It’s time we demanded the right to cycle in safety and arrive alive

Cyclists lay down on Tuesday evening outside the Dáil to protest at the unsafety of our cycling infrastructure, with 13 cyclists killed on our roads this year so far, writes Victoria White

It’s time we demanded the right to cycle in safety and arrive alive

A couple of hours later, there was a 14th victim when a 39-year-old man was in collision with two cars outside Tralee.

God help his bereaved friends and relations at this time. God help the bereaved friends and relations of the other 13, many of whom are living through the worst year of their lives.

The victims were solid citizens, committed cyclists, mostly out exercising in broad daylight.

They were just out using the power of their own bodies to power their travel on lightweight vehicles, which makes them second-class citizens on Irish roads.

Annette Mannix, 48, was out with a training group from Killarney when she was killed in a collision with a tractor.

Annette Carlos, 65, from Cobh, also died in collision with a tractor as she cycled on the Cork-Ringaskiddy road.

Janet Price, an American tourist in her 60s, was killed on the Gap of Dunloe when she was in collision with a 4x4 truck.

Patrick McHale, 54, was killed in collision with a car outside Ballina.

Pat Beakey, 70, was killed in collision with a motorist in Meath.

Des Butler, 50 was killed in collision with a campervan outside Limerick.

Donal O’Brien, 46, was killed in collision with a motorist near Ballincollig.

Robin Bell, 62, was in collision with a car near Skibbereen.

Tonya McEvoy, 34, was out training with the Orwell Wheelers near Rathcoffey, Co Kildare, when she was in collision with a car.

Daragh Ryan, 30, was cycling near Phoenix Park when he was in collision with a car.

Luby Maryori Arroyave Ramirez, in her 30s, was in collision with a motorist near Templeogue.

Headmaster Padraic Carney, 53, died in Rathfarnham.

Ryan McCarthy, 25, another member of Orwell Wheelers, died last week in collision with a cleaning truck in Rathfarnham.

The sight of his mangled bike and cycling helmet under the truck is enough to make your blood run cold.

Why are they on the roads at all, I hear you cry? Cycling is for children. People who can’t afford four wheels. We fund the roads through our road tax and they’re ours!

That attitude is out there and it offers cover to the Government in failing to make cycling safe on our roads.

The projected spend on cycling infrastructure — dedicated cycle tracks and redesigned junctions — works out at €27.5m over the next four years, which is about 2% of public spending on transport infrastructure.

If we were spending 10% on cycling infrastructure, the sum would be €165m per year. The UN recommends 20% of transport infrastructure spending should go to cycling, which would be €320m. The Netherlands spends €500m a year on cycling.

It wasn’t always like that. London-based cycling instructor Barney Stutter tells me that Amsterdam was a car-based city 40 years ago with cycling almost absent from the planning.

The number of kids killed cycling to school in the 1970s started the “Stop de Kindermoord” (Stop the Child Murder) movement which slowly turned Amsterdam into the world’s safest cycling city.

“Make no mistake about it”, he says. “Bad infrastructure kills cyclists.”

He says he never makes any excuses for unsafe cycling. But he doesn’t confine cycling training to cyclists.

In an innovative scheme the match of which I can’t find in Ireland, Barney works with the UK road hauliers’ Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme to train truck drivers in keeping cyclists safe on the roads.

Major UK contracts are increasingly difficult to secure without this accreditation.

If a truck driver kills a cyclist it’s not as if there’s only one victim, after all. As Barney says: “Some truck drivers never work again.”

He gets the truck drivers out on bikes — those who are able to cycle — and teaches them awareness and understanding of cyclist behaviour.

As is the case here, HGV trucks are fitted, by law, with an array of mirrors, but, says Barney, “They still only have one pair of eyes. Technology is not the answer.”

He has also worked with the London police to sit unsafe cyclists in the cabs of HGVs to show them exactly how blind those blind spots are.

Transport Minister Shane Ross told the Dáil he is taking cycling deaths seriously by “targeting cyclist and motorist attitudes and behaviour, an education programme, the provision of cycling tracks, and the rolling out of the Cycle Right campaign”.

The cyclists are targeted for training, of which there is not nearly enough, with the rollout of the Cycle Right course to only 12,000 school pupils this year due to funding constraints.

They are taught awareness of HGV truck blind spots through the slogan, “If you can’t see the driver, the driver can’t see you.”

The drivers don’t get trained to keep cyclists safe. The onus is on cyclists, with their small, undestructive vehicles, to be aware of trucks while truck drivers are targeted with a 60-second TV ad.

There is no specific, practical training for truck drivers in how not to kill or hurt a cyclist. There is no such mandatory training for any motorist, though Dublin Bus has produced a specialised training video for their drivers.

David Wall calls on cyclists to mobilise in his blog, The Vicious Cycle: “When the divisive, car commuting commentariat complains about cyclists on their roads we won’t let them forget that it is them that are killing us, not the other way round.”

Writing in May, Wall predicted that if the rate of cyclists’ deaths continued, there would be 17 by the end of the year. Please God he’s wrong and we don’t have another, let alone three more, before January 1.

Please God, we all add silently, it’s not me or one of mine.

But all bets are off now. Cycling has exploded as a mode of transport with a 42.8% rise in the number of people cycling to work between 2011 and 2016.

It is official government policy that 10% of all trips will be by bike by 2020.

Except the money is going towards building new interurban motorways rather than making the roads safe for more cyclists by providing cycle tracks and redesigning lethal junctions.

There are no sustainable transport plans for Cork, Limerick, Galway, or Waterford, and Dublin’s has been ignored.

There is no major cycling infrastructure ready to go to construction anywhere, with many stuck in planning limbo.

We know that cycling is cheap, healthy, fast, and an absolutely necessary part of tackling gridlock and transport emissions.

We know cycling is being a good citizen. It’s time we cyclists demanded the basic right to cycle in safety and arrive alive.

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