Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

A cyclist, pedestrian and driver writes

New €40 fines have focused attention on cyclists, but they’re not the only ones badly served by Dublin’s transport policies

How many €40 fines here for cycling without reasonable consideration? Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Wed, Jul 15, 2015, 13:48


Anyone who cycles around Dublin knows that the clampdown has already begun. Those of us on two wheels who always – well, usually always – stop at red lights will have noticed that we’ve had a lot of company in the last few weeks. The news that gardai will be cracking down on cyclists and fining them €40 a pop for various misdemenours has obviously reached its intended audience.

The sense is that there will be guards hiding around a tree waiting for you to cycle slowly past one of the many zombie red lights in the city, the ones stuck on red for ages with no-one else in sight, and take €40 out of your pocket to pay off the country’s bank debts. On the other hand, the fact that we will have hundreds of guards prowling the streets after sundown to fine lads and lasses €40 for not having lights on their bike is a good thing because those who cycle after dark without lights deserve to have the book thrown at them. We will, won’t we, have hundreds of guards enforcing these new regulations?

It remains to be seen just how diligent the gardai will be when it comes to handing out these new fines. We all know that there are many laws on the statue books, likes the ones around drug dealing on the streets and white-collar crime, which are not as well policed as the ones which are easy-peasy to administer. Every single cyclist who takes to the bike in Dublin would like the gardai to have a closer look at the Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) Regulations 1997, especially the one which goes “a pedestrian shall exercise care and take all reasonable precautions in order to avoid causing danger or inconvenience to traffic and other pedestrians.”

When you’re on a bike – or in a car, for that matter – you always marvel at the fact that Dublin never really does enough to big itself up as the jaywalking capital of the world. The speed at which pedestrians sprint and scurry across your path when you’re heading towards them at speed in a metal tin makes you wonder why we haven’t produced more Olympic 100 metres’ champions. The number of potential Usain Bolts around Parnell Street is quite staggering.

Snarks aside, there are serious problems when it comes to transport and road behaviour in Dublin and it’s hard to see how these new fines are going to do anything to solve them. As the post title puts it, I cycle, drive and walk in the city and could give you yards of reasons, depending on which mode of transport I’m using at the time, about what needs to be done. All three modes share a common frustration about the state of the streets. On a daily basis, for example, it amazes me that there are not more accidents and fatalities because of how the city planners throw cars, buses, motorbikes, taxis, lorries and push bikes (pedestrians who walk into that mix under their own volition are eejits) into the same narrow lanes.

The city, as it currently stands, is far from fit for purpose for the amount and, more importantly, the mix of traffic on the streets. Sure, there are bus lanes which at least filter some of the traffic, but any cyclist who doesn’t have at least one run-in a week with a day-dreaming, careless, ignorant bus driver or taxi driver is doing well – an hour before I wrote this post, a bus kind of forgot that I was in front of him in the cycle lane. Yes, we’re sure that bus and taxi drivers will also have plenty to say about errant cyclists and other road users when they have 15 minutes to spare. The amount of friction between all of these groups on the streets is not good for anyone, but how will fining someone on a bike €40 for seeking to get a jump on the other better protected lane-dwellers when the lights in the other direction turn from green to red change that state of affairs or the behaviour of other road users?

To sort out the capital’s dysfunctional transport problems, we need something which we’re not very good at doing in this country: we actually need to implement a plan. As anyone who listens to current affairs radio shows know only too well, we’re great altogether at coming up with more plans and reports and enquiries and recommendations, but absolutely shite at adhering to and implementing these plans. We’re fond of talk, but shy when it comes to action. Better to try to mend things with some half-hearted fines or fudges than actually do something concrete and sustainable. As we see from Irish Water, recent history does not bode well when it comes to picking a plan and sticking to it.

The only transport plans which seem to work in Ireland involve big motorways and by-passes because we decided at some stage that spending money on public transport was a bad idea and that the car ruled OK. Beyond that decision, we spout great guff about trains to the airport and seperate bicycle lanes and pedestrianised streets, but this guff rarely comes to pass because there just isn’t the will to follow through. Fining cyclists will grab a load of headlines and probably cause most on two wheels to pause at the red lights if there’s a guard in a fluorescent vest standing around with his or her hands in his or her pockets. But fining those on bikes is not going to make a blind bit of difference when it comes to changing, alleviating and dealing with the bigger problems on our streets.