Drivers and cyclists tend to give each other a hard time. Certainly, both groups regularly grumble and moan about each other’s behaviour. Any driver can tell you tales of appalling behaviour on two wheels and the bikes users can counter with tales of their own.
Breaking lights, mounting footpaths, thumping car windows, and bad manners. These would not have become cliches if there was not some truth in them.
The basic problem with bicycles is one they share with cars: the operator is a human being. This deeply flawed component is prone to all sorts of mad and bad behaviour. There are a minority who have a tendency to be rude, obnoxious or dangerous.
The morning commute is when you are most likely to see it. Everyone is impatiently on the road, together with a shared sense of entitlement, and everyone is in a hurry.
The laws and rules are tougher on car users than they are on bikes. There are good reasons for this; cars are much more likely to hurt people if used badly. They must be insured and users must follow the rules.
The cyclist seems to have it easier. There are no penalty points or registration plates, no taxes to be paid. It is only last year that new powers were given to gardaí that allow them to issue fines on the spot for the worst types of bad cycling behaviour.
It is not a very constructive approach to think of cars and bikes as rivals. A little over 10 per cent of AA members identify as regular cyclists. That may be taking to the hills kitted out in spandex for a weekend workout or it may be using the bike to get to work a couple of days a week.
Every time a busy commuter takes a bike instead of a car it reduces congestion so it’s a small victory for the transport system. Cycling, we all agree, should be encouraged.
From the driver’s point of view, there are a few things we expect from cyclists that are not too much to ask.
For starters, get a set of lights. Not as much of an issue in the brighter months but for goodness sake it is not hard. They are cheap and available everywhere so use them. They are not primarily meant to help you see where you are going, they are to help others to see you.
If it is wet at all then water will bead on a car’s glass and reflect car lights and street lights. An unlit cyclist is invisible and therefore terrifying. Hi-viz gear is excellent, extra lights on helmets and bags are really useful but the absolute minimum is a proper light front and rear.
Bikes are great on congested roads because they can usually move alongside vehicles and they don’t get held up. It’s a key attraction but remember you do not have a divine right not to be stuck in traffic. If cars are stationary then you may well have to be stationary too. If you can’t progress without mounting a path or hitting a mirror, then wait where you are.
The flip side is the same requirement for basic manners applies to the car users. Drivers need to be considerate as well.
Plenty of space
Bikes need plenty of space. They do their best most of the time to keep to the side or to use the often scrawny and cratered cycle tracks along the side but they will often need to move to the right without warning to avoid potholes, drains or puddles.
We can’t get self-righteous about it either. Cyclists are proper road users and not afterthoughts when it comes to the rules of the road. Responsible driving means thinking about the vulnerable pedestrian, cyclist or motorcyclist. If you carelessly swing a car door open when you park, it can result in someone getting badly hurt.
The very worst accidents involving cyclists very often happen when trucks or buses are turning left and the bike gets trapped on the inside. It’s a terrifying prospect but thankfully it does not happen often.
I should not make it sound as if life is a daily battle. In fact, as in many other walks of life, Ireland does a lot better than we give ourselves credit for. Our road manners are by no means the worst and our record is very good.
Dublin is the safest capital in the developed world in which to be a cyclist. You would have less trouble believing that if you had ever tried it in London.
The city bike schemes in the capital and elsewhere also work really well. They have brought a lot more people back to cycling and have really given it a civilised boost.