Emer McLysaght: I’m a driver, but the cyclist is always right

‘The second time I cycled in Dublin city I was screamed at by a taxi driver for daring to share the road’

‘I don’t cycle anymore, but I salute those who do.’ Photograph: Finbarr O’Reilly/Getty Images

‘I don’t cycle anymore, but I salute those who do.’ Photograph: Finbarr O’Reilly/Getty Images

 

The first time I cycled a bike in Dublin city I went on my ear on the Luas tracks. That was my fault. I shouldn’t have been on those tracks and I should have known that the groove is the perfect width to ensnare a rookie bike wheel. I did my penance of being laughed at by some teenagers and pretending my grazed knee didn’t sting like bejesus. I haven’t cycled on a Luas track since.

The second time I cycled in Dublin city I was screamed at by a taxi driver for daring to share the road with him. That was not my fault. I was cycling up Manor Street in Dublin 7, negotiating around cars illegally parked in a bus lane and along a road not wide enough for bike and taxi to coexist safely. The driver couldn’t believe I was stopping him from accelerating to the next red light, so he leaned on the horn and called me a “stupid bitch”. I haven’t cycled in Dublin since.

I’m a driver. I drive in Dublin city regularly and across or up and down the country multiple times a year and I don’t know how cyclists do it. I see them squeezed out of traffic, cut off on left turns, close-passed with disregard, blown out of it on country roads for daring to cause a slowdown.

And look, I get it, it can be challenging to share the road with cyclists. It’s a bit rich for me to play devil’s advocate given that I am the divil himself in this scenario, but it can be annoying to be held up by a herd of Dermots in lycra on a Sunday, cycling three abreast and chatting. It’s tempting to overtake slowly when you finally have the chance, giving them the stink eye or maybe throwing up a “what is the story, can’t you see we are late to Siobhan’s in-laws, and we have a Vienetta thawing in the boot?” hand gesture.

I must acknowledge that just as there are bad drivers, there are bad cyclists
 

But we are sharing the road. We don’t own the road, we drivers. Paying motor tax doesn’t entitle us to everything from kerb to kerb and baying that “cyclists don’t pay” is childish. Cycling is a sustainable, relatively inexpensive, and health-promoting mode of transport. Do we really want to tax that? What next, pedestrians paying footpath tax?

Earlier this month appeared a story to distract us from the post-Christmas woes. It was a tale of cyclists versus churchgoers – two sections of society that can really get people revved up. Attendees of Howth Presbyterian Church were concerned that plans to introduce bollards to the currently non-segregated bike lane outside the church would interfere with parking and therefore their right to worship. It was a middle-class lefty’s dream scenario. Church people! Already parking in a cycle lane! Wanting to continue parking in a cycle lane to the detriment of cyclists when there is already other parking available to them! A hilarious outrage!

I’ll take safety over speed and frustration any day. Don’t drive faster, leave earlier.
 

It was a good story, sure, and not in the least bit hilarious to those parishioners no longer able to park outside the church, of course. But it does bring up the subject of those segregated bike lanes. As a driver, I think they’re great. They slow me down, take up space, give me fewer options for “handy” parking and force me to acknowledge that maybe there’s a cyclist coming up on my inside and I should wait until it’s safe to turn. They remind me to stick to the pact I made to always give cyclists the required wide berth (one metre when passing cyclists on roads with a speed limit under 50km/h and 1.5 metres on roads of 50km/h or above) no matter what ignoramus is glued to my back bumper, fuming at the 20 seconds I’m costing them. I don’t drive for a living, so maybe it’s easy for me to be facetious about delays and inconveniences caused by improvements in cycling infrastructure but I’ll take safety over speed and frustration any day. Don’t drive faster, leave earlier.

Back in my spot on the devil’s lap, I must acknowledge that just as there are bad drivers, there are bad cyclists. The weavers, the light-breakers (even though this is often the safest option), the all-in-blacks. Of course they exist, but they can’t be a reason to scapegoat an entire community of cyclists. I guarantee if you see one “bad cyclist” on your journey, a cyclist sees 10 dangerous drivers, two of which unwittingly tried to kill them.

I miss cycling. I cycled everywhere as a child, including a couple of miles to school. My only rules were “cycle with traffic, walk against” and I almost always felt safe. I got a mountain bike with five gears for Christmas when I was 12. It’s still the best Christmas present I ever got. I don’t cycle anymore, but I salute those who do. Even the Dermots in lycra.