‘Cyclists versus motorists’ rhetoric must stop, TD says

Oireachtas committee told of verbal and physical harassment of people on bicycles

Dublin Cycling Campaign has said it is extremely concerned at the level of verbal and physical harassment towards people who cycle.

The group told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport it hears "regular reports" of intimidation towards cyclists, with a number of women in the campaign "subject to gendered abuse, both verbal and physical".

A number of representatives from cycling organisations, officials from the Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority were before the committee on Wednesday to discuss national cycling policy and legislation.

Kevin Baker, chairman of the Dublin Cycling Campaign, said there needed to be "strong political leadership" in order to combat aggression towards cyclists and "support the creation of a culture where people are accorded the respect they deserve".

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said current conditions for cyclists were "atrocious" and it was "scandalous" that the issue had not been addressed.

“There is a general level of abuse against cyclists at the moment and it has escalated in the last two or three years online for some reason and it needs to stop,” the Dublin Bay South TD said.

Mr Ryan said cycling behaviour was “improving” and he had noticed cyclists in Dublin beginning to “self-police”. He said “cyclists versus motorists” rhetoric must stop.

‘Fallen off a cliff’

Dr Damien Ó Tuama, national cycling co-ordinator with Cyclist.ie, said the numbers of children cycling to school had "fallen off a cliff" in many parts of Ireland. He said said only 694 secondary school girls were cycling to school in 2016 while more than 2,000 were driving themselves having got learner permits. Back in 1986, he said, more than 19,000 girls were cycling to secondary school, according to Census data.

“Something is seriously wrong,” he added.

Cyclist.ie has called for a national cycling office to be established within the Department of Transport.

Louise Williams, from the Dublin Cycling Campaign, noted research carried out by An Taisce's Green Schools initiative, which said teenage girls who cycle are dealing with harassment from drivers and young men and a perception that cycling is "uncool".

Ciaran Ferrie, from I Bike Dublin, said cycling in the capital "should not be the preserve of the brave and the foolhardy". He said it was difficult at times to figure out "who's responsible for what" in terms of transport in the capital.

‘Share responsibility’

“It has recently been calculated that there are upwards of 30 separate organisations - local authorities, Government departments, State agencies, taskforces and private companies - that share responsibility for transport in Dublin,” he said. “For campaign groups, this presents an intractable problem - every time we think we have found the body responsible for a particular issue, we are referred to another body.”

The National Transport Authority said it has established a dedicated cycling design office, which is made up of outsourced staff and has a budget of €1.5 million per year.

Anne Graham, the authority's chief executive, said its BusConnects plan was the "largest cycling infrastructure project ever designed in the State" and would deliver 200km of segregated cycling infrastructure on key routes into the city.

"BusConnects in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford will see similar ambitious cycling plans included," she added.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times