Sunday 18 August 2019

Liam Collins: 'Lack of understanding between two tribes sharing the road is leading to casualties'

Dodging the traffic: Liam Collins has been cycling for 40 years. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
Dodging the traffic: Liam Collins has been cycling for 40 years. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Cycling is healthy, eco-friendly, an efficient way for suburban dwellers to commute - and, at times, extremely bloody dangerous.

Let us not begin by re-hashing the intransigent argument of cars versus cyclists.

Dangerous and inconsiderate drivers or cyclists are equally as bad and shouldn't be condoned.

The rising toll of casualties among cyclists is happening because there is a general lack of understanding among two tribes who are sharing the same space.

The problem for cyclists is that when the two collide, there can only be one winner. The person on the bike hasn't a chance against a metal-plated machine, even at 50kmh.

It is this mindset of people on both sides of the divide that is leading to conflict when they get squeezed into the same space.

I've been cycling in and out of Dublin for more than 40 years, and during that time I've found (mostly) those who drive BMWs, taxis and cars with a Wicklow registration think that simply because you are on a bicycle, you are somehow a second-class citizen and should therefore kowtow to the "king of the road" - the automobile.

It is that kind of mindset that allows drivers to stop and a car door to suddenly shoot open into the path of oncoming cyclist.

It is the mindset prevalent in parts of Dublin city centre, particularly Westland Row along Camden Street, Ranelagh and Phibsboro, where bicycle lanes are used as ancillary parking spaces for busy housewives with blonde hair and glasses on top of their heads, or minor plutocrats who think their time is more important than a cyclist's welfare.

It is the mindset of motorists who don't want to wear out their indicators by signalling their intention to turn into your path.

No doubt motorists have their own valid pet hates about cyclists, like a friend who admonished me: "I saw you cycling into town the other day - Jaysus, you were wobbling all over the road."

He was probably right.

But have you ever looked at the side of the road?

It's the place that gets dug up and filled in by road-menders who think running repairs are completed by whacking the tarmac with the back of a shovel, leaving it dangerously uneven and soon worse than when they started.

Another reason this time of the year is just a little more dangerous than usual is because around now, local authorities start to spend money.

Suddenly, holes open up all over the place and the ubiquitous bollards drive the cyclists out again on to the open road, where they find themselves in the path of speeding or frustrated motorists.

Although the number of cycling deaths fell last year, probably due to the introduction of more and better cycle lanes, it is still unacceptably high and the number of injuries incurred by cyclists is rising at an alarming level.

As for cycling on country roads and lanes and breathing in the scents and the serenity of bird song - you can forget about it.

The by-ways are far more dangerous than the highways because "down the country", the bicycle has been largely abandoned in favour of four-wheel-drive tanks that come tearing along the many narrow lanes, terrorising anyone who gets in their way - or worse.

Last week, I had another near-death experience with a motorist who came hurtling across the Morehampton Road towards me at full speed.

As I swerved, the brief glimpse I got of the look of horror on her passenger's face made me realise the driver just hadn't seen me.

Cyclists need to slow down, never cycle up the side of a truck and become embarrassingly visible - it's the best defence you have.

The other thing you hear too often from cyclists is "I was in the right".

Oh yeah, but remember: it's not much good being right - and dead.

Irish Independent

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