There is a hos­til­ity to­wards cy­clists

Smoother sur­faces, driv­ers ob­serv­ing speed lim­its and more re­spon­si­ble cy­cling could save lives

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Olivia Kelly

On Jan­uary 1st, those with re­spon­si­bil­ity for road safety an­nounced the “record low” rate of road fa­tal­i­ties in 2017. Just 158 peo­ple had lost their lives in crashes, com­pared with 186 in 2016.

Min­is­ter for Trans­port Shane Ross spoke of how “en­cour­ag­ing” and “heart­en­ing” the re­duc­tion in deaths was. Road Safety Author­ity chair­woman Liz O’Don­nell said it was a “very wel­come de­vel­op­ment” while As­sis­tant Garda Com­mis­sioner Michael Finn thanked the driv­ers who had made it all pos­si­ble.

But no one raised one par­tic­u­larly anoma­lous fig­ure which stuck out from the good news: cy­cling deaths were at their high­est in a decade. Fif­teen cy­clists were killed last year.

“We were shocked. We didn’t see it com­ing,” says Colm Ry­der, chair of cy­cling ad­vo­cacy group cy­clist.ie and sec­re­tary of the Dublin Cy­cling Cam­paign. “It was a 50 per cent in­crease on 2016 and trag­i­cally this year the same trend is emerg­ing, with six cy­clist deaths and only a third of the year gone.”

At 15 deaths, the num­bers may seem small, but they are out of kil­ter with the num­bers cy­cling. Dublin com­muter cy­cling in par­tic­u­lar has in­creased steadily in pop­u­lar­ity since 2006, when cy­clists ac­counted for 2.3 per cent of morn­ing com­muters. A decade later, cy­clists con­sti­tuted 6 per cent of those trav­el­ling to work.

Even with this sharp in­crease, the na­tional cy­cle com­mut­ing pop­u­la­tion is un­der 3 per cent. Yet cy­clists ac­count for al­most one in 10 peo­ple killed on the roads last year – and more than one in 10 so far this year. Not all those killed were com­mut­ing, but the fig­ures give some in­di­ca­tion of the dis­par­ity be­tween the num­bers cy­cling and the pro­por­tion of cy­clists killed.

It is dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine per­sis­tent fac­tors in th­ese deaths, says RSA com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager Brian Far­rell. “Up to now we’ve been re­ly­ing on the ini­tial re­port from the Garda at the scene, but it doesn’t give you the find­ings of the full in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the crash.”

That will change later this year with the pub­li­ca­tion of the RSA’s first in-depth re­port on pedes­trian and cy­clist fa­tal crashes. This re­port will fo­cus on all fa­tal crashes in­volv­ing pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists from 2008 to 2012, and will in­clude re­sults of foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tions, tox­i­col­ogy re­ports, road con­di­tions, weather, and the be­hav­iour of cy­clists, pedes­tri­ans and mo­torists.

How­ever, Far­rell says the RSA is “not wait­ing around” for the re­sults of this re­port, and is pro­mot­ing a num­ber of mea­sures it be­lieves are cru­cial to cy­clists’ safety, par­tic­u­larly its most re­cent cam­paign in re­la­tion to safe over­tak­ing dis­tances of one me­tre on roads with a speed limit up to 50 km/h, and 1.5 me­tres on all other roads

“Road safety mea­sures work bet­ter when peo­ple feel it is right to do some­thing rather than be­ing com­pelled do some­thing. We try to win the moral ar­gu­ment with peo­ple, make this how ‘nor­mal’ peo­ple be­have. It’s what we did with seat­belts and drink-driv­ing.”

The moral ar­gu­ment hasn’t worked with speed­ing, he ad­mits. “The 30km zones in city and town cen­tres are vi­tal to pro­tect­ing out most vul­ner­a­ble, cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans. At 30 km/h there is a nine in 10 chance of sur­vival. At 50km/h it’s the toss of a coin. At 60 km/h the odds are re­versed – nine out of 10 peo­ple hit by a car won’t sur­vive. Yet the ma­jor­ity of driv­ers are still speed­ing.”

Dublin City Coun­cil engi­neers last year car­ried out re­search on res­i­den­tial roads with a 30 km/h limit. On only two of 40 roads tested did mo­torists ad­just their speed to the new limit.

Low speeds

Far­rell says low speeds are essen­tial to sav­ing lives. “It’s not a mad­cap idea. It has been done across Europe, in Paris, in Lon­don. Ire­land is way be­hind the rest of Europe on this, 10 years be­hind.”

While some driver mis­be­haviour, such as close passes and speed­ing, is likely down to care­less­ness, Far­rell con­cedes there is a hos­til­ity to­wards cy­clists not ex­pe­ri­enced by other road users.

“There is a lack of un­der­stand­ing for and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of cy­clists. We are at great pains to try to get across the mes­sage that the road is a shared space and ev­ery­body is en­ti­tled to use it. No user has a greater en­ti­tle­ment than any other. Cy­clists also have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­sider their own safety, and the safety of oth­ers and not run red lights.”

Cy­clists are all too aware of the hos­til­ity to­wards them, Ry­der says. “So­cial me­dia has a lot to an­swer for. There seems to be a de­ter­mi­na­tion out there to pit cy­clists against mo­torists. There’s a co­hort of cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans who break the law, and there’s a co­hort of mo­torists who do the same.” Nei­ther is without blame, he says. Work to im­prove at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iour must be backed by in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture, Ry­der says. “We’re way be­hind other Euro­pean coun­tries, where they seg­re­gate cy­clists, and kids can go out the door to school feel­ing safe.

“Seg­re­ga­tion is the gold stan­dard. The United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme rec­om­mends 20 per cent of trans­port fund­ing goes to cy­cling and walk­ing. We are look­ing for 10 per cent of the trans­port bud­get for cy­cling and walk­ing.” Cur­rently the pro­por­tion is 2-3 per cent, he says.

Se­cur­ing new in­fra­struc­ture is painfully slow. A cross-coun­try route from Dublin to Gal­way was pro­posed sev­eral years ago. Some lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, notably West­meath County Coun­cil, have made ex­cel­lent progress, but oth­ers have done lit­tle.

In Dublin the Na­tional Trans­port Author­ity last year de­cided to take con­trol of the Lif­fey cy­cle lane project af­ter the city coun­cil failed to agree a route de­spite five years of plan­ning. Con­sul­tants are ex­pected to fi­nalise their work in the com­ing weeks, the NTA says.

While th­ese flag­ship projects are im­por­tant, Ry­der says much could be done to im­prove the ev­ery­day lot of cy­clists. “Ev­ery­body wants the big projects, but there are small quick wins that would make a big dif­fer­ence to safety, such as im­prov­ing junc­tions, fix­ing poor sur­faces, and en­forc­ing the law.”

‘‘ Far­rell says low speeds are essen­tial to sav­ing lives. ‘It’s not a mad­cap idea . . . Ire­land is way be­hind the rest of Europe on this

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