As a lifelong cyclist, who is now introducing her children to the joys of cycling, I’m acutely aware of the need to make the UK’s roads safer for cyclists of all ages. However, as I’d never lived anywhere where cycling is prioritised and significant investment made in cycling infrastructure, “good” has always been an abstract concept.
My ideal cycling environment has been based mainly on photos I’d seen or articles I’d read about cycling in The Netherlands or Denmark, with a bit of Cambridge, Bristol or Hackney thrown in there in recent years. Last year I found myself working in Dublin – not necessarily the first city that springs to mind when thinking about cycling infrastructure. However, Dublin benefited from some serious European investment in the early to mid 2000’s and the result is a city where many of the roads have been designed with space for cycling.
When I arrived in Dublin for my first day at work, my taxi took me along a main road to my new office. I noticed that there was a continuous two lane cycle path running parallel with the road, and at junctions and roundabouts there were dedicated cycle lights and crossing points. Like a small child looking into a toy shop window, I sat in the taxi with my face pressed against the glass, gazing enviously at mile after mile of cycle path.
When it became clear that my short stint in Dublin was going to turn into months I bought a bike from a colleague and began the daily 5 mile uphill ride to the office, and the 5 mile stress-busting downhill at the end of the day. The very first ride was unbelievable. The saying goes that you always remember your first time, and cycling on proper infrastructure is no exception. To be able to ride along and not worry constantly about being hit by a car, lorry or taxi is so liberating.
As a result I got totally carried away with riding along the first road I came to that I missed my turning and ended up cycling miles in the wrong direction! Each week (work and weather permitting) I tried to explore a different route. In many places there were excellent protected cycle lanes next to the main carriage way.
In others there were cycle paths painted on the road, with parking restricted during the day, so the cycle paths were not obstructed.
Some cycle paths moved entirely away from the main roads, with good lighting for safe winter and night time cycling.
These paths always had a line down the middle to separate cyclist from pedestrians – something that really seemed to work well.
Of course it’s not perfect, and provision south of the River Liffey is better than to the north, and it’s obvious where the development suddenly ran out when the recession hit. However, where there wasn’t the infrastructure I noticed a very different culture towards cyclists.
In general, motorist were considerate – they would wait at junctions for me to pass and give a wide berth when over taking. Whilst this wasn’t always the case, I quickly became used to a general courtesy between motorists and cyclists that is rare in the UK. Another key difference between cycling in Dublin and in many places in the UK can be summed up by this sign:
Yes – that’s right – there were no HGV’s in the city centre. So, not only was I generally protected from the traffic by good infrastructure, there were no tipper trucks and HGV’s (that as we all sadly know have been causing the deaths of so many cyclists in London). A double dose of cycle-friendliness that meant I was happy for my boys (aged 5 and 8) to cycle in the city centre when they came to visit – something I’d never dream of doing in the UK.
Coming back to the UK and having to recommence the daily battle with the traffic, and plan every ride out with the boys to ensure they’re not placed in any danger has been saddening. I miss queuing with lots of other cyclists at junctions designed purely for cyclists.
I miss being able to cycle for miles and miles on end alongside dual carriageways and busy city centre streets on protected cycle paths.
I miss the courtesy that drivers show cyclists.
I miss that fact that cycling has been considered as an important part of the transport planning process.
And, more than anything, I miss not having that tiny niggling worry every morning when I get on my bike whether my kids will still have a mum that evening.