I love cycling. My first bicycle was a red and white Raleigh Explorer with gold pinstripes, a present for my ninth birthday. My parents bought it for me in Dan Leavy’s bicycle shop in Clanbrassil Street in Dublin, and I remember the thrill of cycling it for the first time on a bright March evening along the gravel lane leading up to our bungalow.
So when I returned to live in Dundalk, after an absence of 30 years, I was delighted that planners had decided to take cycling seriously.
The flat landscape of the streets lends itself to the bicycle. My father Paul took many black-and-white photographs of Dundalk life in the 1960s, and in one he captured the image of scores of workers in the shoe factories heading home from work in overcoats and caps. They cycled the streets long before there were bike lanes or Lycra.
Unfortunately the planner’s pipe-dream of a utopia for cyclists has turned into an urban nightmare, as it seems to me that bicycle lanes are generally ignored by Dundalk cyclists.
Many of those on two wheels much prefer to cycle on footpaths and are hell-bent on careering around pedestrians with complete abandon. Naturally they don’t use bells or have lights on their bicycles, and feel as safe as houses on the footpath from the long arm of the law. In other words, they don’t pay a blind bit of notice to rules, regulations or road safety. Whether you are pushing a pram or are an older person dodging potholes on pavements, you are sure to encounter a cyclist. Cyclists wearing a look of entitlement hurtle along the pavement, carefully ignoring the cycle path built on either side of the road. I met one young cyclist the other night coming the wrong way along a cycle lane in darkness and without lights. Another three students heading toward the local institute of technology took to the footpath, weaving around pedestrians and babies in prams.
I wrote to the Road Safety Authority, thinking the situation might be of interest to the powers that be. It in turn has taken matters seriously and has written to An Garda Síochána and Louth County Council. So I should chill out perhaps, the matter is being looked into! That was three months ago but I have seen no officials in hi-vis jackets with clipboards surveying the scene.
One student I spoke to about riding on the pavement over the Dublin Road Bridge explained that it was too dangerous to cycle on the road. Fair enough, I thought, there is no cycle lane on this bridge and no proper road markings either. Mind you, the road is not much better since I left the town in 1980; it is a dangerous rutted track, and it evidently has not been surfaced for years. I pity the cyclists trying to get on to the footpath over the bridge. If you do decide to cycle on the path and break the law, it is necessary to dismount and lift your bike up and over a foot-high pavement. This is a footpath for mountain bikes only. If you are wheeling a pram or in a wheelchair, the same obstacle must be traversed.
Another cyclist I encountered just shouted “sorry” as he zipped past. Then 10 minutes later I met him coming back along the same footpath at speed outside the local pub and he smiled indifferently. I recently almost crashed head-on into a cyclist coming the wrong way along a cycle path on the Dublin Road near the hospital. His bike had no lights and he was not wearing a hi-vis vest. After all, why would any self-respecting student dream of kitting out in the gear that might save a life?
Road users need all the help they can get on the Dublin Road , a chaotic street where cars often hurtle along at twice the legal speed limit. A couple of puny signs are no deterrent for motorists who have the pedal to the metal and show scant regard for cyclists and pedestrians.
For me it’s a street with no rules, where some motorists accelerate as if on a lap of the Nürburgringin Germany, being chased by Lewis Hamilton.
Of course I accept planners had a vision of Dundalk as a modern town with cycle paths and with an environmentally friendly transport system. Unfortunately the dream of utopia is only half finished and much more serious thought is needed. The issues of inconsiderate driver behaviour and road safety education for cyclists who refuse to use cycle lanes or bicycle lights need to be tackled. Now, where did I put my bicycle clips?