Sins of motorists and engineers have forced cyclists off the roads
Which national icon and key opinion leader said the following on RTE radio last year?
"The cycle lanes are a joke. The consideration by bus drivers, taxi drivers, drivers generally towards cyclists is appalling. The state of the roads, the surface of the roads, is appalling. I cycle on the path. I get up on the pavement and I ride and I don't care who's looking at me or who's going to stop me."
I'll answer that question shortly. In the meantime, I'd like to comment on recent reports and correspondence in the Galway Advertiser regarding the vexed question of footpath cycling. This debate about cyclists mixing with pedestrians seems to have got legs.
Cycling on the footway is commonplace in Galway City, as it also seems to be in Dublin and Cork. It must be acknowledged that this behaviour is currently illegal, often controversial, sometimes scary for older pedestrians in particular, statistically risky and occasionally a direct cause of accidents (such as the knocking down of Derrick Grayson's elderly mother, as mentioned in the Advertiser on February 11). However, cycling in pedestrian-dominated spaces is a fairly ramified issue not easily solved by a zero tolerance approach ('Cycling on pavement is wrong — end of story', Róisín Glynn-Steed, Advertiser Letters, March 18).
A bicycle has been legally classified as a vehicle, and a cyclist as a driver, since the early 1960s. Unfortunately, because of the serious decline in Ireland's cycling culture, a massive increase in car ownership, a chronic problem of poor driving standards and inadequate licensing, highly questionable road engineering practices and woefully ineffective traffic law enforcement, we have had for many years in this country a traffic environment bordering on the anarchic. This is evident not just in the chaotic behaviour of many cyclists, but also in the way so many motorists routinely break the speed limit, overtake dangerously, manoeuvre unpredictably and park haphazardly (very often on the footpath).
Footpath cyclists are not a homogeneous group.
Lazy and selfish cyclists routinely use the footpath as a handy way of avoiding inconveniences such as having to respect traffic lights, interact with other traffic, use hand signals, be lit up at night, obey any Rules of the Road, and suffer even a short commute without an i-Pod earphone stuck in their ear.
More considerate and law-abiding cyclists who believe they should be using "cycle facilities" often find that, because of shoddy and long-discredited road engineering practices, they are directed onto pedestrian facilities in a manner that interrupts their journey, places them in conflict with pedestrians and exposes them to a greater risk of collision with motorised traffic at junctions, especially Galway's many badly-designed and dangerous roundabouts.
There are also nervous and intimidated cyclists who are far too wary of motorised traffic to want to travel on the road where they legally belong but who also find the alleged "cycle facilities" to be grossly sub-standard. Apparently, one such cyclist is none other than the chairperson of the Road Safety Authority, Mr Gay Byrne. For it was he who came out as a footpath cyclist in an interview on Mooney Goes Wild, RTE Radio 1, July 1st 2009.
In such circumstances, is it surprising that so many cyclists are colonising the footpaths? Cosain wants to see capable adult cyclists back on the road where they belong. However, the solutions to the problem of uncontrolled and inappropriate footpath cycling will not be found in measures that seek to focus only on the inconsiderate behaviour of some cyclists. The bigger problem that needs to be dealt with is our invasive, unsustainable car culture and all its works and pomps.
There are encouraging early signs that this is happening at a national policy level and in the country's capital. However, such developments come only with painful slowness to the west, despite the fact that, according to the Galway Cycling Campaign, Galway is "already Ireland’s walking and cycling city".
European best practice in the promotion of active transport emphasises 'car free' rather than 'pedestrian only' spaces. The UK Department for Transport states that "allowing cycling through restricted areas should be the rule rather than the exception". Where this is not appropriate, it recommends that consideration should be given to allowing access to cyclists outside of the busiest pedestrian hours. Ireland's National Cycle Policy Framework (2009) proposes a wide range of measures to facilitate cycling, including legal changes that would provide "default exemptions of cyclists from restrictions in pedestrianised streets".
Finally, a parting shot. Róisín Glynn-Steed says satirically: "Why don’t the cars come join the bikes and then the pedestrians can walk on the roads?" It's already happening, all over the city. In fact, one of the city's most prominent locations for such illegal motoring behaviour is the short and narrow stretch of footpath right outside Mill Street Garda Station. That tells its own story.
Community Road Safety Action & Information Network (Cosain)