Irish Times view on cycling safety shows the newspaper hasn’t a clue

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: “Changes of attitude will be required to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries”, writes the Irish Times — cluelessly that it is their attitude and the attitude of others in authority which has to change.

The article — which is a daily one under the banner of “Irish Times view on…” — is littered with nonsense, while it only mentions cycling infrastructure and other well-proven safety measures in passing and hardly at all mentions motorists.

The newspaper focuses on what it calls the “dangers involved in cycling” which it says “may not be fully appreciated” — the facts point to the dangers involved in motoring, but The Irish Times view is based on feeling more that fact.

The Irish Times continued: “No details are yet available concerning the circumstances of the fatalities or whether motor vehicles were involved” — however, the details on whether motor vehicles were involved, or not, are available. Including on the pages of IrishCycle.com.

If The Irish Times bothered to do research for their article they would find that a small minority of deaths of people cycling were single vehicle collisions, where the person’s bicycle was the only vehicle involved. Most of those have nothing to do with cycling for transport which the newspaper was referring to.

Without that information — ie armed with ignorance — The Irish Times focuses solely on misdemeanours committed by people cycling. Most of them little or nothing to do with cycling deaths.

First, the writer of the article and whoever approved it as the newspaper’s view also makes a basic and common journalistic error of conflating enforcement and behaviour — this shows a level of cluelessness of which the people should not be writing editorials about road safety and especially without doing any obvious research.

The Irish Times states that: “The most common – and dangerous – offence for which fixed-charge fines were issued involved running red lights. This blatant behaviour accounted for almost half of all cyclist fines issued by gardaí.”

IrishCycle.com is of the view that people cycling should not break red lights, but the view of The Irish Times is quite frankly rubbish and has no respect for the victims or their families.

Running red lights might annoy a lot of people (including us) and often it is dangerous, but it is unlikely to be the most dangerous. The offence of “driving a pedal cycle without reasonable consideration” should be used for things which are more dangerous. For example, somebody cycling recklessly on a footpath (that’s opposed to a granny pottering along on a footpath).

Other things that are likely more dangerous are “failing to stop for a School Warden sign”, “proceeding beyond a barrier at a railway level”, and ‘no front lamp or rear lamp lit during lighting-up hours’.

Directly after discussing fines for people cycling, The Irish Times goes on to say: “It would be a grave mistake to reduce the level of Garda activity at a time of growing cyclist numbers.” Make no mistake here, they are making a link between cyclist deaths and unrelated offences, mostly misdemeanours.

When you spend time to research cycling-related deaths — which IrishCycle.com is doing as part of an on-going project — you will find that traffic lights hardly feature in recent years and people on bicycles running red lights features less. On the other hand, a motorist running traffic lights does feature in the statistics of fatal collisions in recent years.

In most recent years, fatal collisions rural areas away from traffic lights outnumber those in urban areas. A large percentage of fatal collisions in recent years involve motorists overtaking or just running straight into the back of bicycles.

People on bicycles being killed because they have no lights is also rare enough — and there’s usually other factors which put the balance of fault on motorists, such as drink driving. It’s not clear that bicycle lights would have saved 18-year-old Stefan Cooper, the driver was almost three times over the drink-driving limit.

As The Guardian reported in 2009: “A tiny proportion of accidents involving cyclists are caused by riders jumping red lights or stop signs, or failing to wear high-visibility clothing and use lights, a government-commissioned study has discovered.”

As our long-term readers will know, this kind of nonsense from The Irish Times is hardly new (see examples below).

We could harp on about motorists and the studies which show that they are usually to blame, but the real change Ireland needs is to follow the Dutch. That not just means accepting cycling as a good idea, but embrace it. Giving funding, space and priority to cycling, traffic calming and traffic reduction on residential streets, accepting a reduction in car parking spaces and a reduction in motoring priority, and even that cycling safety comes before bus priority — basically, following the principals outlined at CyclingForAll.ie (and sign your support here).

Educational and enforcement safety is needed, but the principals mention above have far greater benefits which far exceed any soft measures. It’s what the Dutch call “sustainable safety“.

But won’t these take decades and decades to have any effect? Not so. Just two examples are Seville in Spain who built a 80km of mostly segregated cycle paths in 18 months and Utrecht in the Netherlands which has upgraded or added to a massive amount of its cycling infrastructure within the last 10 years. Urban and rural road projects continue to be built without fully cycling-proofing them — we need to demand that this stops now.

Even allowing for a slower roll-out in Ireland, if the will was there, a lot could be done in a few years. The benefits — to road safety, transport effectiveness, health, mental health, lowering emissions, making urban and rural Ireland more liveable, and the economy —  cannot be underestimated. But changes of attitude are required first — if you are an Irish Times reader or subscriber please email them at services@irishtimes.com, mark it clearly as a complaint, and tell them why their on-going poor coverage of cycling and related issues is unacceptable to you.

Previously:

FULL DISCLOSURE: I sometimes freelance for Ireland edition of The Times, a competitor of The Irish Times. I am writing here purely as the editor of IrishCycle.com which has covered some of the high/low lights of Irish Times cycling coverage over the years.

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks to Twitter and Brexit, I come across the weird attitudes of the Daily Telegraph towards Ireland and Europe more often than I used to.

    The Irish Times has a rather similar attitude towards cycling as a mode of transport: condescending, missing the point, and talking about us as if we can’t hear you.

  2. I wasn’t disappointed with this because, well, I expected no better. You ably pointed out that red light jumping isn’t particularly dangerous. It’s illegal and dickish, but not usually dangerous. Defenders of the car centric status quo will obviously claim this is “reading too much in to it” but it’s clear to me that talking about cyclist deaths and mentioning that red light jumping is the “most dangerous” thing cyclists do is implying that cyclists deaths are the result of cyclists jumping red light, meaning their own fault. As you pointed out the statistics don’t back this up even a little and it indicates the very poor standards of writing in the IT.

    The mention of drivers needing to do their part by not drinking and driving was poor as well. Drivers need to do a lot more than not drive drunk (although it’s a good start and someone should tell our TDs from Kerry). Almost all of my close calls are the result of drivers just not paying enough attention. They drive with their phone in one hand, eyes flickering between the road and twitter or facebook, they don’t look well enough before they pull out, they don’t look well enough before they pull in. Passive aggressive behaviour is a big issue as well. A small minority of drivers (but enough that you’ll meet plenty each year) have a chip on their shoulder. At least partially cemented in place by articles in the likes of the IT which point out how hard done by the poor driver is and how cyclists are basically terrorists. These are the sort of drivers who pass close and fast even when there is plenty of space. The ones who blare their horn or scream abuse out the window. The ones who swerve in front of you immediately after passing for no reason other than wanting to intimidate a vulnerable person. Look at the recent commenters here who wanted to characterise the safe passing law as blaming the driver even when they have done nothing wrong, as if passing too close is nothing wrong. These are significant problems and I see the IT as trying to brush this under the carpet.

  3. Well said Dermot and Eric. Broadsheets like the Irish Times should be fully aware that our transport emissions are out of control (the IT has both environment and science correspondents, after all) and we as citizens face fines imposed on our administration by the EU Commission very soon. Because of this cycling has to be moved centre-stage and brought in from the transportation margins.
    Private cars are used by too many for footlingly short trips.
    As you point out red-light running is not the cause of death of 7 people who cycle who have died so far this year.
    One thing the IT could have highlighted before it regurgitated factoids is that hi-vis and helmets do not make our roads safer for cyclists. Let’s bury this factoid, so beloved by the RSA and Garda.
    We need major reform of the system of penalties for driving behaviour that harms or terrifies vulnerable road users – 26 VRUs did not return home so far this year. The detection, enforcement and penalty application system is dysfunctional. Ministers Ross and Flanagan have a lot of work to do.

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