VIDEO: Millions spent but are our streets more cycling friendly?

Hundreds of thousands of euro have been invested in cycle lanes and in Cork another €2m has been invested in the Coca Cola bike scheme. But why do potholes still abound, asks Caroline Delaney.

VIDEO: Millions spent but are our streets more cycling friendly?

IF your commute to work involves a sigh of relief that you ‘made it alive’, then you’re probably a cyclist. The list of risks runs the gamut from deep-sunken drain covers to crater-like potholes to getting ‘doored’ to dodging a car that hasn’t indicated before pulling out in front of you. Cork City Council has done great work lately in acknowledging cyclists: they have provided facilities such as bicycle stands, cycle paths, cycle lanes, and, of course, the Coke Zero bicycles. But hopping on a bike is still not the safest option.

This week, I cycled around Cork City and noted a few issues — I headed in towards the city centre on the contra-flow cycle lane on Anglesea Street. Pedestrians and a charity collector walked and stood in the cycle lane even though the footpath was next to it. With all the guff about plans to impose a fine on cyclists who use the footpath, I didn’t hear anything about fines for pedestrians in cycle lanes.

And don’t get me started (yet) on cars and trucks in the cycle lanes. Only four minutes in and the cycle path merged with a pedestrian crossing, before becoming a dedicated cycle route again on Parnell Place. Anyway, just as I was starting to enjoy this, the trail ended and I was merging with trucks and buses at Merchants Quay.

From here, heading west along the quays, it was just a matter of keeping an eye out for potholes and lane markings. That is until I got to a truck parked right across a cycle lane on Kyrl’s Quay. So, a quick check behind, before I veered into the car lane for a moment.

I went over Griffith Bridge, towards the base of Shandon Street and back towards the city centre along Farren’s and Pope’s Quays. This was nice. Buds were on the trees and the city looked quite chic from that vantage point.

A cycle lane on Parnell Place in Cork.

Pictures: Larry Cummins and Eddie O’Hare

There was a feeling of security in the kerbing separating cyclists from the road and on-street parking. Well, that was until I met one car, which either jumped the kerbing or drove in at a gap and reversed along inside the kerbstones to create a nifty little (illegal) parking spot for themselves. The designated cycle path ends at the Mulgrave Road junction.

Traffic wasn’t too heavy that lunchtime, so I crossed Christy Ring Bridge towards the Opera House and swung back to the northside over St Patrick’s Bridge.

I cycle along Camden Quay regularly, en route to the Irish Examiner’s Blackpool offices regularly, and it’s nerve-wracking in the mornings. To take a right turn means cutting up between the cars planning to turn left and those going either straight onto Pope’s Quay or right to Blackpool. Invariably, some passenger decides they would be faster walking — or that they can’t stand the driver’s choice of music any longer, and they swing the door open and lurch out of the car. I’ve seen several cyclists narrowly dodging being ‘doored’.

Road conditions on Carroll’s Quay are among some of the worst I’ve seen in the city — and they have been for more than 16 months. Huge, gaping potholes mean cars and bikes alike risk being banjaxed along this route.

One pothole is nearly two foot wide, and avoiding it means swerving out into the middle of a lane used by a lot of trucks heading to Mallow or Limerick.

Cillian Reid, of Cork’s Bike Shed, bike sales and repair shop, said they “ often get customers arriving in having punctured a tyre, or even buckled a wheel, on pot holes on the roads”.

“A bike will be much more severely damaged by poor road conditions. Wilton Road, from Dennehys cross, is a pothole black spot,” he said.

MacCurtain Street can be a bit of a chore during evening rush hour, as cars try to drive theatre guests right into the Everyman. And there are a fair few tasty fast food outlets there, luring in punters suffering such severe hunger madness they have no choice but to abandon their cars at random angles along the street.

I headed back over the bridges into the central island and on to the south side. But not before noting the gouged and gashed state of the faded red cyclist area, by the traffic lights leading across St Patrick’s Quay. A cyclist builds up speed there, to get onto Brian Boru Bridge, but first they clunk into a virtual crater of a pothole.

Then, I was back on the ‘red brick road’ on Clontarf Street — though plenty of taxis seemed to mistake it for a red carpet, as they operate outside the Clarion Hotel.

All too soon that was the end of the cycle lanes, as I headed onto Monahan Road, towards the lovely cycling and walking trail beyond the Atlantic Pond, on the converted railway lane. Dog walkers who use massive, extendable leads are often the worst you’ll encounter there — but that’s for another day.

It really is great that city planners are aware of, and even planning for, cyclists. Whether it’s the Coke zero bikes or cordoned-off cycling lanes — they’re all welcome. But a dollop of cash towards basic road improvements is required, followed by clear lane markings and obvious links between zones and streets — if Cork is to become a truly cyclist-friendly city. Cillian Reid would like a “ big publicity campaign around cycle lanes”.

“Education is needed for cyclists and drivers. There are bad cyclists and bad drivers,” he said.

Motorists need to become bike aware

Cork Cycling Campaign brands itself as a ‘voice for Cork’s everyday cyclists’. Spokesman Darren McAdam-O’Connell thinks Cork is the best Irish city for cycling but but would love to see cyclist awareness become part of the driving test.

“You have no business being in a car if you don’t understand how a bike works,” he says.

“Dublin has come a long way as a cycling city in recent years but there are some deathtrap cycle lanes. And there can be a bit of a confrontational attitude towards cyclists in Galway. Cork is the absolute best, no questioning it.” Incidences of aggression towards cyclists in Cork are few and far between, says Darren.

“Taxi drivers are considerate road users generally. It’s on Friday and Saturday nights when you have the part-time taxis out, that you will see practices that aren’t so good.”

Tackling the state of the roads is a priority for improving cycling in Cork, notes Darren.

“We need a decent surface before dedicated lanes,” he says.

Mc Adam-O’Connell also notes that every road should be seen as a cycle lane as cyclists are free to use all city streets.

How bikeshare works and the costs involved

This innovative scheme is a bike rental service available in Cork, Limerick, Dublin and Galway (and coming soon to Belfast).

There are bike stations with a terminal and stands for the bikes all across the city centre. The bikes are locked into the stands and when a bike is hired it is released by the system.

On return, the bike is locked back into a stand at any station, and the hire is then completed.

You can take out an annual subscription costing €10. The first 30-minutes of each hire is free and a fee applies if you keep the bike for longer hires.

If you’re just visiting the city or just want to try it out then a three-day subscription option is available for just €3.

This service is available seven days a week throughout the year, from 5am to 12.30am, though a bike can be returned to available stands at any time of the day.

The bikes do have a nifty built-in basket in front but helmets are not provided so bring your own.

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