On Easter Sunday morning I bumped into 12-year-old Anne. She was cycling from Mass on her brand new bicycle to visit her grandmother, who was in hospital. She was so proud of her new bicycle, which her parents had bought her for a gift a few days earlier. The smile on her face was striking. She brought me back to when I was her age and I was cycling to and from school on safe roads.
Three days later I was in Galway on my way with a friend to West Kerry. We planned to leave shortly after breakfast. The conversation centred around how to drive from Galway city centre to the motorway. We were assured, with the school holidays, traffic would be much lighter and indeed we would get out of the city with relative ease in light traffic. The week before the school holidays I noticed a two-kilometre traffic jam on the south side of Dublin at 8 a.m. During the first week of the Easter school holidays on that same road there was not a hint of a traffic build up, indeed there were three cars at the traffic lights.
It is always a topic of conversation in the workplace on the first day of school holidays how light the traffic is coming to work. In the early 1960s there was a bus strike in Dublin and my mother allowed me, a 12-year-old, cycle to school. She was of a nervous disposition but back then it was safe for children to cycle on our roads.
Fast forward to today. Under no circumstance would my mother allow me cycle to school. That a young person aged 12 or 13 cannot cycle on our roads because of the potential dangers is nothing less than a scandal. And that we have created such a mess and now take it for granted says a lot about how we think and behave.
Our roads and footpaths should be safe places for all who use them. Currently there is a road safety ad running telling us that in 50km/h zones and under, vehicles should give cyclists a metre space and in zones over 50km/h that space is increased to 1.5 metres. Of course cyclists misbehave on our roads and there should be zero tolerance towards those who break the law. The numbers of idiotic racing-style cyclists on our roads is annoying. But in my 63 years of cycling it has always been the car and truck that have caused me most grief.
It is insane that our roads are so dangerous that parents are afraid to let their children walk or cycle to school. Consequently, all during school terms we have traffic jams right across the country. We have just spent €368 million plus building a transport system to ferry people in and out of Dublin city centre and we refuse to build an infrastructure so that people can cycle in and out of the city and around the country.
The schools are back in business after the Easter break and the morning traffic jams are snarling up our roads. It means we are spending more on imported fuel and our children are huddled up in cars being ferried to school when they should be out on their bicycles or walking to school. We are bombarded with information on the dangers of obesity, that children need to slim down. It's staring us in the face. Parents and children should feel safe cycling to and from school. Let's change things.