Cycling in Dublin: The next stage

The European Cycling Federation will hold its agm in Dublin next week. The number of cyclists in the capital has doubled in 10 years, but the city has a long way to go before it can encourage nervous commuters to get on their bikes

Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 06:18

“You have to remember we’ve only really had cycling infrastructure of any sort for about 20 years, so we are still learning. But there are problems with the first phase of cycle lanes that were put in the in 1990s.”

Most of these lanes were just a narrow strip separated by a dotted white line, many of which still exist around the city and often end abruptly. Others were similar, but were painted on to footpaths. These caused the most problems as they gave cyclists the impression they should cycle on footpaths. They too often end abruptly and leave the cyclists at the edge of a kerb, or sometimes suddenly merging with road traffic.

“These older ones on the footpath cause a dilemma for us. If we put them back on the road, will we deter new or inexperienced cyclists?” says Phillips.

A second phase of cycle path began to be installed around 2005-2006. These are commonly recognised as the red asphalt paths. They are wider, and give a clearer indication to motorists to keep out, but a few hard winters have led to a degradation of the surface, with many now in a serious state of disrepair.

The jewel in the council’s crown is its newest cycle path, along the canals. “These paths are entirely separate from the road and the footpath. That’s the type of cycle lane we are looking at now, where cyclists are segregated from traffic and from pedestrians.”

Phillips recognises that maintaining exclusive space for cyclists is not always practical, particularly in the inner city where roads are narrow, so he says the council is seeking other solutions to making the city safer and more attractive for cyclists.

“We found at the start that even painting a white line, just making that level of delineation, makes motorists more aware of cyclists. But what we are looking at now is the notion of alternative routes: of taking minor streets parallel to bigger roads and designating them as the cycling routes and giving over significant space to the cyclist.”

While this idea could work well in the centre, it has met resistance in residential areas, Phillips says. “When we talk about the idea generally, people like it, but when we talk about specific areas, people in suburban residential areas say they would be worried about their children’s safety if there were more cyclists on their roads. We have to overcome that fear: the perception, rightly or wrongly, that cyclists break the rules.”

Changing attitudes towards cyclists requires early intervention, according to Cllr Andrew Montague of the Labour Party, who is the chairman of the council’s traffic committee.“Getting kids cycling, in primary school, is the big thing. The fear of cycling is bigger than the risk. In reality, the biggest risk to people is inactivity.”

The council has started a cycle-training programme for schools, where independent trainers funded jointly by the council and the school give cycling lessons to fifth- and sixth-class pupils. Montague cites its success in St Fiachra’s in Beaumont.

“There had been 10 children cycling to school. After six weeks there were 110, and even the next year 70 were still cycling.”

Not only does this scheme create a new generation of cyclists; it makes their parents as drivers more aware of cyclists, he says.

The NTA wants to see at least 10 per cent of trips in Dublin to be made by bicycle by 2020. It’s a high bar, but it is reachable, says Phillips. “In a very short period already we’ve got a lot done and now is the right time to do it with enthusiasm for cycling high and construction costs low.”

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