A Dangerous Endeavour: the task of cycling in Dublin

Image Credit: Heather Reynolds

Cycling has continued to become a popular mode of transport in recent years, despite the many challenges and safety risks it poses. Aoife Rooney investigates.

Cycling has many benefits to those who choose it as their form of transport. Cheap, energy-efficient and a good way to slot some movement into increasingly sedentary lifestyles; cycling as a concept is without too many flaws. Cut to any given weekday morning as students and staff try to enter UCD’s main Belfield campus, and there will be examples of near misses and often actual incidents of bumps between cyclists and cars. The junction at the Clonskeagh entrance to UCD is known for being especially hazardous for cyclists. 

A few weeks ago Assistant Professor Sadhbh O’Neill witnessed a vehicle hit the back of a student she determined to be in secondary school and cause him to come off his bike “what was particularly revealing about this incident is that people don’t complain because the gardaí are only interested in prosecuting drivers for careless driving”. O’Neill is a PhD candidate in UCD and Assistant Professor in the School of Law and Government DCU. O’Neill frequently cycles across Dublin city, as she commutes into the capital multiple days a week. She is passionate about cyclist safety, and believes Ireland is sorely lacking in the basic infrastructure needed to keep cyclists safe. The boy managed to leave the situation relatively unscathed, but it prompted O’Neill to consider what it is that makes the roads such a dangerous place for cyclists. “It’s no wonder that cyclists don’t report these incidents a lot of the time, they’re very common, the cycling infrastructure in Dublin is appalling. Even though there has been some improvements on the cycle lanes that do exist, the road surface is poor, you don’t feel safe, you’re taking your life in your hands, sometimes sharing bus lanes, having to navigate difficult junctions, trying to keep out of the way, HGV’s, speeding cars, you name it.”

UCD Estates just think of themselves as a property management entity, and not as having a duty of care towards the staff and student population

Assistant Professor O’Neill spoke to the wider culture of cycling as a form of transport and the lack of respect shown to cyclists more generally “what struck me was the sense of despair that we as cyclists feel about the state of the roads and the hazards, and the lack of attention that drivers pay, notwithstanding the fact that there are more cyclists now than ever before, and slightly better cycling infrastructure, it just is so dangerous.” 

With regard to UCD, O’Neill argued that “UCD are not paying enough attention to the safety and mobility needs of students” and “UCD Estates just think of themselves as a property management entity, and not as having a duty of care towards the staff and student population.” While the issue is city- and arguably nation-wide, public organisations like UCD have roles to play in the protection of vulnerable road users, but they are more concerned with making space for larger vehicles, argued O’Neill “UCD has a reputation for being the biggest car park in Dublin.”

Second year Economics and Finance student Darragh Moran spoke to the University Observer about his experience on his 10-15 minute commute ““I’ve been knocked off my bike once already.” Darragh came off his bike a few weeks ago while on the way to college when a van turned left and caught the back of his bike. Apart from the chain on his bike coming off, Darragh was unharmed. The driver of the van proceeded to drive off at first, before Moran approached him to ask him to stop. “It’s a lot more dangerous to cycle than it is to drive at the minute. We should be encouraging people to cycle, but the infrastructure isn’t there.”

The road surface is poor, you don’t feel safe, you’re taking your life in your hands, sometimes sharing bus lanes, having to navigate difficult junctions, trying to keep out of the way, HGV’s, speeding cars, you name it

Darragh argued that UCD was not an accessible place to cycle, “on many of the roads on campus there are no cycle lanes at all; you have to swerve and zigzag to get around people.” He also took issue with the disruption at the front of campus, where roads have been diverted to allow construction for the Centre for Creativity,  and new roads have been marked out. Moran argued that they should “paint down a line” for cyclists. He also suggested that UCD consider the introduction of infrastructure to separate drivers from cyclists: “bollards make it much safer, on roads where there are no none, cars sometimes drive half way into the cycle lanes. ”

Minister for Transport and Minister for Climate, Environment and Communications, Eamon Ryan gave comment to the University Observer regarding the various initiatives put forth by his department in their aims to further develop cycling industry infrastructure nationwide. While much of the citywide facilities are provided by Dublin City Council, the Minister for Transport is responsible for allocating funding and identifying areas where investment is needed. In the short term, Minister Ryan will be providing temporary cycling facilities, while over €70 million is to be divided between counties for various projects, all aimed at developing both rural and urban infrastructure for cyclists. 

His office stated much of their time focused on cyclist safety is divested towards younger road users and school children, with no mention of allocation of funds to higher education “the Department of Transport funds the delivery of CycleRight training through Cycling Ireland, which delivers cycling training to schoolchildren around the country and equips them with the skills to cycle safely.” They have also worked in partnership with the Department of Education to launch the “Safe Routes to Schools Programme earlier this year, which aims to accelerate the delivery of safe walking, scooting, and cycling infrastructure on key access routes to schools.”

Aside from this, Minister Ryan is hoping to introduce legislation to further regulate electric bicycles and scooters, which would see the introduction of upper speed restrictions among other things. While many are quick to criticise this type of transport, Assistant Professor O’Neill argued otherwise “e-scooter and e-bikes are a game changer - you get the speed, you get the extra push, so that you don’t have to be super fit, and it means you can do longer distances.”

Minister Ryan also spoke to the overall plans in place to make the roads a safer place for all road users. Last year, 10 cyclists lost their lives on the road; which was the highest rate of increased casualties in the EU in a ten year period. 

“Work is nearing conclusion on the new Road Safety Strategy, and it is expected to be published shortly. The Road Safety Authority are responsible for the presentation of the new Road Safety Strategy for Ministerial approval. It will run for the ten-year period 2021 to 2030, a longer period than usual, to align it with the end-date of the EU strategy. The strategy will include a target to halve road deaths between 2021 and 2030 as well as, for the first time, a target to reduce serious injuries by the same amount.”

UCD Estates did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.