herald

Wednesday 1 October 2014

How I was driven off my bike by this city's 'psycho-paths'

Someone in Government Buildings has obviously thrown the Greens a bone. When Transport Minister Noel Dempsey announced Ireland's first National Cycle Policy Framework this week, you could almost hear John Gormley and Eamon Ryan snapping on their bicycle clips in celebration.

"Cyclists matter," announced Dempsey boldly, as if the notion had just been discovered by a team of scientific experts.

Up to then, cyclists mattered in the great scheme of national transport about as much as the squashed badger on a country road.

Grant

When last year's Budget introduced a cycling-to-work grant for companies, it was clear that joined-up thinking had yet to be employed when it came to two-wheeled commuters. You can offer to buy all the bikes in the world for people -- but no-one will use them until you give them somewhere safe to ride them.

One of the good intentions of the new framework is to improve the network of cycle paths around the city and its suburbs.

First of all, it's a cheek to call the occasional strip of red tarmac, patchworked with the scars of roadwork and potholes, a 'network'. That would imply that these paths join up in a manner which will take you from A to B, without veering off into thin air at junctions or disappearing when the need for car parking spots on the road takes priority.

There are two cycle routes that I have used regularly in the city. When I lived on the southside, I would take one through Rathmines, over Portobello Bridge, that was about as wide as a sparrow's wing span.

It was a task in itself not to be culled by potholes or vans turning left onto the canal before dicing with death across three lanes of traffic to get into the correct spot for turning down Harcourt Street. At one point I considered attaching sparklers to my signalling arm to make my intentions that bit clearer.

My more recent cycle path -- or psycho-path as it would be more appropriately named -- has made me hang up my helmet for good. It's quite nice cycling along the designated path along the Clontarf Road -- until you reach the Alfie Byrne Road and begin Dublin City Council's Obstacle Course of Hazardous Fun.

Spiral

The path mutates into a zig-zagging spiral of hell, mounting pavements and ramps, negotiating cars parked up on the tarmac, lampposts, a pedestrian bridge and pedestrians themselves who are not aware that they are on a cycle path because no-one has thought to colour it in the usual brick-red tarmac.

It's a vicious cycle. You would need nerves of steel, a neck of brass and an undercarriage of solid titanium to guide a bicycle as far as Connolly Station without incident. And if you get that far, you must contend with all the lemmings walking across the road against the red light because you are just a cyclist, and therefore not real traffic.

To be fair, as a sometime cyclist and sometime car driver in the city, I have been both behind, and at the mercy of, the wheel.

There are terrible cyclists who run red lights and ride on pavements. There are thoughtless motorists who fling open their doors and rocket cyclists out of their saddles. There are blinkered pedestrians who don't look before stepping out onto the road unless they hear the roar of an engine.

We could all do with a little re-education and should tentatively welcome the new framework for making the roads more bicycle-friendly. As it is, 100,000 people drive less than 4km to their workplace in Dublin alone.

Riding a bike can be a great way to beat the traffic, get some exercise (eventually reducing the burden on the health system for obesity-related disease), and reduce stress. Unfortunately in Ireland, it can also be the quickest route to a smashed skull. And that's no way to start the day.

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