COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Private cars destroy the city, not only are they — the cars — noisy and dirty, but there is always more and more of them demanding that part of the city is destroyed to make more room for cars, is how Olivia O’Leary started off her radio column on RTE’s Drivetime yesterday. The “but…” is coming.
First, in her normal style — which is like Marmite to listeners, love it or hate it — O’Leary waxes on a bit more: Anybody who has been to Amsterdam, O’Leary said, should be able to see the advantage of cycling, and Dublin’s city manager Owen Keegan is right to “declare war” on private cars (a statement, to this writer’s knowledge, which Keegan has never made).
Public transport and cycling is great, there’s no other way to make cities work O’Leary states, in a way which you might think she could devote one of her audio columns to the virtues of such things.
But, instead, it’s now time for O’Leary’s first “but…” moment.
O’Leary said: “But, you know, there is one thing that private cars, for all their faults, usually do not do. They do not drive down the middle of the footpath, scattering pedestrians left and right. Cyclists, on the other hand, do this all the time.”
As the Dublin Cycling Campaign pointed to on Twitter, 10 people, including 3 pedestrians, were killed by motor vehicle drivers. Two hit-and-runs.
It goes further than that. Note the language used by O’Leary: Cars are autonomous before self-driving cars have even arrived in Ireland. You’ll find similar reporting in collisions involving motorists where there is an inability to mention a motorist. We’re culturally conditioned to blame cars, and excuse the people in them. It goes as far as judges saying “it could have happened to any of us” even where there’s evidence that the collision was avoidable.
Googling that I recall that motorists mounting footpaths and harming people isn’t abnormal. People driving pose far greater danger to pedestrians, even on footpaths. But we’re in denial about it even with recently reported example (Two friends killed while out walking in Galway and Man hit by car on Dublin footpath died due to traumatic brain injury, inquest hears).
Anybody who gets around on foot or wheelchair in Ireland also regularly encounters motorists fully or partly parking on footpaths, often forcing people with prams or wheelchairs or other walking aid out onto road. A similar problem exists for cycle lanes. Overall, it is at epidemic levels. Yet, nothing about this from the likes of O’Leary or George Hook.
There’s also a large amount of hit-and-runs this year, but, again, no discussion about this. Some of the Irish media had a frenzy last year when a cyclist in the UK killed a pedestrian — such, thankful, has not happened in nearly two decades in Ireland. Yet, the carnage from motorists is so normal that we’ve become desensitised to it.
O’Leary continued: “And no, I don’t mean little children on stabilisers. Or even their parents cycling with them. I mean great big wusses in business suits and briefcases, thundering along the footpath on their Dublin Bikes. Try walking along the pavement in Nassau Street any day and they’ll send you climbing up the nearest railings or jumping into the street.”
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I don’t live in Dublin anymore, but I’m nearly waiting for cyclists to run me over on every visit to the capital. Yet, on a bike or walking, motorists end up causing me more fear than cyclists ever have. To be clear: I’m not saying there are not misbehaving cyclists and I’m not even saying that they aren’t dangerous — I’m saying the problem is so hyped up by some that you’d think that bicycles are mowing people down like tanks.
Olivia O’Leary thinks it’s actually like the tanks of the Nazis. She continued: “Have I challenged them? Of course, I’ve challenged them. Hey, you great big wuss in a business suit! Why not be a big boy and use the road? Or the bike lane? But by that stage, they’ve ploughed through you to scatter other old ladies and men. Or startled parents pushing baby buggies. Oh yes, this is Panzer tank stuff.”
And be a big boy? What’s another way of saying that? Man up and use the road?
“I have nothing against cyclists,” O’Leary said and then amazingly continued: “Some of my best friends are cyclists.”
And it gets better — “I have been a cyclist myself” she said — it’s the defence which is becoming common from some motorist who nearly run you off the road. “I’m a cyclist too,” they said rather than focusing on nearly killing you and being apologetic for that.
She again welcomes a future where more space is taken up by cycling. But again, she said: “Pedestrians have rights too.” As if somebody in their right mind was denying this?
The problem according to O’Leary is that there is nobody to enforce the rules and “there’s no registration number to identify the cyclist”. A common trope of people who try to equalise the danger of cars and bicycles. And this is in the context of disqualified drivers having killed 12 people over last three years.
Then she goes on to day dream about tackling a person of a bicycle or putting an umbrella in their wheels — both of which could be fatal, before halfheartedly recommending not to follow such an action.
It’s fine, it’s not “dedicated cyclists” who are the threat, it’s “these new bicycle brigands who rent a bike for a few hours and take off on it like they would a jet ski in Gran Canaria.”
If the problem is idiots on DublinBikes on footpaths, why not stick to that problem? Is it because if she dropped the superfluous nonsense that she might just realise that these are not much more than pedestrians on bicycles? Or she might ask: Why don’t cyclists in Amsterdam behave this way? Maybe because they don’t have to contend with the choices of having to “man up” and play with motor traffic or cycle on footpaths?
Cycling isn’t doing very well out of this apparent “war” on cars. Very little road space is given to cycling, cycling isn’t safe, and one-way streets have made the city a maze for those people the city is welcoming onto its streets while the city council keeps going against its own policy on providing contra-flow routes.
When O’Leary claims to support a future which Ireland is more friendly to cycling, the phrase “If I was going there I wouldn’t start from here” comes to mind. Why would you even blend the issues of idiots on DublinBikes and the future of cycling? That’s my main issue here: why should the safety of my children and many others like them be blended with businessmen on DublinBikes acting like fools?
People who are advocating for cycling should call out idiots on bicycles, but they should also not tolerate nonsensical diatribes which make out that idiots on bicycles are a larger danger than idiots in cars. When respected people like Olivia O’Leary can come out with half of what’s highlighted above, there’s something very wrong about how cycling is discussed in Ireland.