Sunday 25 August 2019

Fiona Ness: 'Every day I cycle to work through Dublin, I hope it will not be me'

Riding high: Louise Bourke and Sinead Mooney were some of the 1,500 cycling enthusiasts in the Velo-city Dublin Bike Parade yesterday – but the city isn’t always ideal for bikes
Riding high: Louise Bourke and Sinead Mooney were some of the 1,500 cycling enthusiasts in the Velo-city Dublin Bike Parade yesterday – but the city isn’t always ideal for bikes
Fiona Ness

Fiona Ness

With a click of the helmet, I swing up onto the saddle, and hope. Every day as I cycle to work through Dublin, I hope it will not be me.

This hope guides me through the traffic each day. I make a deal with myself that if I obey all the rules of the road, cycle like a driver - checking my blind spot before overtaking, all of that - and travel slower than my ego enjoys, then I will arrive safely and today, it will not be me.

It was reported recently that Irish hospitals treat one cyclist every three days for major trauma sustained in road traffic incidents.

Summer was found to be the worst time for injuries and almost half of the cases recorded in the time period (2014-2016) happened during rush hour. One-in-three cyclists required an operation.

This has twice been me.

Neither incident I would consider my fault. Unless a car rattling out of a side street, past a stop sign, and into me - four months after the birth of my first child - is "my fault".

But I was sleep deprived, and without hi-viz or a helmet. I deemed it contributory negligence, asked the driver to reimburse me the hospital charges and the cost of my bike, and left it at that.

I still cycle in Dublin. It is quick, cheap, better for the environment and good for keeping me mentally and physically fit.

I do not cycle because it is safe.

It's not the car drivers' fault - although taxis could be more careful - and the Dublin Bus drivers are a generous lot, generally giving you space and time to let you pass before they pull into a stop. I wish more cyclists would repay the favour and give way to buses pulling in and out.

The "fault" is the road network itself - the very act of cyclists having to share the tarmac with motor vehicles in the city at all.

The Government might think it has done its bit to promote cycling and its green credentials with the feel-good Bike to Work scheme, but I'd like to see the risk analysis report that says that funnelling fair-weather, High Nelly cyclists and wannabe racers out onto the general road network is anything but a fast-track to disaster for all road users, two wheels or four.

The pier-to-pier cycle path joining Dún Laoghaire to Howth might look good on the Government's CV, but it's no use on a daily commute.

Where is the comprehensive network of separate cycle paths we were pretty much promised, back when Dublin was being ranked with Copenhagen and Amsterdam as a "cycle-friendly" city?

Dublin is anything but friendly to cyclists. Dublin is a city at war. The cyclists hate the drivers, the drivers hate the cyclists, the pedestrians hate the cyclists and the drivers. Everyone hates those on the electric scooters. And people with ride-on scooters... they will surely kill us all.

And yet, I cycle. I bring my children to school on their own bikes and people generally smile benevolently as they go in formation, oldest to youngest, along the pavement.

Once I got verbal abuse from an older gent that they should be on the road. I agreed, but respectfully disagreed that this was possible.

I know it is intimidating for people out walking to be met with a child on a bike, unpredictable and wobbling. My children cycle in all weathers, just like their mum who mounts up and heads off each day with a cheery wave and a "Rain? What rain?"

I don't have any time for any other exercise regime. Keeping fit needs to be part of my daily commute.

But nothing I can do can guarantee I will come back home to them safely.

Earlier this year, a woman I know was knocked off her bike at a busy junction in another city and killed. She died at the scene, leaving two little girls to grow up without their mum. She's the second mother I know to have been killed this way.

A proper road network for cyclists in Irish cities could do much to make sure that tomorrow, it will not be me.

Irish Independent

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