COMMENT & ANALYSIS: First off, this article is about ‘The Irish Times View’ on cycling and their coverage over the years. It is not about individual journalists writing about cycling elsewhere in the newspaper today, but about how the newspaper treats cycling overall and over time.
My observations are based on being both a media and cycling as transport junkie, spending years blogging about the Irish media, and covering cycling developments and media coverage of cycling in Ireland.
This morning a number of people are giving high praise to the article “The Irish Times view on cycling infrastructure: time to get moving” — for me, it is hard to take seriously and hard to keep quiet about this because it’s wider than media coverage.
This is a simplification, but over time it isn’t too far off The Irish Times coverage of cycling routes which I’ve witnessed: positive editorial > some news coverage focused on NIMBYs or purely on effects on motorists etc > editorial on misbehaving cyclists > unintelligent coverage of speeding cyclists on the S2S etc > rinse and repeat.
Often what’s just as important is what’s missing. Cycle routes — that infrastructure The Irish Times are calling for today — is generally covered in their news section when the story is from the perspective of car drivers, retailers etc, or the perspective of people who fear diverted traffic will destroy their area because of the Liffey Cycle Route.
Am I saying don’t report both sides and don’t report the fears of a community? I am not. Reporting both sides would be fair enough, it’s often just one side or mainly one side.
It would be much better if the reporting included the actual science behind traffic — it’s proven time and time again in Ireland and internationally that motor traffic dissipates. Or maybe it would be fair enough if their reporting didn’t imply the detour roads are cute residential streets (when the streets are part of the current orbital route). Or it would be fair enough if the newspaper didn’t leave cyclists concerns about less cycling-friendly options and design unreported.
Another example is that on the S2S Dublin Bay cycle route, the newspaper would never dream of covering the poor shared design of junctions at design stage or even after, but they keep reporting brainlessly on conflicts and “speeding cyclists” as if it’s not at least partly a product of unclear design.
And another example is reporting on nearly every aspect of the College Green Plaza bar the call for designing a decent segregated cycle route on College Green and Dame Street.
The coverage of the cycling details are key — having segregated junctions or not can turn out to be a matter of life and death; having bus stop bypasses or not can be the difference between a cycle route suitable for the brave or a cycle route suitable for all; and having restrictive barriers or not on an urban greenway is the difference between access or no access for people with disabilities or carrying children.
It means if you’re going down the route of controversial cycle route coverage you at least, in the same article, have voices saying removing a traffic lane or some parking is worth the benefits.
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And going further — asking where is the segregated cycle path beside a new road, to a new school or into a new development. This doesn’t even go into the realm of campaigning journalism: Journalists should be holding the government to account on the lack of following the National Cycle Policy or a host of other policies on sustainable transport, getting Ireland active or the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations.
This brings us to the general point which goes beyond media coverage: Cycling is treated like this abstract thing: “Everybody is in favor of cycling” the line goes. But the problem is that the reality is everybody is in favour of cycling until the question of the politics of spaces or funding comes into question.
Cycling yes, but not at the loss of… car lanes or parking bays, or not even the lost of a tiny bit of bus priority, or don’t even think about cutting down a few overgrown trees, or not inside the trees as that would mess with an architect’s vision for a public realm scheme, or not skimming a bit off a wide footpath, or a small bit of front gardens of people’s houses (outrageous), or a bit of bog standard grass along a river (never!), etc.
If cycling is going to be supported it means looking at the evidence, seeing that fears are usually from scaremongering or misinformation, it means difficult choices, and it means explaining those choice to people again and again and again. Knowing that this is all a normal part of change. It’s not new to Ireland.
Oh, and call me biased all you want because I run a cycling website — when a bias is seeking government policy to be implemented which would mean a healthier, safer, more environmentally friendly, less congested and more productive transport, I’ll stick to my “biases”.
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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.