As of this week, Dublin cyclists are some 11 weeks into their new world order. You’ll recall how in August, it became an offence to cycle through a red light, to cycle without lamps after-hours, to cycle through pedestrianised streets and so on.
The plan, such as it was, is to keep cyclists, motorists and pedestrians moving from A to B in a harmonious, body-count-free tango. Eleven weeks is a decent stretch within which to get used to some new rules… so how are we faring?
Not great, actually. Last week, I had to cycle from Rathmines to Kilmainham in 8am traffic. Now, I’m no Jennifer Lawrence (as you can plainly see right), but at least I now know what it’s like to be in The Hunger Games.
Cyclists bumping into each other, overtaking each other without caring about traffic, zipping through red lights with nary a care in the world. It was the most fraught, adversarial thing to happen to me in some time, and I’m on Twitter.
And let’s not forget my particular bugbear; the cyclist who pulls up behind everyone at a red light but pushes his way to the front of the jam. Rules is rules… well, unless you’re on a bike, in which case: ‘Rules, what are they?’
It’s curious because, in general, Irish people tend to fall in line whenever a rule is created. When we had to pay 22c for plastic bags, there was plenty of grumbling, but nothing near the backlash that UK shoppers staged.
Reports abound of indignant Brits taking home baskets and shopping trolleys, deploying the logic that if a bag was 5p and a shopping trolley £1, surely the latter was a much better bargain? The Irish tend to be more compliant if a law exists for the greater good, but when it comes to this new legislation, not much appears to have changed.
I cycle everywhere and I’ll be the first to say cyclists are the scourge of the city. Lawless to the point of sheer arrogance, there appear to be two schools of thought for the Dublin cyclist: a sort of ‘kill or be killed’ stance, or ‘I’m only a cyclist. I’m not the one driving a weapon than can actually kill others’.
Everyone cycles defensively and with hostility. Just last week, I took a taxi into town and an older man on a bicycle rode straight for us. The taxi swerved and, is often the wont of a Dublin taxi driver, hollered, shook his fist and turned the air a distinct shade of blue. The cyclist had a look of nonchalance and defiance. The cold war between cyclists and motorists — and cyclists and pedestrians — continues apace.
Speaking of pedestrians, the footpaths of Dublin should be your first port of call if you’d like to see some idiocy in its natural habitat. My inner monologue reads like a Quentin Tarantino film when faced with Dublin’s on-foot faction. Most people have the remnants of the Green Cross Code rattling around the recesses of their minds… the rest shouldn’t be allowed leave the house without adult supervision, or even with.
They think nothing of walking into traffic, heads buried in smartphones. I’ve had pedestrians walk so close to me as I cycle down the road I’ve felt their breath in my ear.
As for that particular strain of Dubliner who clearly got told somewhere down the line that the city streets belong to him and him only, and will take his merry time while crossing the road… well.
In defence of my fellow two-wheeled bandits, Dublin isn’t a particularly amenable city for cyclists. Certainly, there are cycle lanes, but occasionally only in theory. There’s an adversarial streak in cyclists because there needs to be. Everyone is seeking sovereignty on the road not because of their egos, but because it means safety.
Now, at the risk of sounding like your mum or a teacher, rules are there for a reason. Last year the number of cyclists killed on Irish roads more than doubled (to 12) compared with the numbers from 2013 (five deaths).
How lovely would it be to bring that number to zero? Strange as it sounds, cycling with lights or stopping at traffic lights would go some way towards helping that become a reality.
So far this on-the-spot €40 fine business for cycling infractions appears to be little more than fiction. The laws are certainly a step in the right direction, but they’re not nearly enough to incite real change.
Ultimately, the city — whether on two feet, two wheels or four — is in a great hurry to get somewhere, and it needn’t be this way. I’ve lost count of the number of cyclists who have whizzed past me at a red light, only to catch up with them moments later.
Similarly, if you as a motorist need to turn left and you’re waiting for a cyclist or pedestrian to do their business, don’t huff and puff as though you’ve lost three seconds of your life that you’ll never get back. Because, ultimately, a more serious encounter with either will slow you down for a lot longer. Possibly for good.
Imagine for a moment this scenario. A heavy drinker is brought into a TV studio before a live audience, and a panel of medical experts and social commentators discuss how much his love of alcohol is costing the health service. "We're sick of giving you lot new livers," they say, shaking their heads in disgust. "We have to put up with you clogging up A&E departments while we dry you out or patch you up."
Health & Wellbeing
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