Cycling to work still means taking your life in your hands
Published 13/06/2016 | 02:30
I generally like to stay on the right side of the law. I am one of those fastidiously rule-obeying types who breaks out in a cold sweat at the thought of even the most minor transgression. More than once, I have been left standing on the platform as the last Luas trundles into the distance because of my toddler-like refusal to be a ticketless commuter. Basically, I like rules and don't derive any joy from breaking them.
And yet last week I found myself disregarding the rules of the road with the carefree abandon of a doughnut-loving boy racer - and all because I was on two wheels, instead of four. As the outraged pedestrian who rightly unleashed an impressive tirade of abuse in my direction pointed out, cycling down a one-way street and then mounting the footpath was clearly "irresponsible and selfish".
The reason for this out-of-character disregard for the rules is simple: Dublin's cycle lanes are a frightening prospect, especially for fair-weather two-wheelers like myself, and I would rather face the wrath of Mr Angry Pedestrian than play chicken on the quays with a 37A, rely on a taxi driver to keep his distance or try a death-defying three-lane cross to turn right.
I can hear you all screaming that someone as inexperienced as me shouldn't be on the roads if I can't handle all of the above. Perhaps you're right. A bit like Stephen Roche, my pedalling prowess peaked in the late 1980s, when I learned to bike it all the way to the local sweet shop on my own. But I will take your indignation and raise you the following truth: since 2009, the Government has been actively encouraging lapsed cyclists like myself back onto the streets.
First there was the Cycle to Work scheme, unveiled in the 2008 Budget, which dangled up to a 51pc saving on the cost of buying a new bike in the windburn-free faces of non-cyclists. Later that year, the Dublin Bikes scheme was unveiled. Now tourists and citizens alike were unleashed - unhelmeted - onto the capital's road networks.
Fast-forward seven years and it is clear that the public have responded to the Government's gauntlet and are taking to two wheels in their droves. The number completing their daily commute by bike has steadily increased and, according to the latest Dublin City Council and NTA report, a record 11,000 now cycle into the city every morning.
Some of those 11,000 are geographically lucky enough to be able to freewheel straight into town along the Canal Way Cycle route or one of the other dedicated or off-road cycle lanes into town.
Most, however, find themselves in shared bus/cycle lanes, which, in their cunning strategy of putting the most vulnerable (cyclists) in a confined space with the biggest (buses) and the most aggressive (taxi drivers) road-users, are at best ridiculous and at worst lethal.
But that's not all. There seems to be no limit to the amount of hazards associated with cycling in a bike lane: randomly parked cars, randomly moving cars, bus stops, constructions signs, smashed glass, pot-holes and even the odd pedestrians who have grown tired of the pavement. There are also lanes that are too narrow, lanes that end abruptly and even lanes that, Cinderella-like, turn back into a 'parking lane' come 7pm.
According to cycledublin.ie, there are around 120km of on-road cycle track in the city, 50km of bus lanes that cyclists can use and about 25km of off-road cycle track.
It clearly isn't enough and the quality and safety of what is there is highly questionable.
Plans to augment the network were dealt something of a blow last week as it was reported that it was back to the drawing board for a proposed (close to my own west-to-east commuting heart) two-lane Liffey cycle route along the north quay after four years of planning.
Accommodating the cycle lane involved a diversion that, it became apparent, routed buses straight through an existing block of apartments in Smithfield. They are now looking at routing the cyclists off the quays for a portion.
So for the foreseeable future, it seems I will be continuing to eschew the heart attack in a cycle that is the north quays in favour of my own slightly circuitous, mildly illegal and rant-inducing route on my Dublin Bike across the north inner city. And until the city's urban planners are able to match the Government's enthusiasm for getting the casual (read clueless) cyclist onto the road with safe cycle routes, I suspect I won't be alone.
My dreams of spinning around town on my very own bike, one that looks like it was wheeled off the set of 'The Quiet Man', will remain on hold. But if you see me whizzing by you on the footpath, or careering towards you down a one-way street, I will take your rant on the chin.
National Bike Week Ireland runs all this week. See bikeweek.ie for details of events in your area