New legislation was recently passed in the Oireachtas that ensured that drivers would respect a minimum passing distance when overtaking cyclists. The new law will require drivers to allow one metre when passing cyclists on roads with a speed limit under 50 km/h, and 1 1/2 metres on roads with a limit of 50km/h or above. 15 cyclists died on the roads in 2017, a 50% increase on 2016 according to Journal.ie. The new law is seen as a progressive move, but one must question its enforceability going forward, and whether it truly solves the core issue.
The relationship between cyclists and drivers could typically be described as similar to that of cartoon cats and dogs – ceaselessly antagonistic. Cyclists, as the stats would support, see drivers as unnecessarily reckless when being around them, at times forcing cyclists into ditches and footpaths, whereas drivers view cyclists as a nuisance – former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson commonly refers to them as a scourge on the roads in his columns & on his television programs, for example. With climate change being a hot topic, especially in ‘laggard’ Ireland, cycling looks to overtake driving (for once) as a key mode of transportation, which only intensifies this issue. So how do we solve the core issue behind this crisis? Infrastructure.
One need only cycle around Cork or Dublin city centre to realise that we, as a society, are woefully behind when it comes to cycling infrastructure. When the Luas line on College Green finally opened earlier this year, cyclist noted that their tires kept getting struck in the tracks, almost leading to tragedy in at least one situation. In Cork, there is a series of disconnected mini-cycle lanes, meaning that cyclists have to dip in-and-out of safety to get from point-A to point-B. Making it worse, cycling lanes are frequently used by stand-by parking spaces, blocking cyclists from using their own lanes, forcing them to make unsafe turns into the busier car lanes.
One suggestion made by many, at least in Cork, is to use former railway lines as inter-town ‘cycling highways’, with a major route being proposed between Mahon, Blackrock and the city centre. These railway lines have not been used in many years, and would obviously require serious upgrading anyway, but were built to connect what are now commuter towns to the city without interfering with roads & motorways. This proposal, which could be introduced around Ireland, could reuse old infrastructure to promote people to cycle more in a safe environment. Obviously, for drivers, this frees up the major roads for them, and as more people would theoretically be cycling instead of driving as part of their commute, would mean less traffic. A true win-win for drivers & cyclists, for the environment, and for road safety.