THOUGH cycling is becoming ever more popular in Ireland, we’re still a mighty long way from having the facilities that other EU countries are providing for people that prefer the bike as a mode of transport.
Granted small sections of roads built here in recent years include token cycle lanes, but our cities and towns are still dominated by motor traffic and the intrepid, even foolhardy, cyclist takes his, or her, life in their hands, on urban roads especially.
On a recent visit to Amsterdam, where the bike is king, I was amazed to find that young, old, rich and poor cycle everywhere. Everyone seems to own a bike there and generally have no difficulty in getting around.
A half-day spent cycling in this delightful old city was both a joy and revelation. You feel safe on the off-street cycle lanes, which run parallel to the footpaths, and it was amazing to see motorists yielding right of way to cyclists. Any pedestrian that strays onto a cycle lane also risks a hail of verbal abuse from cyclists — the only thing the bike people don’t argue with is a tram.
Mothers could be seen carrying young children, schoolbags and stacked messages in what looked like wheelbarrows attached to their bikes. We heard of how men in tuxedos and ladies in ball gowns are known to cycle to plush night-time functions and home again.
Like Dublin, or Cork, Amsterdam has plenty of narrow, winding streets dating to medieval times, but the authorities still make room for cyclists. Some chance of that happening here! But we can still incorporate cycle lanes into the design of new roads and, by facilitating cyclists, traffic congestion, noise and carbon emissions can reduced.
Amsterdam has a key advantage for cycling in that it is pancake-flat. And the same is true for The Netherlands in general.
According to the city authorities in Amsterdam, 75% of the 765,000 population own a bike, with 350,000 riding their bikes every day, and 60% of all trips in the inner city are by bike. All of which is facilitated by 400km of designated cycleways and the fact that 90% of Amsterdam streets are bike-friendly. Overall traffic safety is the best in Europe, with 45 deaths per million inhabitants per year. Hard to get killed, after all, when you are pedalling a one-speed bike at around 8km per hour.
Other European cities are following suit. Seville, for instance, has moved to fourth place in the bike-friendly table, developing infrastructure that allowed bike traffic to increase from 0.5% of kilometres travelled to 7 % in just a few years.
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