Three days of Irish Times coverage on cycling has been misleading and negative, and this can have a larger affect than most people think. It could already have harmed the chances that the quays will be made safer for cycling anytime soon.
Reporting on yesterday’s Bikeweek Lunch Time Cycle the newspaper said: “It is a fair assumption to make that if conditions were like this all the time, the number of Dublin commuters who cycle daily would be substantially higher than the present rate of 4 per cent.”
This was repeated on Tuesday when it said: “The ultimate goal is to increase the number of commuter journeys by bike from 4 per cent to 10 per cent by 2020.”
So, according to The Irish Times, cycling accounts for just 4% of commuters. A large amount of people trust the newspaper — including TDs and councilors — and they might just think cycling only accounts for such a low amount. Other media outlets, including print and broadcast, also trusted Irish Times enough to repeat the paper’s stat.
The figure as presented, however, is fiction.
We looked before writing this — there’s no current figure for the city or county which corresponds to this. The Dublin City target is also wrong — it’s more like 20-25% by 2020. If the current trend continues in Dublin, it should have no issue reaching 10% before 2020.
The cycling modal share for Dublin City is closer to 8% or above by now. Census data published by the Central Statistics Office shows that the level amount of commuters who mainly cycled was at 7.6% in 2011. Cyclist numbers in the city have increased every year since and the near-complete DublinBikes expansion is already adding to the amount of bicycles on the street.
At core city centre locations cycling already accounts for larger percentages of traffic at junctions: City centre traffic counts by the council puts cycling at 13.5% at O’Connell St Lr / Bachelor’s Walk / Eden Quay, 18% at Dame Street / George’s Street, and 11-14% Samuel Beckett Bridge.
Much the same way the New York Times has been noted for a motoring-bias when it comes to cycling infrastructure in its city, The Irish Times are keeping up their negative and misleading coverage of a plan to make Dublin’s quays safer and more pleasant for people walking and cycling.
It started on Tuesday with the negative “New Quays cycle lane to lead to restrictions for Dublin motorists“, and the next day with a less negative headline (“Mixed reaction to plan for two-way cycle lane on Dublin’s north quays“) but mostly devoted to negative reporting and just a line of balance at the end.
This kind of negative coverage has been seen before with DublinBikes, the College Green bus gate, the 30km/h speed limit, and Luas. But this time it could harm progress or as in the past, slow it down for years.
The newspaper claimed yesterday that the proposal “was first aired by Mr Keegan in yesterday’s Irish Times”, referring to an interview the paper did with the Dublin City Council manager Owen Keegan. Today it again repeats this mistake: “Mr Keegan seemed relaxed about the bombshell (for motorists at least) that he dropped this week when he proposed that the vital artery of the city’s north quays have a two-way cycle lane which would restrict motorists to one lane.”
The newspaper’s apparent exclusive isn’t exactly what they are making it out to be. Outline route options for a quays cycle route were reported by the (unrelated) Sunday Times in 2011. IrishCycle.com has followed the story since, including reporting on the latest proposal at the start of this year.
In January, we reported that the “design presented to key stakeholders includes a quay-side cycle route on the north quays and new boardwalks to accommodate pedestrians at pinch points…. A bus lane and at least one traffic lane will be retained along the north quays. It’s estimated that over 550 cars which use the quays as a through route will be taken off the quays in the morning peak.”
But some councilors want to act surprised, so we have The Irish Times quoting lord mayor Christy Burke as saying:“I know Owen Keegan [Dublin City Council chief executive] is a cycling enthusiast, but I think we have to be careful if we rush into areas that may not work out at the end of the day.”
The narrative — willfully or not — being published by The Irish Times makes the plan out to be something dreamed up by Keegan after only a few months in office. That’s in stark contrast to the reality that officials have been planing for the project for some time — they have to plan for it as the cycling and walking route on the quays is in the city development plan. What’s more it has been in the planning for years; stakeholders have been involved in its development, before that concept workshops and projects were run, and the design is already scaled down from a far more radical start.
Funding for design work was part of a Department of Transport press release. If it was a secret, it must be one of the most widely reported ones which was emailed to every newspaper in a press release.
This narrative — again willfully or not — mirrors the tact used earlier in the week by the AA’s skillful media handler Conor Faughnan. Faughnan, on TodayFM’s Last Word, made out that the project was coming from nowhere.
The Irish Times also repeats a claim by broadcaster Ivan Yates that the city manger is acting like an “autocrat”, yet the idea for a cycle route along the quays is a stated objective of the Dublin City Council development plan. The current Dublin City Development plan says it is an objective of Dublin City Council to “provide a continuous cycleway connecting the Phoenix Park and Heuston Station to the proposed S2S route along the city’s quays” within the lifetime of the development plan, which runs up to 2017.
That councilor-led plan was followed by the more recent Public Realm Strategy, also approved by councilors and in turn approves planning for more space and priority to be given over to waking and cycling in the city centre. This was covered by the Times but it’s like one section of journalists at the paper does not bother to read the other’s articles.
If the quays project is stalled or not approved by councilors, The Irish Times should take some blame for that. We’re fine with balanced coverage which shows the downside of any project but misleading coverage with out-of-date or pure fictional stats is another matter.