By Mark Donlon
When the first bicycle was invented in 1817, few could have imagined its longevity as a mode of transport. But its practicality and the ease of use it offers have allowed it to keep its wheels in motion, right up to the present day.
It is, however, the bicycle’s place in the 21st century that is in question. Doubtlessly, the two-wheeled mode of transport has changed and developed considerably in over 200 years of existence, but it is other changes and developments in the realm of transport that now render its users more at risk than ever before.
The city of Dublin is a perfect demonstration of this problem. Its modern-day city centre is a proverbial NASCAR arena comprising of all too many buses, trams, lorries, cars and, somewhere mixed in between, bicycles, all riding around in infinite loops from homes to places of work.
Of course, some traffic congestion is normal and, to a point, each and every city must deal with this issue. However, Dublin’s remedies for a pacier rat race have not yielded any notable results and a mass of buses and LUAS trams serve only to delay and deter those looking to move throughout the city.
And so, the merits of bike transport are probably unnoticed in all of this. If Dublin had shifted more emphasis on getting people to saddle up, the gridlock would lessen. But the BikeToWork Scheme has flopped and there is very little in the line of dedicated cycle paths which safeguard the average cyclist from the dangers on the roads. Infrastructure stops short of standards set in other EU capitals, and as a result so does health and safety.
The issue of cycle safety will not disappear so long as basic requirements fail to be met. Encouragingly, however, neither will its most staunch and energetic activists. Neil Fox, whose sister Donna was killed in a collision with a lorry driver whilst cycling to work in 2016, is one such activist. Neil believes there is responsibility attached to all road users, but that the lack of Government intervention and across the board cooperation on the issue is what keeps this issue troublesome.
“It is personal responsibility. We all must act well on roads. No laws nor no infrastructure, can force that. It’s up to us,” said Fox.
“But yes, it is a governmental issue in terms of money, and also property owners need to agree to compulsory purchase of small pieces of gardens or land to widen roads especially rural ones.
“Infrastructure is down to government, so they do bear the brunt. As for local, county and city councillor’s they seriously need to get backbone and fight for what’s right and not just for votes.”
Neil has undertaken a serious body of work since he started out campaigning for cycle safety in honour of his sister. While he is well aware of the shortfalls, he does believe so many are pulling in the right direction.
“I have been privileged to meet so many groups, organisations etc in the last three years. They’ve put up with me when I’ve been bit lost and emotional, but on the whole, I think they’ve understood why I wanted to do something and help.” he explained.
“I believe every activist every group every organization has the same goal, to improve cycling safety and attitudes towards Cyclists and cycling.”
Neil also believes that the media have played a part in the continuing awareness around issues of cycle safety and road safety more generally.
“I do want to pay tribute to the media. I still get media attention -radio, TV, newspapers and online – three years on, and it’s down to a dedication to try and make our roads safer. We can never take it for granted that journalists will cover cycling and road safety issues. They are vital to everything and I really hope Ireland continues to keep strong road safety media coverage.”
Neil reserves credit for a significant number of politicians from many different parties and doesn’t seek to point the finger solely at the political establishment. Obviously there have only been subtle Governmental flirtations with legislation thus far, but he believes that the onus is on the people to force their hand.
“The more cyclists there are, the more safety becomes vital. Women and children should be encouraged to cycle in our city. Very few do and it’s out of fear,” he says.
“I understand that fear, but the more who cycle the more Government and NTA and the Council have to act to provide the safety measures.”
In the face of all the campaigning, Neil has had to maintain his resilience, and never more so than when he has heard the cynical comments along the way. He says that despite losing his sister from a cycling accident, part of his campaigning creed is to encourage others to cycle.
“It was very important to me when Donna died to encourage cycling. Many don’t understand that,” he explained.
“But what hurt a lot were the comments. ‘To cycle is to take your life into your own hands’, ‘women shouldn’t be on bikes, it’s too dangerous’. Donna didn’t die because she was cycling, she died because a lorry killed her.”