I couldn’t remember when I last felt afraid on my bicycle. Not just anxious, but genuinely fearing for my life. I do now, after I cycled in Dublin last week. The 4-kilometre-long ride from my hotel near the Phoenix Park Gate to the Conference Centre of Dublin was just one long straight line on the quays of the river Liffey. The route couldn’t be easier. According to plans from 2011 there was supposed to be a cycle route here, but there wasn’t. Instead, there were multiple lanes for motor traffic. The drivers of most vehicles showed little respect for cycling. I can’t tell you what was worse; the quays during rush hour, with the many large vehicles that you had to find (and fight) your way through, or the quays outside rush hour, with motor traffic passing just centimetres from you at incredibly high speeds. The leap·frogging with the many buses, the fumes in your face… Cycling in Dublin made me feel 12 again, in a bad way. It reminded me of what traffic was like in the Netherlands in the late 1970s, when cycling and cycling safety were at an all time low.
Of course, the anxiety subsided and the old skills returned quickly. Constantly looking over my shoulder, the right one this time, scanning the surroundings, judging the behaviour of every single vehicle driver that could become a threat. I can do it, but it wasn’t the relaxed cycling on connected infrastructure that I have grown accustomed to in the last forty years. Cycling in Dublin is hard work and yet many people preferred it over driving in the city. These people deserve more, these people deserve better.
I was in Dublin for a four day conference. The Velo-City International Cycling Conference took place in the capital of the Irish republic for the second time. At the first conference, in 2005, the city showed many great plans for cycling infrastructure. The 1,300 delegates who came to Dublin for the 2019 conference had high expectations, but they were disappointed, as Laura Laker wrote for the Guardian, not only by the missing cycle route along the river Liffey, which never made it through the planning stage, but by a city that only showed disconnected pieces of cycling infrastructure – partly just finished for the conference – that were also only built at places where they didn’t inconvenience car traffic. Cycling infrastructure in Dublin is planned and built at the expense of pedestrians and trees. The city really needs to do something about the free reign of motordom in the city centre. When you decrease the amount of through traffic (as so many experts advise) you could easily give back the river front to people. Paris and its disappearing Seine river roads are an inspiring example. Dublin is not in that phase yet and that is a pity for all.
Some of the locals were afraid the delegates would only see the good parts of cycling in Dublin. The traditional cycle parade, part of the program, took the delegates on one of the few pieces of infrastructure that was built. These Dubliners started a hashtag on Twitter, #theGoodRoom, to “vent their frustration“, because “in the old days #TheGoodRoom was the room in the house where important visitors (such as clergy) were shown to in order to maintain an outward appearance of respectability and avoid shame.” @LkCycleDesign explained. It is safe to say that this fear was unnecessary. Many of the delegates tweeted about their experiences. (Here, some random examples.) In fact, they were so numerous that the local press picked it up too.
The conference itself was a great success. I tried to follow many of the more than 80 sessions but also spent a lot of time at the Dutch Pavilion in the exhibition hall. A pavilion that made me proud to be one of the Dutch Cycling Embassy‘s representatives.
I could make the video about the cycling climate in Dublin, especially because Cian Ginty, running IrishCycle.com, kindly showed me the good, the bad and the ugly, one of the mornings in the conference week.
My video about the current cycling climate in Dublin
(and a tip for the future).