I have friends who are cyclists. I support cycling, but… Oh, and, cyclists are like Nazi’s tanks

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).

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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.”

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.

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  1. I will bet O’Leary €1000 that I can walk down Nassau Street (which I regularly do) without either having to jump in to the road or climb up on a railing. I am far, far more likely to be inconcenienced by coaches on the Trinity side or delivery drivers on the other side than I am by cyclists. To be honest she could have picked a far better street for her example.

    If they (meaning O’Leary, Faughnan and other car fans, closeted or otherwise) insist on this ‘war’ metaphor then it would be far more accurate to say that cars are waging a war on people and O’Leary, Faughnan et all are a bunch of collaborators and quizlings. It’s still a terribly stupid metaphor but it would be a lot more accurate.

    Just out of interest, does O’Leary know how many pedestrians on the footpath have been killed or seriously injured by cars (sorry it’s insidious, I mean people driving cars) since the last time a cyclist killed a pedestrian? I can think of a few more than those mentioned in the article. I should also point out that as far as I know the last person killed by a cyclist had stepped in to the road (which is not to excuse the cyclist in any way). I’m not aware of any pedestrian killed by a cyclist on the footpath in Ireland ever. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. Yet somehow cyclists are being spun as Nazis in tanks, crushing all before them and drivers as innocent victims being oppressed by an all powerful menace.

  2. I too walk regularly on Nassau Street and I have yet to experience Ms. O’Leary’s scattering by cyclists of pedestrians on its pavements.
    I have been intimidated however by touring coach drivers mounting the pavement in order to park alongside the Trinity College railings.
    The paviours here are extensively fractured and loosened by the sheer mass of these ‘tanks’ and so pose a trip hazard to me.
    As Eric notes the increasing number of pedestrians killed in recent week by hit-n-run drivers is a far more pressing road safety concern. Plus the number of disqualified drivers still out in their vehicles on our roads.
    A 15 kg vehicles poses minimal risk of death to others.

  3. Speaking of disqualified drivers, according to RTE 12 people have been killed by them in the last three years!

    This is shocking and kind of makes a mockery of calls for cyclists to be licenced and insured. To turn around an oft used but utterly fatuous concept, people should only worry about insuring and licencing cyclists when every single motorist is. Based on the lack of enthusiasm for actually getting disqualified drivers off the road that’s going to take a while.

  4. Surprisingly stupid; but an example of how even normally intelligent commentators can be pulled in by the power of dog-whistle hatred.

  5. Hi Colm. It’s not a “Rightwing” issue. O’Leary for example could hardly be described as right wing. I am right wing and very pro cycling. As are many others.

  6. O’Leary isn’t right-wing in any political sense, but she is espousing a socially conservative view that is shared by the majority of right-of-centre public commentators of whom there are quite a few despite protestations to the contrary: Ivan Yates, George Hook, Pat Kenny, Paul Williams and many others are all generally quite hostile to cycling (give or take the odd acknowledgement that it has some pluses).
    As a matter of interest, as a right-winger, are you in favour of cycling because you like it, the gear is cool, it gets you fit and it is sometimes quicker than driving, or are you in favour of cycling because of all of the above but also because it has the potential to help to reduce traffic, pollution and emissions, as well as improving fitness, health and quality of life for the general public?


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