Cut private cars on Dublin streets to make room for cyclists, say experts

Attendees at international cycling conference Velo-City say political courage is needed

Measures must be taken to restrict the number of private cars on Dublin’s streets to make way for cyclists and other sustainable transport modes, leading cycling experts say.

Becoming a "cycling city" by 2030 is within Dublin's grasp, but it will take "political courage, consistency, and significant investment," according to Copenhagen's former "bicycle mayor", Klaus Bondam.

“Sometimes you will need to build segregated cycle lanes in places where cars are today.”

People will not choose bikes over cars if the cycling infrastructure is not there, he said, adding cycling needs to be seen as a mode of transportation equal to other forms rather than an afterthought or a token element.

Mr Bondam, now the chief executive of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation, will join other cycling and city-planning professionals this week at Dublin’s Convention Centre for the international cycling conference, Velo-City.

Strong policies

Over the last half century, countries such as Ireland have allowed cars to take up "too much space", Mr Bondam said, adding that "strong, lasting policies" must be put in place today to create a city that is sustainable in 20 years' time.

A cycling policy adviser to the City of Amsterdam, Ria Hilhorst, said if Dublin wants to become a cycling city “you have to take measures against cars”.

Bikes are not only a means of transport but of transformation of the entire city scape, she said. Reducing private cars frees up space in cities because a busy bike street only needs to be about 8m wide, whereas cars require 30m to 50m widths.

Amsterdam, where 36 per cent of all journeys are made by bicycle, has had policies to reduce motor vehicle use since the early 1980s. Now, a new low-traffic policy is in place, with the city planning to remove 10,000 parking spaces over the next five years to further curb motor vehicle use. Ms Hilhorst believes non-cycling cities like Dublin have much to learn from these Dutch strategies.

“You need to realise that there is limited space [in cities] and so you have to diminish car space,” she said, adding that politicians must have a “straight back” to implement long-lasting change. “It’s not easy but if you come to Amsterdam you can see we did it,” she said.

Urban design engineer Brian Deegan said cities, including those in Ireland, have made decisions based on car use for too long.

Climate crisis

“You need to decide what kind of traffic you want and design for those road users,” he said. With the health implications of air pollution and the climate crisis coming into sharper focus, he said there is now “overwhelming evidence” to support cycle-centric planning.

“Most civilised cities are at a tipping point in realising the benefits cycling can bring to cities. We have been sitting on the solution for decades,” he added.

Having designed projects for the London mayor’s £1 billion (€1.1 billion) Cycling and Healthy Streets programme, Mr Deegan believes Dublin’s cycling infrastructure is limited. “There has never been very much for me to observe,” he added. In reference to the proposed Bus Connect programme, Mr Deegan said: “If you’re finding space for cyclists by cutting into footpaths and cutting down trees, I would say you are going wrong.”

Deegan criticised some of Ireland’s more “experimental” infrastructure – such as mixing cyclists and cars on busy roundabouts – which he said “relied too much on Dutch behaviour”.

He said planners must go “that bit extra” to protect cyclists in the UK and Ireland against a culture of “driver entitlement”. Clear segregation will work to keep cyclists safe from “fast and aggressive” motorists.

“It is all about curbing the excesses of motorcar use,” he said, adding: “it is a bumpy ride going from a system where cars are king”.