Friday 26 December 2014

Mike Van Niekerk: Bring on the fines for cyclists

Published 18/07/2013 | 14:13

"What's your view of cyclists?" a London cabbie was asked in a documentary you can see on YouTube. "They're just organ donors guv," was his reply. Hilarious! As a cyclist who's had friends and acquaintances killed or seriously injured by motorists, excuse me if I don't laugh.

The trouble is, it’s not always the car driver who's to blame. Cyclists take risks when they flout road rules, the consequences of which can be pretty bad, so the Irish Government's plans to introduce €50 fines for disobeying the rules is no bad thing.

It would be stretching the truth to say I am myself a totally law-abiding cyclist, but my instinct is to stop at red or amber lights because in my home town Melbourne the fine for not doing so is the equivalent of €246. As a result, it’s been a long time since I've seen anyone chance a dash against red - until I arrived in Dublin.

Now I feel somewhat foolish waiting at a red light as a procession of cyclists go around me to cross the intersection. I am tempted to do the same. No, wait, I have. That's herd instinct for you. I know it’s wrong and potentially dangerous but, well, everyone's doing it. So bring on the fines I say. Let's rebalance group behaviour.

On the other hand, whereas car drivers are not always to blame when they run into cyclists,  mostly they are. Just this morning on my way into the city I saw a driver with one eye on the road and one eye on the sms she was composing on her smartphone. A couple of years ago in Melbourne, a woman was jailed for veering into a cycling lane and killing a young father on his way to work, while she was texting.

The worst thing a cyclist can do to you as a motorist, apart from dent your car when you knock one down, is temporarily slow you as you wait to pass in a narrow road. That's not a hardship when safety is at stake. But then cyclists should look after their own safety as well. Paying attention to the road rules is a start, and I can tell you from experience that fines are the only way to change the culture.

In the meantime, there are a few other things that the authorities could do to make cycling safer. Fixing the roads would a massive start. I don't know how much the recession is to blame for the quality of Dublin's roads, but they are among the most degraded and unpleasant surfaces to ride on I've experienced anywhere in the world. Frequently it is safer to ride on the pavement, or out in the road, rather than in the so-called cycling lane.

Riding in a designated lane in Clontarf the other day, I nearly came down as my front wheel caught the lip of a cracked piece of concrete. There's a potential public liability claim right there.

And while on the subject, could the city council or whoever is responsible please install more bicycle parking infrastructure? I mean, a lot more? Every building with a railing fence has a sign prohibiting owners from securing their bicycles to the fence.

Because there is literally nowhere else to do so, apart from sign posts and trees. If you want to encourage more people to use bicycles for short trips and to commute to the city - taking more pressure off the roads - you could start here.

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