COMMENT & ANALYSIS: “This is NOT anti-cyclist” was a tweet sent by Irish Times journalist Patrick Logue. He was linking to his own article published yesterday that started by claiming “The cycling lobby does itself no favours by engaging in tribal finger-pointing in an effort to excuse bad cycling behaviour.”
First, I should say that before the on-the-spot fines system was extended to cycling, this website took the view that there’s compelling reasons why such fines are a good idea. And I agree with Logue where he said the level of fines — reported as 577 issued for the first six months — is by no means excessive. After all, it’s a rate of just 3.2 fines per day across the whole country that’s not much at all.
It’s even hard not to somewhat agree with the overall point he is trying to make, but, in the process of making his point, it all goes horribly wrong.
Logue refers to Ciarán Cuffe, who was quoted in an Irish Times article covering the amount of fines issued, as the ‘cycling lobby’. But Cuffe is a city councillor, elected to represent people. I’ve never read or heard of a motoring-focused councillor described by the media as part of the ‘motoring lobby’, and, so, it seems strange referring to Cllr Cuffe as part of the ‘cycling lobby’ (even if he is a cycling campaigner, his current main role in this respect is as an elected representative). This may seem to be nitpicking, but I’m getting to a point.
The previous Irish Times article paraphrased what Cllr Cuffe had said: “…cyclists should obey the rules of the road…” but it said “he suggested gardaí would better off pursuing drivers who broke speed limits and parked in cycle lanes.”
According to Logue, this is “engaging in tribal finger-pointing in an effort to excuse bad cycling behaviour.” But it’s hard to figure out how saying “cyclists should obey the rules of the road” is excusing their behaviour.
This is the equivalent of claiming that a councillor who says the main policing focus should be on tackling gun and knife crime is excusing anti-social behaviour. Clearly, it would not be, but why is cycling different?
In the case of road deaths and life-changing injuries, why is it so wrong that an elected representative wants our police force to focus on the main cause of these life-ending and life-changing collisions?
He said the cycling lobby’s arguments are old and tired, even if that’s half-true, at least they are not as flawed as his points.
In one part of his article, Logue agrees with Cuffe that cyclists are “vulnerable road users”, but Logue has more to add. He states it is “…all the more reason for cyclists to adhere to the rules of the road, for their own safety as well as the safety and sanity of others.”
There’s some truth to this, all cyclists should respect other road users who are not harming them. But on the point of cyclists’ “own safety,” it also dives into classic victim blaming — there’s little to support the widely presumed link between cyclists following the rules and their own safety. There’s two equally important parts to this:
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- Studies, including one from the UK Department of Transport, have found that cyclists disobeying stop signals or wearing dark clothing at night are rarely cited in collisions causing serious injury.
- There’s very little to suggest that most or even many of the cycling victims of collisions with motorists were in the wrong. It’s victim blaming to suggest otherwise with anecdotes or nothing to support such arguments.
All logic and fair comparisons then go out the window when Logue compares the 20,000 motorists fined for speeding in the same sentence to 600 cyclists fined. There are vastly more motorists across the country, and detection of speeding is largely automated and mostly in away from urban areas (ie it’s mainly for motorists’ “own safety”).
Adding insult to injury for those victims, he also claims “Irish motorists have played a very large part in slashing road deaths over the past decade, helped by Garda enforcement and high-profile campaigns by the Road Safety Authority.”
While it would be unfair to say no motorists have played their part, it’s more accurate to say education, enforcement and other elements, such as improved national roads and car designs, were not just a help but were key to the lower amount of deaths on our roads.
But where enforcement is at low levels — for example, motorists parking in cycle lanes and footpaths, or speeding in urban areas — offences are at epidemic levels.
Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe without fixed speed cameras and mobile enforcement is rare in most urban areas. Even where speed enforcement happens entering urban areas, it’s often called “shooting fish in a barrel”:
These issues are often underplayed. For example, in Ballina, Co Mayo (the home of the Road Safety Authority), councillors were told there is no speeding issue.
Council officials told councillors that the speed detection signs (the ones which just warn motorists to slow down) confirmed the lack of speeding. A freedom of information request showed otherwise — in one case over 50% of motorists were breaking the speed limit on a residential road well within the 50km/h zone, with cycle lanes and a zebra crossing.
There is also a massive ignorance, blindness or acceptance of motorists breaking red lights. When you present people with the point that 2,600 motorists were recorded as breaking red lights in Dublin city centre in under four months and 155 of them at one Luas junction, there’s still disbelief from many people.
Maybe Logue is right in that the leaders or spokespersons of the ‘cycling lobby’ sometimes would be better off keeping quite when it comes cyclists getting fined — because too many people are blinded by their views on cyclists, while wide-spread acceptance or ignorance of motorists speeding.
His suggestion that actions of the cycling lobby could result in “peace and harmony” between road users can only be the result of a lack of understanding or a lack of thinking about issues which are wide-ranging, complex and more than one-sided.
CORRECTION: The above article was edited to reflect the correction by skangerland below on MAY 20, 2016 AT 9:57 PM.