Why cycling safety is a two-way street

Our roads need to be made safer for cyclists – but cyclists also need to follow rules of the road

Yet another pedal cyclist has died in a road collision on Dublin’s streets. Two children died earlier this year in other collisions. Nine people have lost their lives so far this year while cycling and there is no reason to believe the tally of loss and desolation will do anything but rise further as the year progresses.

Road incidents involving cycles and motor vehicles occur due to a variety of factors: driver error, cyclist error, bad road surfaces and even bad weather. There is no doubt however that fewer deaths would occur over the course of a year if there was more investment in providing smooth, hard shoulders and a bit of extra paint to block off a safe cycle lane for rural cyclists. In towns and cities, it would help if we had clear road markings that mark out places where cyclists have undisputed control of the lane space.

The Dublin Cycling Alliance is staging a protest ride out on Monday evening to mark the recent death of Donna Fox, the latest person to be killed while cycling central Dublin’s dangerous streets. The alliance has been campaigning for years for increased investment to make the road system safer for cyclists. Unfortunately the all-too-frequent injuries and sometimes deaths are not enough to leverage any sustained investment by the National Transport Authority.

It wouldn’t take much to bring about a great improvement. A dedicated cycle lane is a simple thing to build into any new road plan from the start, rather than retrofitting one after the road is in use. I have watched Dublin City Council show off all sorts of road improvement plans at media launches over several decades that never quite get delivered. The promised changes to enhance cycling safety tend to get diluted or cut out completely once the demands of motorists are taken on board.

Unfortunately, while many conscientious cyclists are victims of this lack of investment, there are also many cyclists who win no sympathy from motorists, truck and bus drivers because of the way they rampage through Dublin’s streets. No light is red enough, no gap between cars or worse between the sides of two double-deckers is narrow enough and no pedestrian crossing is off limits enough to prevent cyclists from charging through.

I have been cycling into work from the western suburbs for more than 30 years and in that time have seen the most reckless and downright dangerous cycling that can be imagined.

I have seen mothers with infants in push chairs scattering to get out of the way of cyclists who think they should speed through a red light at a pedestrian crossing. For many of these cyclists loss of right of way at a lighted intersection really only means you have to slow down a bit before cutting across a moving bus or car.

The Dáil passed legislation about a year ago giving the Garda Síochána the power to impose instant fines on cyclists breaking traffic lights. While the media reported some cyclists being stopped, the initiative didn’t stem the stream of bikes rolling through intersections at will.

It is unrealistic to believe the gardaí have the resources to enforce the laws related to cycling on urban streets. But maybe a big crackdown is needed to force cyclists to stick to the rules of the road in the same way as required of drivers. Motorists have to stop when the lights go red at a pedestrian crossing even if there are no pedestrians. Why don’t cyclists? Who gave them the right to break lights?

Here is where the need for greater investment in road safety comes back into the argument. If more of our urban roads had dedicated space for cyclists it would keep them separated from the main flow of traffic. There would be less need to try and pass out a bus pulling in to a stop, forcing the cyclist to look for space in the neighbouring lane.

The Government and councils say they want more people to cycle, and if that is so then they should stump up the money to install lanes for this two-wheeled traffic. Cyclists are just another form of road user so give us a fair share of the tarmac that is available. The Dutch have managed it, why can’t we do it here?