With animosity between cyclists and motorists at an all-time high, Jonathan Byrne examines whether student cyclists are safe on the roads of Dublin
Standing in UCD’s Belfield Bike Shop, one only needs to look around to witness the ever growing popularity of cycling. On any given afternoon, you will see a flurry of people availing of the shop’s services, ranging from repairs and parts to new and second-hand bike sales.
The shop manager, Aidan Ryan, is an award-winning coach and has won numerous Irish Cycling Championships and as he explains, it’s not just during the academic year that people populate Belfield Bike Shop. “We’ve been extremely busy since about two weeks before term started.”
When asked why cycling has become so popular in recent times, he explains: “Now, people are far more practical. It’s seen as not only environmentally beneficial and a healthy form of transport, but it’s also very cheap, ideal for students.”
A recent topic of interest to cyclists is the possible implementation of on the spot fines by the government. Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has put measures in place to introduce new road safety regulations before the start of next year. These regulations would allow Gardaí to impose fines on three offences: breaking a red light, cycling on a footpath, and overtaking in a dangerous situation.
These fines will have an average cost of €50 and must be paid within 56 days. Varadkar, a cyclist himself, insisted the move was not about targeting cyclists, but a move that hopes to ensure road safety for all vehicles.
Ryan is sceptical about the new government measures. “The danger of one motorist breaking a red light is far greater than any cyclist breaking a red light. Cyclists are risking their own lives. Motorists are risking multiple lives. Sometimes it’s safer for a cyclist to move just before the lights go green to go ahead of the traffic. In many cases, cyclists are doing it for their own safety.”
UCD Veterinary student, Joe Coffey, has his own opinions on the matter. “Breaking a red light has the potential for a very bad accident. Going up on a footpath or making an overtake manoeuvre might be the only option a cyclist has.”
This past summer, Coffey undertook a mammoth task when he cycled around Ireland in ten days for the National Rehabilitation Hospital. This charity cycle was completed in aid of Jack Kavanagh and JP O’Brien.
When asked about cycle lanes and their usability throughout his journey, Coffey says, “Only major towns and cities had cycle lanes. In general they were good. Some of them were too short and ended very abruptly. I hated when cycle lanes went up on footpaths. It can be a tricky manoeuvre slowing down and going up on a path.”
The availability of cycle lanes is a well-known problem, however, the size of cycle lanes is also an issue. “What we have as a cycle lane for two directions is probably the width you want for one,” explains Coffey.
Some tension between motorists and cyclists is inevitable. Motorists accuse cyclists of ignoring the rules of the road, while cyclists complain about getting cut off by drivers. This negativity has only escalated in recent years. Recently, Independent TD Finian McGrath came out and blasted cyclists for being “arrogant” and disrespecting other road users.
In England, there was a rather bizarre case that caught the media’s attention earlier in the summer. A young female driver, by the name of Emma Way, took to her Twitter account to rant about cyclists. “Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier – I have right of way he doesn’t even pay road tax! #bloodycyclists.”
As these words went viral over the internet, the power of social media was proven. Police were notified and the victim himself, Tom Hockley, was also discovered. Hockley testified, “She hit me hard, really hard. I am lucky to be alive, but I managed to get out of the hedge and stand up.” Way, a trainee accountant at the time, even ended up being suspended from her employment due to the fallout.
The introduction of fines and the lack of adequate cycle lanes are just two of a number of issues facing cyclists. The real question that begs an answer, however, is whether cycling to college is actually safe, especially in Dublin.
“There are safe cyclists and there are people who just don’t seem to have any regard. Because the numbers of people cycling has increased, many of the drivers that you’ll meet, they’re also cyclists so they are more conscious of the cyclists needs than years ago,” notes Ryan.
When asked about the differences between cycling in Dublin compared to the rest of the country, Ryan explains, “You really have to be aware and alert. It’s a lot more dangerous and difficult to get around.”
It is clear that cycling is a popular mode of transport for college students. But, with fines being implemented and city traffic difficult to navigate, cycling is not always the easiest or safest option for students. As Ryan explains: “Make yourself visible. Awareness is the most important thing. You being aware of other people and traffic, and them being aware of you.”
For students, cycling can be another way to save money while also providing the added benefit of staying healthy. When undertaken with caution and an awareness of the potential dangers, cycling can be an efficient and effective way to travel, benefiting both your health and the environment.