to simply sit on your hands after saying it.

What is the alternative to doing nothing?

It’s what we see day after day on the South Link. Stand at any intersection any morning and you will see car after car of single occupancy drivers. We’ve reverted into our single silos.

Traffic will increase unless we take action. Cycling is one such path to follow but it needs to be done right, and not with sniping from some quarters about individual experiences - of which there are plenty on both sides.

Next time a politician knocks on your door, ask them when was the last time they cycled through their neighbourhood or through their city or spoke to someone who just did.

We need to continue innovating and talking – otherwise we’re just all in a traffic jam.

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