COMMENT & ANALYSES: On Tuesday this week a number of Irish cycling campaign groups gathered together to stage their first “die-in” protest outside the Dail, there have been some concerns expressed since it was distasteful or otherwise inappropriate.
The backdrop is that more people were killed on their bicycles this year than any year in the last decade. The 14 deaths recorded this year also all include collisions with motorists (some other years involved one or two cyclists falling off their bikes).
A die-in involves protesters laying down on the road, usually with their bicycles, for a short time. It was used decades ago in the Netherlands and more recently by cycling campaigners in London.
It is unfortunate that not all relatives of victims who were cycling when they were killed in road collisions in Ireland were not supportive of the die-in tactic. However, it’s hard to see how you could give relatives or non-fatal collision victims a veto on tactics — getting a consensus from individuals on such issues is rare.
There’s an argument that the victim’s families are the ones most hurting and it’s very hard to argue with that. I won’t.
However, it will tragically be the current people who cycle that will be the next victims and another family will be the next ones that will hear the bad news that a loved one was killed on our roads.
As long as the protest is legal, people have every right to decide themselves what’s appropriate in making roads safer for themselves, their families and friends.
There’s also some disquiet that the brand of ‘Stop Killing Cyclists’, which was used for the protest, implies that motorists are to blame. But this is not the case.
International evidence points to motorists being mainly at fault in the majority of cycling/motoring collisions, and, in recent years, a majority of fatal collisions involving people cycling included motorists overtaking the bicycle (the person overtaking has the largest duty of care).
But — regardless of all of that — the words kill or killing do not involve intent. Murder involves intent but a killing can be unintentional. Kill is also also attached to inanimate objects (“smoking is a killer”) and we still often say things like “he was killed on the road” when a person dies in a single-vehicle collision.
But why die-ins?
Too many people simply aren’t getting the message clear enough and those in power at a local and national level aren’t acting fast enough.
One of the main reactions when people say there’s a lack of action is that “cyclists get everything” — something I find worrying to hear when there isn’t a continuous protected cycle route between any suburb and city or town centre in Ireland. Not a single one.
There’s maybe one or two segregated routes that go some of the way before people cycling are dumped out onto roads with heavy traffic. Most cycle routes have designs which are both sub-standard and unsafe.
High-quality, Dutch-like protected cycle routes is what is proven to make cycling both safe and attractive to people of all ages and abilities. The benefits in terms of safety is strong on its own but the benefits also extend to better health for users, better health for others due to lower air and noise pollution, a reduction in costs for the health service, extra low-cost transport capacity, low carbon emissions and better mobility for younger and older people.
Now we reach the question posed by interviewers — most bluntly asked this week by shameless radio show host Niall Boylan — …will you pay for it?
Let’s be clear here: The protest was about saving lifes and radio and TV hosts think its ok to ask people to pay not to be killed. Cycling numbers are already increasing and thats in line with national policy, agreed by all major political parties.
Interviewees need to stop accepting nonsensical questions about a bicycle tax. The typical and understandable reply is that such a tax is unworkable and motor tax is there because motoring costs society and motor tax doesn’t even cover the full cost of motoring.
That’s only part of the story — why would you tax something which the government is trying to promote? Why don’t we also slap VAT on fruit and vegetables? Why not a pedestrian tax? A bicycle tax is not only unworkable, it’s counter to policy aims so it’s illogical and just downright daft.
It’s like saying: “I don’t like apples… there’s some bad apples and I don’t even like fresh ones. I don’t care if apples are good for society. I’m annoyed with them, so, let’s tax them.”
Radio show hosts also might be in disbelief that the evidence shows more motorists run red lights and, across many junctions in Ireland, a minority of people cycling run red lights. In any case, the vast majority of collisions are away from traffic lights.
People should follow the law, but there’s also no evidence that law braking by people cycling is a notable factor in cycling deaths. Thus, blaming cycling deaths on such behaviours is generally victim blaming.
Much like upping the game on protesting, people who cycle need to up there game and not letting radio show hosts and other ill-informed people away with nonsense not backed by facts.
Replying to a demand to stop killing cyclists with payment or testing of the group of which 14 people have died this year should be seen as outrageous.
As a father of children on bicycles, as a husband who’s wife cycle and as a friend to others who cycle, I support die-ins. It unfortunately still needs to made clear to too many people that cycling safety needs to be addressed with proven measures. If we want to safe life, the main focus can’t be on pet hates.
IMAGE: Thanks to Simon Smyth.