On two wheels and a prayer

James Fagan assess the benefits and potential problems of the new Dublinbikes schemeParis, Seville, Brussels, Vienna, Dublin. Normally were you to see a list of those cities, the question, “Which is the odd one out?” would spring to mind. Usually you would be correct in saying Dublin. On this occasion, however, this list isn’t to Dublin’s detriment – as last month Dublin joined those cities in offering a public bicycle scheme.dublinbikesFor those unaware with what a public bike scheme entails, it’s a pretty simple concept. Anyone can rent a bike from a terminal in a city and return it to the same terminal, or a different one somewhere else in the city, for only a nominal charge. To prevent theft, you must usually enter your credit card details and guarantee a fee if the bike is not returned – in Dublin a fine of €150 is levied if the bike is not returned within 24 hours.For any city to introduce such a service is laudable: firstly, it helps to promote cycling as a mode of transport. Cycling has several advantages over other forms of transport: it maintains a cyclist’s fitness levels; it’s kind to the environment, with zero emissions; and it’s more comfortable than a humid, packed bus – as many Dublin Bus users can grudgingly confirm.Moreover, from the perspective of tourism, the scheme is particularly welcome. It facilitates the advertisement of a city as a place to holiday, presenting it as a destination with good public amenities. It offers a way for people to see the sites from their own perspective and at their own pace, rather than on the top of an open-air bus. In Dublin such amenities are particularly necessary to ensure that the capital is an enjoyable city to visit, especially with the difficulties facing the tourism industry in these uncertain economic times.Compared to more rural destinations, cities have a more difficult task in staying competitive for tourists. Rural attractions are generally areas of environmental and historical interest; they mainly need stimulating conservation and easy access to stay attractive. Cities, however, need to offer more than just environmental and historic attractions. A fusion of culture and nightlife with the modernism that only innovative developments and investment can bring about makes a city appealing to those who want a city break. A cycling scheme helps facilitate this.For a cycling scheme to take off successfully, there needs to be a well thought out, affordable system in place. Dublinbikes certainly ticks this box, allowing the first half hour of use for free, with bike terminals just 300 metres away from each other.However there are a number of issues which may ultimately make the service a failure. The scheme is located in Dublin city centre, which is great for tourism as mentioned earlier, but a nightmare for safety. Road works are commonplace in the city, particularly around the new Luas developments near the IFSC which houses four bike terminals. Anyone who has braved city cycling can understand the risk that arises when the road surface is reduced to potholes and uneven tarmac as a result of construction works. Even worse is the lack of dedicated cycle lanes within the city centre streets. The lack of demarcated routes for cyclists opens them up to kerb-hugging drivers, which can tragically result in someone meeting the business end of a truck, as happened to a male cyclist on Wellington Quay two weeks ago.While cyclists must endeavour to wear protective clothing, forcing them to mix with heavy traffic is asking for trouble. What is worrying is that users of this scheme will be unlikely to use helmets, considering none are provided at the terminals, thereby increasing their risk of serious injury if they get in an accident.The solutions to these problems are not easy to come by. A push towards a more pedestrianised city centre could potentially help, but any such move would likely face strong opposition from local businesses. A possible solution would be the creation of Quality Bus Corridors on the inside lanes of all roads within the city centre, and not just at certain sections. The recent conversion of College Green into a bus corridor is a welcome move in the right direction, as it removes congestion from one of the busiest interchanges in the city.Whatever concerns hang over the scheme, it should be welcomed for the potential benefit it brings to Dublin – but whether the scheme takes full flight remains to be seen.