How cycle friendly is Dublin? I was genuinely fearful for my life, here’s why

Posted on: July 4th, 2019

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.

Mark Wagenbuur is a cyclist from Holland and writes for the Bicycle Dutch internationally renowned cycling blog. He was in Dublin last week for the international Velo City cycling conference. While here he spent time cycling around Dublin and was horrified at what he found, as he sets out in this column…

By Mark Wagenbuur

Bicycle Dutch

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 4km ride from my hotel near Phoenix Park 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 leapfrogging 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

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 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.

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