Dan Boyle: Watching The Wheels

at | 38 Replies

From top: a new cycle lanes taking one lane of the road from Blackrock Village through to Sandycove, county Dublin; Dan Boyle

The twentieth century, without much debate, can be considered the century of the motor car. It was probably the invention that had greatest impact on people’s lives. It undoubtedly was the most significant contributor towards greater personal autonomy for many people.

It’s greater use certainly made life easier for horses. The greater prevalence of the motor car soon challenged the transport story of the nineteenth century – the railways.

Its greater effect was on the then preferred runaround – the bicycle. In Ireland, a more slowly industrialising country, it effects for most of the twentieth century were less marked.

Flann O’Brien chronicled this relationship in The Third Policeman in developing his molecular theory positing that the molecules of cyclists became interchangeable with those of the bicycles they were riding.

As the country inched towards greater economic prosperity, the bike developed a reputation as being the poor man’s car. It was seen as something to be cast aside to achieve the status car ownership would confer.

The coming of the millennium brought the first questioning of our collective love affair with the motor car. Part has been the belated realisation that surface space is not infinite, that constant and continuing congestion is the obvious result of a growing car fleets.

The environmental effects of too many journeys in too many motor cars has also become better understood. One third of all carbon emissions come from transport, mainly from cars.

It is the economics of car usage and car ownership that is becoming focused. Our cars are parked 92% of the time. The 8% of time they are being used by us is funded by one of the biggest capital outlays many will experience in their lifetime.

The great car rethink has created an opportunity for a bike comeback. That is though more imagined than real. A back to the future revolution was bound to invite reaction

A what we have we hold attitude has developed regarding road space. Car dominance has been such, that no understanding has been fostered that there are different categories of transport users who can, and should, share the available space.

Strange alliances have been formed where the car lobby has got some pedestrians to buy into the demonisation of cyclists as kamikaze inspired mowers down of the innocent.

This urban myth is easier for some to believe due to the fact that there are some bad cyclists. They exist in a smaller proportion than bad drivers, but the fact that they do exist helps feed the myth.

Another factor that may hinder a smoother transition is battling a perception that the cycling renaissance is seen as a largely middle class activity. Something of an irony when large scale bicycle use once had been the transport of choice of the plain people of Ireland.

Encouraging less car journeys and greater use of bicycles should be a win win situation. Better use of space, better health outcomes and a much better quality of life.

It should be easier but the reluctance to change is understandable. The pop up infrastructure that has appeared over the last number of months, across the country, may help to convince.

To misquote George Orwell – Two wheels good four wheels not so good.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle


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38 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: Watching The Wheels

  1. Ronan

    I’m very much pro cycle lanes and pro-pedestrianisation.

    “Strange alliances have been formed where the car lobby has got some pedestrians to buy into the demonisation of cyclists as kamikaze inspired mowers down of the innocent”

    Pedestrian wariness of cyclists are not unfounded. In 2020 I became a more frequent pedestrian, not because of the pandemic but because I became a buggy pusher for the first time. I have observed far more transgressions from cyclists than motorists in this time.

    However, the vast majority of the transgressions I’ve noticed are those with fast food strapped to their backs. Cycling on footpaths and breaking lights regularly all around Cork.

    So if you’d like to put manners on those cycling for a living, we might all get along a bit better.

    1. D-troll

      just think that for every cyclist, there is one less car on the road polluting, causing global warming and becoming obese.

      those delivery cyclists are on low money and trying to make a living. if they break a traffic light and hit a pedestrian the consequences are far less than if a car breaks a traffic light and hits a pedestrian.

      in kildare, no-one walks anywhere, so unless a cyclist is on a path going by peoples driveways, i dont see the harm. there are miles of footpaths that never have any pedestrians. maybe a debate needs to happen on use of bikes and scooters on footpaths. perhaps a requirement for cyclists to slow down drastically when passing out pedestrians.

    2. Nigel

      I think an argument can be made that cyclists and pedestrians get forced onto the same spaces by cars, such that ‘bad cyclists’ are really another strong case for better cycling infrastructure. As for breaking lights – I wonder if delivery cyclists are incentivised to take those risks because of the system? Or are they just being young and reckless? Or is it a system desigend to exploit the young and the reckless? The thing is, if you sucessfully get obnoxious drivers onto bikes, they become obnoxious cyclists, and vice versa. Poor infrastructure exacerbates the problems of obnoxious road-users and good infrastructure will mitigate it, but never solve it.

    3. SB

      >> I have observed far more transgressions from cyclists than motorists in this time.
      I would say this is more an observation than a fact, because it’s either more visible (the idiot cyclist sailing through the lights when they’ve been red for 20 seconds) or more directly affects you (cyclist on the footpath), but I think it’s been proven many times that it’s motorists that break the rules much more frequently, especially with regard to breaking the lights when they’ve just turned red, and mobile phone use. I’ve often stood as a pedestrian waiting for the lights south of Butt Bridge in Dublin, and generally see at least 3 or 4 cars break the lights at EVERY SINGLE LIGHT CHANGE.
      Some cyclists are bad, some motorists are bad. The main difference to me is that motorists kill hundreds of people every year, cyclists kill perhaps one person every ten years.

      1. Cian

        “Some cyclists are bad, some motorists are bad. The main difference to me is that motorists kill hundreds of people every year, cyclists kill perhaps one person every ten years.”


        Another difference between cars and bikes at a red light is opportunity. If the first car stops – none the other cars can pass them to break the lights. If the fist cyclist stops… the ones further back can go around them and break the lights. A bad cyclist has a lot more opportunity to flaunt the rules than a bad driver.

        1. Fergalito

          Anecdotally I know of three cyclists who have hit pedestrians.

          In all three cases the pedestrians crossed the road without looking. In all three cases the pedestrians were unscathed. In two cases the cyclists were bruised and bloodied but recovered. In one case the cyclist was killed instantly.

          We all have a responsibility whether we drive, walk, cycle, scoot. motorbike or whatever. Like all responsibilities most will take them seriously, others will shirk and be careless. Not a fan of two-wheelers having access to footpaths even though in suburban areas lots do. Very easy for a small child to be unobserved and run out of the house and into harm’s way. It has to be cycling infrastructure that is developed as well as cycling skills classes being provided to children of school-going age. I know everyone bangs on about the Dutch, but if they can create a cycling culture from scratch, starting in the 1970s where none existed to the same extent previously, then surely there’s scope in Dublin if it’s taken seriously and not done on an ad-hoc basis?

    4. goldenbrown

      so far I actually know, personally, of more people that have been whacked and injured by cyclist than by car

      score is 3:1 to date

      the worst one of them, a lad in his 40’s (5 years since the incident at a well known bus stop famous for damage apparently) has never fully recovered and will never and has ended up dealing with it on his own….as in the cyclist fupped off down the road afterwards. hit and run basically.

      1. Cian

        I’m the opposite.

        My best friend was killed by a hit-and-run; I know (directly) 4 others hit by cars; I can’t think of anyone injured by a cyclist.

        score is 5:0 to date.

  2. Tarfton Clax

    Not bad. I do love the fact that so many people seem to have the “Shroeder’s Cyclist” concept in mind at all times, one who is simultaneously poor or a student and can safely be despised, while simultaneously being despised as an “entitled or privileged” upper middle class idiot living in Ranelagh who doesn’t understand how poor oppressed motorists have to spend €75,000 on an SUV to travel from the wilds of Clontarf to the city.

    It is interesting how the country has gone from one where the bike was a method of transport which was efficient, practical and cheap as well as giving an element of freedom to kids, to one where it is a signifier used as a symbol for alternate world views.

    There would have been a time, not long ago, that a councillor like Mannix Flynn would have been on the side of less privileged, working class people who didn’t own a car against those who would have been seen (rightly or wrongly) as upper middle class people in Sandymount who wanted to maintain what some would see as their own little enclave against those who lacked the means to live in such an area.

    But now, due in part to shock jock radio shows, and the gauche mentality of the post celtic tiger hangover of hating the poor, mixed with a weird post truth weltaunschaung whereby previously normal objects or views are demonised, we have a strange situation where a person who cycles a bike is no longer just a person who cycles a bike but a lightning rod for class and social hatreds.

    This doesn’t appear to be the case in the non English speaking world. Germany, Italy and Holland all appear to have no difficulty with holding the view that you can own and use a beautiful piece of technology such as a top of the range BMW or Audi, while also owning and making use of a bicycle. All this… without hating the users of each method of transport while using the other one.

    I think we have a lot of growing up to do as a nation.

    1. ce

      Yeah the SUV thing is getting out of hand – good help anybody in a wheelchair or with other mobility difficulties trying to move around the housing estates of Ireland, with several SUV’s parked on the pathways outside very house

      So many people just hate the outside world – it’s too wet, it’s too windy, the walk/cycle is too long, etc. – all cave dwellers at heart, really sad

      1. Tarfton Clax

        The footpath situation is interesting. Where I live many many residents park on the footpaths making them really difficult to walk on, and even more annoyingly as I live near a soccer pitch and a GAA club visitors park anywhere they like, blocking driveways and making it impossible for the busses to access the road.

        The local “Old peoples Complex” has a bus stop and shelter outside and cars have actually parked on the footpath almost in the bus shelter, as well as blocking the spot where the bus pulls up. (though in fairness, the local drug dealers have burnt out the bus shelter so often now that it has been completely taken away so that’s one way of dealing with it I suppose)

        However, there is a culture of cycling on the foothpaths at speed by local dealers and wannabe dealers which makes it even harder for anyone with limited mobility to get around safely.

        In short, a plague on both their houses. Some enforcement of the traffic legislation would be nice. But Gardaí don’t seem to want to offend the sports visitors and don’t want to have to deal with the local hoods( I can understand that)
        So the elderly and those with limited mobility are left to fend for themselves. Plus ca change…

        1. ce

          “In short, a plague on both their houses.” So many plagues for so many houses!

          Seriously, I’m actually starting to think the chemtrails or something similar is a thing, were a significant portion of the population always this unless and stupid???

  3. axelf

    “This urban myth is easier for some to believe due to the fact that there are some bad cyclists. They exist in a smaller proportion than bad drivers”

    come out to dun laoghaire on any sunny day and you’ll quickly be disabused of that notion. walking on the metals can be very dangerous on those days, even though theres a cycle path less than 10 metres away, cyclists still bomb along. then theres the interface between the old dun laoghaire troad and the cycle path and cyclists always go to the wrong side of the road.

    1. Termagant

      The cycle path isn’t 10 metres away, it’s 0 metres away. The metals is a shared cycle path, all the way from the library to the far end of Dalkey. You can tell by the pictures of bicycles found on the ground, right above the pictures of people.

  4. Nigel

    Think of how much money people would save if they didn’t have to buy, maintain, tax and insure a car. Think of how much less public money would get spent on road maintenance and traffic management, how much the health service would save through better health outcomes and reduced air pollution. Think how much more pleasant cities would be, less smelly, leass noisy, more room for people, more room for street dining and market stalls. Bikes would take the place of cars as an annoyance and even a danger, yes, but how much less so than cars. There are electric bikes, and tricycles, with special designs for the eldery and people with disabilities. Police might even start taking bycycle theft seriously, but bike insurance would be normalised, and never as expensive as car insurance.

    Cars SUKK.

  5. Clampers Outside

    Long time cyclist, recent newcomer to car ownership, but still cycling. (although I did own a car once for a year and did only 30km in it)….


    Cars being parked 92% of the time is a good thing.
    And the higher that number the better.

    You seem to be Dan, using that stat as an indictation of bad performance. Its not, its a good and positive stat!
    And the higher the better :)

    Otherwise… Good post Dan!

    1. Nigel

      If cars are parked 92% of the year, then people are wasting an awful lof ot time and money on what is essentially the sunk cost fallacy. People could save a ton of money if they joined local car share schemes for the 8% of the time they did need it, assuming public transport or a taxi wouldn’t serve.

      1. Clampers Outside

        Where is “time” wasted in this purported sunk cost fallacy? The car is outside the owners door.
        Please elaborate on this time waste?

        On money, again, how is it a sunk cost fallacy if the owner believes it to be well spent money? Your point is relative and not applicable in the broad sense that you have implied.

        There is nothing in my point that says car sharing is not useful. It is, I’m for it. But there is massive improvements for commercial car sharing to be embraced. The stories of go-cars I’ve heard and experienced in the few times I’ve used such services are of a grossly inadequate service.

        Now the 8%.
        Much of that 8% is the daily commute. It’s not suited for all and public transport is inadequate and would have to be operated on loss making routes for it to become acceptable… I’m actually for this.
        Then take “family days” use…. How many cars are going to be needed for those Bank Holiday weekends, and what of the “sunk cost fallacy” of those cars sitting idle outside those busy weekends.

        It’s not the straight forward simple argument as you make…. “sunk cost” me hoop!
        Buzzword nonsense argumentation is all that is. .

        1. Nigel

          This wasn’t supposed to be an argument!

          You definitely spend time keeping a car running – taking it to the garage, taking it to the NCT, getting insurance, paying tax – maybe not a huge amount of time, but not a trivial amount either for something that’s hardly used (stipulating that it’s a 92% parked car). Purchasing the car, paying yearly insurance, tax, NCT and maintenance costs is a massive amount for, again, something that’s not being used. Unless you view keeping the car as a hobby, in which case, fine. But putting that much time and money into something in case you need it but which spends 96% of the time parked is a text-book example of a sunk cost fallacy!

          I’d doubt anyone who spends 8% of their time commuting in their car is really getting value out of the car, unless there’s a disability involved or the route is exceptionally poorly served by public transport or cycling infrastructture (stipulating that none of that is particularly unlikely.)

          If car rental or car sharing was more normalised, that would take care of family days out for a drive, and it would certainly save people a lot of money in the long run. That’s all I’m saying. Family cars are an expensive feature of modern life, if they’re parked 96% of the time that expense is manifestly unnecessary and wasteful. But it’s the lack of alternatives that keeps people investing in the sunk cost of a car, so I think we’re actually in broad agreement about the need for those alternaitves to be developed, my fundamental point being that the lack of alternatives is imposing this cost on a lot of people.

          1. Micko

            Blah blah blah the pair of ya. ;)

            Arguing over the percentage of time the car is parked outside. Jeeeezuz

            People mostly buy cars for simple reasons.

            Independence and freedom

            Cars are fun. They are big shiny go machines and there’s nothing like flooring it when the speed limit goes from 50 to 120km on the way to say Maynooth and you drop a gear or kick it into sport mode, just to feel the acceleration and boot past everyone else. (Legally of course gents)

            They are fun. Simples.

            Even fupping Tesla has an “Insane Mode”. Why the hell is that there?

            Coz people wanna enjoy their cars. And people will pay crazy money to enjoy themselves. Case in point Tesla ;)

          2. Nigel

            Meh, that’s just succesful marketing. The number of people who would continue to own cars for fun or status is only a percentage of the people who own cars, and I’d say a lot of people find being more or less obliged to own one to get around an absolute pest.

          3. Nigel

            No, I don’t think so. Of course some people love them for what they are, but mostly, owning a car, and car dependency, is an absolute pain.

      1. Nigel

        Well they’re cheaper to purchase and run, and when parked they take up far less space, and they don’t leak oil or catch fire.

      2. Clampers Outside

        True Cian, and if like me you have the day bike for commutes and an expensive fancy bike for weekends, that fancy bike is parked up even longer… Is it sunk, not on your bleedin’ Nelly :)

  6. ce

    “If cars are parked 92% of the year, then people are wasting an awful lot of time and money on what is essentially the sunk cost fallacy” – yep, and the waste of materials to actually manufacture the thing in the first place, absolute madness.

    At least release your inner hippy – https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/recycle-your-car-by-electrifying-your-engine-1.4498123

    … SUV’s to drive kids a couple of KM to get to school…. and thus so many SUV’s on the roads and not enough safe travel infrastructure for the kids to walk/cycle to school…. maybe its just me, of all of the absolutely mental/infuriating things in the world, all of this – no pun intended – grinds my gears the most

    1. Nigel

      I think people buy SUVs and use them as family cars because they provide the illusion of safety. We accept that our roads are incredibly dangerous as a given such that it’s regarded as reckless to NOT pile your kids into what you think of as a comfortable tank for the school run.

      1. Lilly

        Is it an illusion though? I drive a small car because I like being able to nip in and out of tiny parking spaces around town. It can still go 150km on the motorway though no bother if I don’t keep a close eye on it. My sister sees it as a tin can death trap and has the tank. Bigger probably is safer.

        1. Nigel

          Counter-intuitively, feeling as if you’re invulnerable in your big fast heavy vehicle is a factor in making you and other road users less safe.

    2. goldenbrown


      sorry to be -ve but this is an example of one of those things that really p—es me off about this new EV world… this typical aspirational “everything is awesome marketing” pitch…you have to be careful what you read and believe

      the prices quoted in that IT article are massively inaccurate, in fact that whole article is littered with plenty of utter fantasyland, just simply untrue in real life

      eg. all in, a conversion of a typical family motor (eg a yoke with a kerb weight of say 1.2t) to say a 200/350KM range standard could end up costing you circa €30k done professionally

      and I’m not even going to go near the other issues….getting a roadworthiness engineers report, logbook/Tax/NCT/resale would work out down the line….etc. etc.

      1. Micko

        I’d love to do the opposite GB.

        I’ve a 2.5ltr Hybrid that is 2 feckin tonne with the batteries. 2 metric Tonne!!!

        I’d love to rip out the batteries – lighten it up and see what the 2.5ltr could do on it’s own ;)

        It’s impossible I know, as everything is interconnected – but a man can dream God damn it!!!


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