The war of the road users
An Irishman’s Diary hosts three-way peace talks
‘Cyclist Frank: Hold it right there, pal. We pay road tax too. The only difference is, we don’t use the car.’ Photograph: Sander Nagel/ Getty Images
The debate about cycling is so shrill and polarised, normally, that I thought it would be helpful to get a typical cyclist, motorist, and pedestrian together over a glass of wine some evening and see if they could hold a civilised conversation.
Then I realised a glass of wine would be a bit mean between three people. So since I myself am at different times a cyclist, driver, and pedestrian, I thought I’d save trouble and have the conversation alone. Here’s an edited transcript.
Driver Frank: Okay, gentlemen. Seeing as I’m the one who pays road tax, maybe I should start . . .
Cyclist Frank: Hold it right there, pal. We pay road tax too. The only difference is, we don’t use the car.
Pedestrian Frank: Yes. In fact, we subsidise your road usage. And your health for that matter. If it wasn’t for us, you’d be overweight and have high blood pressure.
CF: Plus, we’re protecting the environment: producing no pollutants or carbon emissions, and counterbalancing your dependence on finite fossil fuel reserves. In short, we’re on the side of the angels.
DF: Well that’s just the sort of self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude I’d expect from a cyclist. All right, St Francis, you have the floor. Maybe you’d start by explaining why you never stop at traffic lights.
CF: I do stop at traffic lights. Some of them anyway. It’s on a case-by-case basis.
DF: Right. Whereas I stop at them all. Because I’m law-abiding.
CF: Yes, but whose laws are we talking about?
DF: Ho-hum. Here we go again with the post-colonialism argument. The road system was designed for cars and bikes were only an afterthought. Cyclists expected to behave like drivers while enjoying none of the rights. Marginalised literally and metaphorically. Like Palestinians on Israeli-occupied territory – yadda, yadda, yadda. I’ve heard it all before.
CF: Yeah well it’s true. It’s like the West Bank out there – checkpoints everywhere.
DF: Listen, pal. You’re not downtrodden Arabs any more. Maybe you didn’t notice all those bloody bike lanes we have now? That was a land-for-peace deal. But your people still don’t obey the laws.
CF: Bike lanes or not, the fact remains that traffic lights are a solution to a problem caused by motorised transport. So are one-way streets. We wouldn’t need either if everyone cycled. The road system was designed by drivers, for cars.
DF: In central Dublin, actually, it was designed for horses. But we don’t use that as an excuse for driving the wrong direction up one-way streets.
CF: Well you still have the horse-power. We’re self-propelled. So why should I cycle the “right way” – as it’s called in your culture – around St Stephen’s Green? That’s a half-mile detour, and invariably against the wind. Why shouldn’t I take the odd contra-flow short-cut, on the street or footpath?
PF: Allow me to explain why you shouldn’t use the footpath? If I may quote Fintan O’Toole, “the clue is in the name”.
CF: Yes I read the column too. And since you mention it, I suggest that “footpath” is hardly an appropriate name these days. On behalf of my fellow users of vulcanised-rubber-based transport – those in wheelchairs – I find it offensive.
DF: Oh right. Now he’s wrapping himself in the cloak of disability. Have you no shame?
PF: You’re as bad as each another. I don’t know which of you I fear most, actually. Walking around Dublin, it’s even-money whether I’ll be hit by a rogue cyclist or a reckless driver first. Excuse me while I adjust my halo, but I’m the only blameless one here.
CF: Really? When did you stop jay-walking?
DF: Yeah – ha, ha! If you see a pedestrian waiting for the green man in Dublin, you always know it’s a tourist.
CF: And by the way – the bike lane in Phoenix Park. Any chance you and your fellow halo-wearers could stay out of it? It’s meant for us: the clue is the diagrams of a bicycle on the ground. I don’t mind the haloes – it’s your dork-walking pals and their swinging elbows that worry me. They’re a bigger hazard than the wing mirrors of buses.
PF: I’ll tell you what: I’ll mention it at our next walkers meeting if you tell your fellow yobs to keep off the foot-and-wheelchair paths. Oh, and to stop locking bikes to lampposts. It’s not as if you don’t have enough parking spaces these days.
DF (looking at watch suddenly): Damn! I have to go – my ticket’s just expired. It’s €3 an hour around here. (To CF) Another thing you wouldn’t know anything about.
CF: I have to go too. (To DF) If I get home before dark, I might just have a sporting chance of not being run over by some homicidal lunatic in a car.
PF: I better finish the wine, so. It wouldn’t be safe for either of you.