Said the fire about the wood

IMAGE: A Dutch post bicycle and trailer with a combined five panniers and front rack box.

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: I am, at the moment, engaged in analysis of social media communication related to cycling and cyclists in Ireland, to get a picture of the discourse around these topics.

To ensure the conversation I’m examining is both public and anchored in Ireland, my starting point is Irish newspapers’ social media posts on issues of the day (02/2017 – 01/2018) that relate to cycling. The 1,500+ Facebook comments thread I’m working through right now unrolls under one of the first news articles on the proposed Minimum Passing Distance Law.

As researcher I find my responses as a cyclist dissolve in my fascination with the social dynamics emerging from the sea of words. I am aware of and guard against my bias (ideally you should be wholly objective, in reality we all have biases and it’s better to be aware than to try to be clinically removed from your humanity).

At the same time I am a human being and now and then need to allow the cyclist part of me to let off steam. I do this by muttering and grumbling on twitter when a particularly egregious comment passes my desk, so to speak. The other day, I posted this:

I mention in the thread that an An Post van daily drives onto the footpath near my house where there’s a drop kerb, then drives on the footpath past my house to across the street from the pillar box where they then lift post to take to the sorting office. A commenter tagged An Post, who replied:

I thought of replying, but the issue is too big for a reply, so I left it.

This morning, about ten to nine, I returned home from walking our dog. We live right between two schools, with two more within 100m walk from our front door. I took this photo standing inside my house:

The postie, delivering this time rather than collecting post from the pillar box, stood a few doors down, parcel in hand. Outside, children on their way to school walked in the street to get around it, as almost the whole footpath was blocked. We are smack in the centre of town, and with four schools so close, this street is much busier than its narrowness may lead you to think.

I remembered An Post’s reply. It is equal to fire declaring how much it supports the preservation of wood in a fireplace, and thank you for telling them about the ashes, they continue to strive for the flames not to burn the wood. When it’s our door they deliver to, the van completely blocks the doorway, with the postie blocking whatever is left of the footpath, and me biting my tongue because scolding the flame is a pointless exercise.

As long as we continue to do nothing about streets that are simply not suitable for driving, or at least not for the volumes of traffic they simply have to take, as long as An Post keeps sending large vehicles into narrow lanes, as long as we prioritise “but with a big van you can do per run than with a cargo bike/small electric vehicle and we can deliver faster and make more money” over “but with a big van in this street you make it hostile to people”, An Post’s twitter statement will remain as empty and robot-like as it sounds.

Nadia Williams is a postgraduate researcher investigating the role of social dynamics in cycling uptake and safety. She lives car-free with her family in Dundalk.

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