Sunday 28 December 2014

Plan for Dublin cycle lane is just another swipe at motorists

Conor Faughnan

Published 18/06/2014 | 02:30

Wheels are in motion for a coast to coast cycle route
Wheels are in motion for a coast to coast cycle route

So the manager's office in Dublin city council is pushing an old idea once again – take a lane of traffic off the North Quays and allocate it to cyclists instead.

Enthusiasts are waxing lyrical about it and it seems as if there will be a detailed proposal for us to see in the coming weeks.

But already from the comments made we can see the mind-set.

This is a measure that has very little to do with cycling; it is about deliberately making life hard for the car user.

The logic appears to be that any measure that blocks or frustrates a car driver must, by definition, be a good thing for the city.

There appears to be a wilful blindness to the consequences of the proposal, in the way that this is presented. It is of course a worthwhile idea to provide safe cycle lanes and to encourage cycling as a mode of transport.

But that is not a transport solution. Cycling is simply a badge of convenience for a measure that is all about making life as expensive and inconvenient as possible for the driver.

Now there are some cities where this might make sense but make no mistake, Dublin is not one of them. As the AA has pointed out many times before what makes Dublin different is that it has an enormous public transport deficit.

Unlike any other European capital, Dublin's public transport is only capable of carrying about 30pc of commuters on a typical working morning. For the majority, car use is the only solution. If they can't commute they can't work.

Yet these people are referred to and treated as if they were the source of the problem. This is despite all of the data that demonstrates that car users will immediately switch to good public transport when it is available.

In that scenario measures like this serve only to cause congestion in an already congested city.

What's more the anti-car troops are unapologetic about it. Motorists should all feel guilty and mend their ways, and in the meantime they should suffer. I am not exaggerating: I was on a radio programme yesterday to debate the matter with a proponent of the scheme.

Before long all notion of whether or not the North Quays cycle lane would actually work was forgotten. Cars are bad, evidence showing that Dublin is one of the safest cities for cyclists in the world did not count but an instinctive belief that parents were scared did. Before long I was having to argue that Dublin drivers were not responsible for the rates of diabetes in Ireland.

Motorists hear this sort of hyperbole all the time and it is infuriating. Collectively we pay about €4.5bn to the Irish exchequer every year. That's about 9pc of all tax collected. This is an enormous contribution yet the only thanks that we get is abuse.

It is much more constructive to look at the positive measures that have been taken and what more we can do. Just looking at cycling, the numbers of people on bikes has increased a lot in recent years.

The free bike scheme offered by Dublin City Council is a gem. It works beautifully, is paid for in large part by the sponsor so it does not drain resources, and it gets loads of people up and cycling. The scheme is set to be extended and that is something that everyone can support.

Luas, Park & Ride, Leap cards, new Dublin Bus routes are all positive measures that are judged on how best they optimise transport overall.

We can also use the car more efficiently. Incentives to car pool or car share have been given very little support by the city's officials even though they have the potential to make a big difference.

For example the AA put forward a proposal some years ago whereby a carefully controlled programme would allow drivers to apply for a permit that would allow multi-occupancy cars to use certain bus corridors. This would be a major incentive to fill the empty seats in private cars and would reduce congestion.

Neither this nor other similar schemes have ever been considered. What we get instead is ever more attempts to blame ordinary car users as the sole cause of all traffic problems, and to spin a 'vision' that the more we force cars away the nicer the city will be.

I am all in favour of cycles lanes and I am happy to consider any traffic proposal on its merits.

That means talking about the measure itself and whether it will make the traffic congestion better or worse.

If our city fathers want us to have a car-free city they should come out and say so. Then at least we would be discussing the matter openly.

Conor Faughnan, Director of Consumer Affairs, AA Ireland

Irish Independent

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