Thursday 20 October 2016

Carol Hunt: Cycling can be a very dangerous pursuit...for us pedestrians

Cyclists are to face a clampdown
Cyclists are to face a clampdown

Who'd be a cyclist these days? Lots of us, it would seem. Despite the weather, the potholes and the traffic fumes, more and more Irish people are strapping on bicycle clips and getting their daily dollop of exercise as they make their way to work, school or college.

We're supposed to encourage it. It's better for us, for the environment, for just about everything, isn't it?

But it can be a dangerous business. Last year the number of cyclists killed on Irish roads more than doubled (to 12) compared with the numbers from 2013 (five deaths).

The battle between motorists and cyclists rumbles on, with drivers insisting that the two-wheeled devils are a danger to themselves as well as others, and cyclists complaining that motorists have absolutely no regard for them on the road.

I suppose they both have a point. But drivers have to undergo strict tests and an exam before they can take the wheel of a car. There is no such obligation for cyclists, which is why, perhaps, it seems that some of them are about as familiar with traffic laws as they are with the finer details of nuclear fusion.

I live in the centre of Dublin. I pretty much walk everywhere - I don't have a car, or a bicycle for that matter - which is why I'm both relieved and delighted about the proposals this week to award on-the-spot-fines to cyclists who break the rules of the road.

It's reported that, from the end of the summer, gardai will be able to hand out fines of at least €50 to delinquent cyclists.

At the moment if a garda sees a cyclist behaving like an idiot on the road there not much they can do about it bar take their name and address and maybe the culprit will end up in court. It's not much of a deterrent, is it?

But under the new laws cyclists can opt to pay an on-the-spot-fine instead. No decision has been made so far about the size of the fine but it's not expected to be lower than €50, it was reported this week.


Definitely an improvement on current practice, but is it enough? Some gardai don't think so. They want a registration system to be introduced so that bad behaviour can be tracked.

Now, I don't have anything against cyclists, per se. In fact, some of my closest friends happen to be cyclists which will show you how liberal minded I am about the people I hang out with.

My younger son has just asked if he can cycle to school come September and I think it's a great idea.

In theory. In reality it won't be a runner. I'm terrified at the thought of him being at the mercy of cars in areas where there's no cycle lane.

But I'm also nervous of the injuries he may suffer - or cause to others.

You see, every day I insist - like a good Mammy - that my kids wait at the traffic lights for the green man before they cross. It's a wide, busy road and the cars fly up and down between the light changes. And so we wait, the man turns green, we walk... and we can be guaranteed that before we reach the opposite side, we're running to avoid being walloped by a cyclist.

"Do people on bikes not have to stop at red traffic lights?" asked my son some years ago, as a cyclist nearly took his legs off while whizzing through a red light.

Now he realises that yes, of course they do, but quite a few of them don't bother (which gives all of them a bad name of course).

And so our mantra is "watch for speeding bikes". We repeat this as we cross a road which is supposed to be clear of traffic for pedestrians but in fact has Lance Armstrong wannabes (the cycling, not the drugs) hurtling along at 50kph swerving just in time to avoid us (mostly - we have been sent reeling a couple of times).

And that's just crossing the road. What is it about the pavement that is so alluring to cyclists? The space? The lack of cars? The people walking that they ring their little bell at to tell them to get out of their way?

The fact that they're not supposed to be on them?

I appreciate that some roads are more dangerous for cyclists but that doesn't mean you have the right to go up on the pavement - at speed - narrowly missing pensioners, mothers with buggies and terrified toddlers.

I'm all in favour of more people getting on their bikes, but please, won't someone think of the pedestrians?

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