How cycle friendly is Dublin?

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.

The banner at Dublin City Hall announcing the Velo-City 2019 Conference.
Even this type of narrower streets in Dublin filled up with three rows of cars in the morning rush hour. There is more than enough space for people here if that unrestricted car access would be addressed.
People in Dublin cycle fast. I noticed I started cycling faster than I do at home too. All these buses and other vehicles behind you, you just want to quickly get away from them.

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.

Cycling in the bus lanes. That’s what Dublin expects you to do. It felt very uncomfortable to say the least.
When people dress up like this before they mount their bicycles, something tells me they don’t feel safe and relaxed. That they still want to cycle proves there is a great demand for cycling infrastructure. Most probably there is an even greater latent demand.

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.

This person on a delivery bicycle ignored the brand new attempt to build a protected intersection. When people do that the infrastructure isn’t clear and attractive enough.
Cycling is not welcomed everywhere. The combination of cycling and walking can take place in many more locations than the Dublin council seems to think.
Around the fairly new tramlines you can also find signs telling you that cycling is the first thing to suffer when there is “not enough space”.

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 Dutch Cycling Embassy’s pavilion where 17 members presented their organisations. Just seeing this pavilion filled me with pride!
The Austrian Cycling Embassy‘s booth.
The Danish Cycling Embassy‘s booth.

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.

Some of the posters on display throughout the conference week.
This session contained a presentation about Utrecht by Marijn Kik.

I could make the video about the cycling climate in Dublin, especially because Cian Ginty, running, 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).



16 thoughts on “How cycle friendly is Dublin?

  1. Dear Mark!

    I’ve been following your awesome blog for years, I am so grateful for all the useful information and examples you provide! I am wondering if you will be coming to Ljubljana for Velo-city this June? In Ljubljana Cyclist’s Network (NGO) we would be more than happy to meet you, show you around on a bike, get you a bike or help you with anything you might need if you decide to come to the event. Looking forward to hearing from you, I left my contact if that helps. Thanks, Lea

  2. I drive a delivery van in Dublin 5 days a week and I have a lot of sympathy for cyclists in the city centre. We need to start charging cars that want to come within a 3 – 4 kilometer radius of the city, this will lessen the percentage of vehicles and encourage people to use public transport. On the flipside cyclists need to adhere to traffic lights and on the dark mornings they need to light up a bit more.
    I’m not tarring all cyclists with the same brush, but you can stand at any busy junction any morning of the week and at least 50 percent of cyclists will break the red lights. FACT.
    So let’s try and all work together, motorists, cyclists and government building ro find a solution.

  3. Traffic is similar here in Zagreb, Croatia, although maybe more chaotic. Here, also about 90 percent street space is reserved for cars. There are not so many people cycling, but the trend is growing.
    I like to ride a dutch way on my Gazelle, but it makes me sad to see how far are we from that cycling culture. I am even more scared for the future when I see that big part of the western cities are failing to go right way in that respect (dutch way :); London, Dublin, NY, etc.
    We live in an arogant society and I almost wish that gasoline price would skyrocket, maybe that’s the only way the society would change, since there is not enough social understanding.

  4. To do that route from Phoenix Park gate to the Conference Centre it’s best to avoid the Quays and stick to the quiet parallel route behind the Quays, where the tram runs. No river view, but at least no speeding vehicles or smelly buses.

  5. It was very nice to chat with you during the Velo parade Mark. It is fantastic to hear the input of all the foreign delegates, I hope this conference has helped our political class wake up, Irish people want liveable cities.

    1. Thank you Daniel, likewise. I hope this post and the follow ups in the local press may help improve the situation for cycling in Dublin a bit.

  6. I haven’t explored Dublic yet, but have been in Galway to visit a friend. Not only were the cycling conditions horrible as Mark described for Dublin here, but the infrastructure for pedestrians was also incredibly subpar. The sidewalks were often very narrow and there were many pinch points, especially at bridges, despite high pedestrian traffic in these areas. The sidewalk would also almost always dip down at driveways to make it easier for motorists to pass. And the driving behavior was also quite poor. Not a single time did a motorist yield to me at a driveway. Even when I was 1-2 meters away from the car, the person would just drive onto the sidewalk and block my path completely. There were also a lot of cars parked on sidewalks in certain places, forcing me to walk on the busy road the one time I walked to Dunnes for groceries. That was the last time I tried going to that particular supermarket. Galway has its charms as a city, but for transportation I give it a score of an “F.”

    1. Your description is pretty typical of any place with British-influenced traffic engineering.

      The fundamental philosophy underlying British traffic engineering and urban design is: ‘might makes right’ and that the meek must be subservient to the powerful.

  7. Thank you for this. I recently moved from Dublin to Utrecht. I spent 7 years living in city centre Dublin and using a bike as my primary transport mode, and things HAVE improved since I first started. However, most people still thought I was crazy. Even after this conference, the Road Safety Authority of Ireland’s main takeaway is that cyclists need more high viz and helmets….

  8. The desciption and the illustrations just gives me the creeps. The undeveloped world is just part of the EU. Let’s start here. A pity the European Citizen’s Initiative for 30km/u in Built areas did not reach the 1 million signatures. Far from it actually. While there are so many bicyclists! Check out

  9. I think a large part of the problem is that the real ‘power behind the throne’ – public servants – quickly kill any initiative to improve the cycling infrastructure. There are 10s of thousands of free car parking spaces in the city centre for them, so it’s not in their interest to discourage motor traffic

  10. ‘cycling is the first thing to suffer when there is “not enough space”’

    Yes, exactly. Except maybe add “walking” a lot of the time too.

    I think you’re right too that the high-ish level of cycling in Dublin is the tip of the iceberg. It’s a fairly compact, fairly flat city centre, with a mild climate.

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