The bicycle report

A couple of weeks ago I wrote here about my experiences as a born-again cyclist. You may recall that, the joys of this form of transport notwithstanding, I was somewhat disturbed by my fellow bicycle users. Maybe it’s time for an update.

I am now pretty much a daily cyclist. In part I do this for the exercise, and in part because, particularly when there is heavy traffic, it really is a much faster way of going places in Dublin. But I am still completely amazed at my fellow road users. Before taking to the bike again, I kept hearing from other cyclists (and reading in the media) about the aggressive driving of motorists and their consistent failure to respect cyclists. And indeed there is some of that. Only yesterday I saw a driver swerve into the bicycle lane, forcing a cyclist to take evasive action by going on the footpath, where he promptly hit a pedestrian (though clearly he was not at fault). A particularly dangerous moment is when, at a junction, you want to keep going straight ahead while a motorist wants to turn left; at such moments I have now seen a number of motorists actually force an unwilling cyclist to turn off.

But bad and all though the behaviour of motorists is, it is as nothing when compared with that of the cyclists themselves. Yesterday I cycled for about an hour round Dublin, monitoring my fellow bicycle riders. Through the entire journey, I only saw one cyclist ever stopping at a red light. This one exception was a really pleasant young man, who came up behind me while I was waiting for a green light and stopped next to me, asking in perfect good humour what I was doing and whether I needed help. I replied that I was waiting for the green light. He asked, ‘do you always do this?’ I indicated I did. ‘Cool’, he said, ‘how exciting. I’ll try that with you.’ And so indeed, for the next four lights, he stopped with me on red every time. Eventually he went his separate way. ‘You’re a gas man’, he said to me as we parted. I’m not sure he was a convert – he may now be telling people what a weird experience it all was.

But in any case, today he was the only exception. During that hour, I counted 36 cyclists who drove through red lights. Five went the wrong way up one way streets. Eight cycled on pavements. Six almost certainly broke the speed limit for cars. Two behaved with extraordinary aggression towards pedestrians, one of them actually (and deliberately) hitting a pedestrian as he passed for crossing while he was breaking the red light.

So I return to my previous theme. I have concluded that Dublin’s cyclists are, almost to a man or woman, a menace. They clearly believe that no regulations apply to them, and that they are free to do as they please. They, rightly I suspect, presume that they will never be stopped in all this by the authorities. In addition, since it has become more widely known that I am now a cyclist (the Sunday Times has mentioned it), people have been volunteering all sorts of horror stores to me about accidents and injuries.

I believe it is time to require of all cyclists that they know the rules of the road, and that these rules should be enforced.

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15 Comments on “The bicycle report”

  1. Kevin Denny Says:

    Unfortunately, everything you write is all too believable, including the irrespressible Dubliner. When a Garda Traffic Corps was established, I wondered would this make a difference but it seems not: obviously no brownie points back at the station for busting a naughty cyclist.
    Aside from knowing there is no chance of being sanctioned, I suspect that many cyclists are either (i) indifferent to the risks to themselves of their behaviour or (ii) are not sufficiently aware of the risks. Which it is, is important for designing policy to deal with it. I don’t know what the evidence is on this. I was much less careful as a cyclist before I learned to drive.
    Even if you address (ii) though public awareness programs, that assumes that people rationally absorb the data and modify their behaviour but if you’re a reckless person before such programs you will still be so afterwards.
    In an episode of the The Simpsons Homer is forced to attend a Driver’s Education class for some infraction (DUI, I presume). The group is shown a video “Alice through the Windscreen” [introduced by Troy McClure, naturally]. While the rest of the group are horrified at the sight of people being maimed in accidents, Homer has a good laugh: “Its funny because I don’t know them”. Actually Homer’s ability to detach himself emotionally from the scenes of carnage are probably far from unusual. Hence the jackassess on the road.

  2. Vincent Says:

    This is meant in the kindest possible way. But would you ever fuck off and climb Kilimanjaro or build housing in Haiti for a few months.
    If you keep at this, the annoyance if nothing else will give you the post-retirement stroke or a heart-attack. For heavens sake you have been living over the shop for the last ten years, so it wouldn’t matter if you were driving an Abrams tank you’d have problems with other road users.

  3. P Says:

    I don’t think that it’s a question of education. I passed my driving test a few days ago, but I’d still break lights regularly on my bike.

    I think that it’s important to differentiate between “being a menace”/not having respect for fellow road users and not following the law.

    I’m sure we’re all aware of examples of pedestrians crossing illegally. When they do so reasonably and safely, we don’t really think of it as being illegal, but it still is. Common sense, basic manners, and restraint will get you through a commute without risking anyone’s safety, scaring them, or being a “menace”.

    I think cyclists breaking the lights is a tiny, tiny problem compared with cyclists behaving irresponsibly and without courtesy for others.

  4. Daire Says:

    I both cycle and drive (though not simultaneously) through the city centre all the time. I see taxis and other drivers run reds and pull across cyclists (including me) all the time. You say you “counted 36 cyclists who drove through red lights” – that word should be “cycled”. The crucial point is that on a bike I’m not going to kill or injure anyone but myself – driving a car is very different. When I cycle I will continue to carefully break red lights when it’s safe to. I agree that not giving pedestrians plenty of room is wrong and it annoys me when I see cyclists thoughtlessly tearing through pedestrians who are crossing with the right of way. However, until the Gardaí clamp down on rampant bad driving (taxi-drivers are especially guilty here, in my opinion), you won’t be convincing too many cyclists of the error of their ways. Following such a clampdown on drivers, cyclists could then be rightfully tackled. I think a large majority of other cyclists would agree with me on most of the above points. I’ll give you a few more months, and a near-death experience or two of drivers nearly mowing you down, for you to revise your opinions…

    • ‘When I cycle I will continue to carefully break red lights when it’s safe to’. – Sorry, Daire, I can’t buy that as a responsible attitude. What would you or I say to a car driver who said the same? And the fact that taxi drivers break red lights – or anyone else for that matter – is totally irrelevant to the question of whether cyclists should do so.

      ‘The crucial point is that on a bike I’m not going to kill or injure anyone but myself ‘ – again, I cannot accept that at all. I have seen three collisions between bikes, and two bikes tearing into pedestrians. I bicycle going at 30 mph can do major damage to anything it hits.

      • Kevin O'Brien Says:

        “A bicycle going at 30 mph can do major damage to anything it hits.”

        Tour de France Sprint finish speed. What damage is it known to do – based on the TdF? most common injuries are broken arms, noses jaws. The most common of all is bruised egos. Fatalities are very, very rare.

        There was a fatal crash a few years ago, but it was on a Pyrenees descent, so not useful for comparison.
        Fatalities are possible of course. There was an “eggshell skull” case in the UK two years ago – A cyclist killed a pedestrian.

        The rules of the road advise that one proceeds according to the prevailing conditions, probably the most important element. If you think something bad can happen, you must be prepared in case it does, and do everything you can to make sure it doesn’t.

        Unfortunately the “rules of the road” doesnt place enough emphasis on this, but I suppose it is a hard thing to express.

        Because of the proximity between cyclists and pedestrians, cyclists should proceed with due caution for them. Maintaining a safe braking speed and maximising segregation are the two most important things they can do.

        To be frank – running a red light or jumping on the footpath are not big deals, if one is observing those two things. Maybe that is a very big “if”.

        A recent post advised to give way to larger vehicles. That is terrible advice. It is the other way round; if in doubt give way to the smaller vehicle/ pedestrians.

        A cyclist doesnt get to assume that pedestrians are conscious of cycleways. If someone walks out in front of this cyclist, who is otherwise proceeding correctly, and gets injured – the cyclist could be in serious legal trouble. The cyclist doesnt get to assume that the person is aware of the cycleway – due to diminished vision, inebriation or being a 5 year old.

    • brianmc Says:

      “I see taxis and other drivers run reds” – maybe they were doing it ‘carefully’ in their opinion too. This attitude of “I once saw a driver do x, so it’s okay for me to do y” is childish in the extreme.

      Two wrongs don’t make a right. If I wouldn’t do it in a car, then I don’t do it when I’m on the bike – breaking red lights, overtaking cyclists with little room, not indicating, etc. The sooner all cyclists realise they have the same responsibilities as a car driver, as a user of the road, the better.

  5. Al Says:

    I have to admit that I will take a red light on a bike if it doesn’t impact on the behavior of others, be they pedestrians, cyclists or motorists.
    I can be cycling along, obeying the rules and still be killed. If I can cross a junction with no vehicles on it I will.
    But saying that I don’t live in Dublin…

  6. kat Farrell Says:

    I recently started to cycle to DCU from home. It really isn’t far at all, about 2.9km I will admit I am one of those few that will sometimes jump up on the path to cut a corner and miss a red light. I would never ever break a light though, it’s to freaking dangerous to do that.

    I mostly cycle on backstreets and small housing estate roads as I thought they would be safer as these roads are generally small. Though it is on these that I find drivers pushing me of the road or even forcing me to take a wrong corner.

    I do believe from what I see the majority of cyclist just don’t care, yet are willing to shout down drivers at any chance. I feel that in order to make cycling safer in Dublin both drivers and cyclist need to work together. I won’t break red lights (not that I do), if you the driver will look at my hand signals and pay attention to were I said I’m going!

    Finally I hate that a lot of people, even my close friends, wonder and ask me why am I wearing a helmet? When I get into a car I wear a seat belt. When on a bike a helmet, its the law. They still make fun of me 😦

  7. Liam Says:

    As a cyclist myself, I can definitely say that the closest encounters I have had have always involved pedestrians (including a mother who pushed her pram out onto the cycle lane without looking)and not cars. I have been cycling for a number of years in the city and during this time have witnessed a large increase in the number of cyclists. However, as a city, I believe that we are still in our relative infancy for encouraging people to give up their cars (even just during the summers) and cycle using the convenient bus/cycle lanes. Public policy always seems to have always sided with engine-based transport (bike lanes an afterthought on many bus lanes, for example, which conveniently stop being safe for cyclists after a certain hour). I am in no way militant on this issue but do feel that in the early days of our move to a greener, safer city (for which dublin seems to be ideally suited thanks to its small size, temperate climate and flatish topology), we should cut the cyclists some slack rather than rigourously holding them to rules of the road designed for engine-based vehicles.

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