Róisín Ingle: Dublin’s bike revolution isn’t a cyclist-vs-motorist battle

Bicycles – or ‘Freedom Machines’ – are having an excellent pandemic. I stand and rejoice

A trial run of a new Cycle Bus set up by parents and children as Dublin City Council supports initiative to make school gates safe, at Greenlanes National School, Clontarf, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

A trial run of a new Cycle Bus set up by parents and children as Dublin City Council supports initiative to make school gates safe, at Greenlanes National School, Clontarf, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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Four women friends came over to the house for a Persian-inspired feast of lamb cooked low for five hours. The gathering, to celebrate a birthday, had already been cancelled once for Covid- related reasons.

One of the women had been in contact with a small child who was getting tested and until the test came back she had to self-isolate. It turned out, as we knew it would, that the child had a very ordinary, humdrum cold, the kind that’s been doing the rounds as the weather makes up its mind between Indian summer and cardigan-wearing autumn.

On the morning of the lunch, I made deep incisions in a lamb shoulder and massaged it gently with a buttery spice mix. Later, I chopped and mixed salads and sides and laid the table outside in the weary-looking yarden. The last of the purple flowers had fallen from the agapanthus; a late-blooming begonia, deep pink with a yellow centre, was valiantly peeking out between drooping gladioli.

(Begonias and gladioli and agapanthus. Would you listen to me? I could not have picked these flowers out of a line-up in the olden days.)

The children go to school and home again, back to school under their own fuel

There were no regulations being broken, my guests were from the right number of households. The only crime being committed was the fact that my hummus was by the Happy Pear and not homemade.

Three of the women, the three under 80, arrived at my house under their own steam thanks to their Freedom Machines.

American feminist Susan B Anthony called bicycles Freedom Machines because of how they emancipated women. Bicycling, she said, “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel . . . the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

Freedom Machines are having an excellent pandemic. Leaving aside the awfulness of the the global crisis, there is no doubt they have been responsible for the untrammeling and emancipation from cars of many people, men and women, boys and in increasing numbers girls, who have recently dusted down their bikes and taken to the roads.

I’ve always been a cyclist but before the pandemic I also had a chronic over-reliance on taxis. I go most everywhere on two wheels now.

During lockdown, I regularly brought the kids into town to marvel at a city emptied of cars. Every time we went in, there seemed to be some new cycle-friendly initiative. The bicycle fairies in Dublin City Council had clearly been busy through the pandemic, tweaking the city streets in ways they might not have got away with while everyone was looking. New protected cycle paths have cropped up in really useful places.

We cycled around Dublin like we owned the place. It was a good feeling.

While we need cars for some journeys, the case for them clogging up our cities with fumes and noise gets flimsier every day

The children go to school and home again, back to school under their own fuel. Every day they join the “cycle bus” meeting up with people from their school at a designated spot. They cycle in a high-vis, high-spirited pack. Truck drivers and other motorists wait patiently for them to pass, exuding an unhurried acceptance that this gaggle of children on wheels should be given safe passage.

A few months ago, a brand new cycleway from North Strand to Luke Kelly’s head opened along the Royal Canal. We use it several times a week, free wheeling down towards the river Liffey over the Samuel Beckett bridge.

Proposals for a new double cycle lane along the Strand Road in Dublin 4, for a trial period of six months, have now been postponed until January. This is not somewhere I’d normally feel confident bringing the children for a cycle. It’s unfortunate we have to wait until then; imagine being able to cycle safely along scenic Sandymount Strand.

There are those who worry the plan, which will make the road one-way for motorists, will result in traffic congestion elsewhere. Let’s at least try these new ways of living to find out how well, or not, they work.

This is not a them-and-us situation. It’s not about Bike Wars or Bad Car-ma. Attempts to frame it as such – as with a recent Newstalk tweet pondering if new cycle lanes were a “declaration of war on motorists” – are misplaced and silly.

I don’t know how to drive but some of my best friends are motorists. I even share parenting duties and a bed with one. And while we need cars for some journeys, the case for them clogging up our cities with fumes and noise gets flimsier every day.

Every time I get back on my naturally socially distanced saddle or see people on bikes or discover a newly created cycle lane or am sent pictures of cycle buses or cycle-friendly plans for the city I stand, like Susan B Anthony, and rejoice.

On Saturday, Bike Week begins all over the country. As with other such “weeks” in this country, it lasts a bit longer than seven days. Meanwhile, the charity Jigsaw is urging people to log the kilometres they rack up on their bikes raising money to support people with mental health issues.

The pandemic will rumble on but with our trusty Freedom Machines the whole country can be a part of a gentle, life- enhancing revolution.

For more information visit bikeweek.ie and jigsaw.ie
roisin@irishtimes.com