The Irish Times view on cycling infrastructure: a tipping point

The pandemic has strengthened the case for getting more commuters cycling and walking

For decades cyclists have been begging for safer road infrastructure in towns and cities. All they got, largely, was a splash of white paint, which is no barrier to the motorist determined to park in or drive on a cycle path. Despite being short-changed on the provision of adequate road space and the enforcement of the infrastructure that does exist, cyclists have taken to the roads in record numbers. This is particularly evident in Dublin, where their numbers have risen from fewer than 6,000 on the morning commute in 2006 to more than 13,000 now.

Yet plans to create safe, segregated routes remained mired in endless years of consultation, revisions and stalemate. Until now. The coronavirus pandemic has changed matters entirely. With astonishing speed Dublin’s local authorities have begun installing safe, segregated cycling infrastructure with physical barriers that effectively prevent motorists claiming the space for themselves.

The logic behind these initiatives in inarguable. Public transport cannot accommodate the numbers it previously did within public health guidelines, but the road capacity doesn’t exist for all those bus and rail users to transfer to cars, so Dublin needs to have more commuters cycling and walking.

Unfortunately it was a logic lost on the new Minister of State for the Office of Public Works (OPW) Patrick O'Donovan, who insisted in recent weeks that the Phoenix Park revert to full access for cars. A vocal minority is pushing against cycling and walking initiatives, but it is not representative of the public mood. Research published by the National Transport Authority last week found 84 per cent of Dubliners supported building more of these lanes, even when this would mean less room for other road traffic.

Dublin councils have the wind of public sentiment at their backs to push on with the continued development of safe road space for cyclists and pedestrians. Critics accuse them of exploiting the pandemic to rush through long-held anti-car policies, but if they are, it’s about time.