Cyclist comments from west of Ireland politicians more about pet hates than road safety

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: What is it about politicians in the west of Ireland who give out about cyclists and claim they care about road safety? Is there something in the Atlantic air?

Maybe it’s a local bias (I live in and am from the west) but it seems like a lot of western politicians are overly focused on the wrong things.

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The examples are noteworthy: A Co Kerry-based Senator who a few years ago wanted high-vis mandatory for walking and cycling and also claimed motorists are the “most vulnerable users on our roads” (the same Senator who seems to have recurring “run-ins” with people walking on rural roads).

Or the Co Mayo TD who recently called for helmets to be made mandatory because he was lobbied by the owner of Castlebar’s Bike Clinic bicycle shop — that shop owner was on was on the local radio station advocating helmets in same breath as claiming he causally cycles 90-100km/h downhill.

It’s also a recurring issue with comments from councillors in Galway and Mayo, usually at traffic committee meetings, complaining about cyclists doing things which are not illegal and usually not unsafe.

This week the Connaught Telegraph newspaper reports from the roads committee of Mayo County Council and how former Fine Gael turned independent Cllr John O’Malley is annoyed that cyclists won’t get into single file and are “jigging” away with earphones on.

The newspaper reports that the councillor was told it’s not illegal to cycle two abreast. It needs to be also pointed out that it’s also often safer.

As a local to Mayo, it’s more disappointing to see the newspaper paraphrase the usually more reasonable Cllr Neil Cruise (FG) “agreed that while listening to music, you could not be aware of your surrounds”… does that apply to motorists too? Maybe not on higher-speed roads, what about on urban roads and streets?

In a decade of covering cycling and before that, I’ve seen many debates about cyclists with headphones. But still it’s unknown to me to this day why people think sound is so important to people cycling. When you think out the scenarios where people get knocked off bicycles, there’s few where noise would have avoided a collision and that’s before you take into account that’s there’s very few people cycling around with noise-cancelling headphones.

When cycling I sometimes wear an earphones in one ear — not putting a earphone in the other ear has more to do with comfort rather than safety. It feels better to be able to hear traffic even if you can do little about how motorists drive around you.

Regularly looking around you is far more important (including the basic shoulder check).

The “Hierarchy of Controls” for workplaces (right in the image below) is applied in the image below to streets and roads (left section of the image) — the “ban cars” part is a bit extreme and not very practical for the most part when “elimination” could equal banning rat running or providing a fully segregated greenway. But the overall point overall is that focusing on user behaviour is down the list and focusing on helmets and high-vis is at the bottom of the list:

If west of Ireland politicians were serious about road safety they’d be calling for segregated cycle paths on main roads, routes along low-traffic town and country roads, safer junctions, lower speed limits, and safe crossings of busy roads in our towns and villages.

But “there’s no money” is often the reply — councillors need to put their allocation of council money where your mouth is. And do the same with the council’s budget.

Even where there is money there’s rarely a plan to have high-quality cycle routes attractive to all ages and abilities. The planned new Castlebar to Westport is dual carriageway is a perfect example of that — a very high spec road between two towns under construction and still no sign of a plan showing safe walking and cycling along the new road or the old one.

It’s time politicians started to mainly focus on good design to provide better road safety, and stopped using Dail or council committee time to take about people’s pet hates.

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  1. Well called out and needs to be said. Politicians and community representatives need to view the bigger picture, and encourage walking and cycling, and be properly aware of the issues, and the damage that inconsidered remarks can cause.

  2. I’ve witnessed 4 people being knocked off their bikes by people in cars. In one case I knew the person on the bike (me). In the other 3 cases, I didn’t know any of the parties involved. In all cases the drivers were 100% at fault. All cases occurred during full daylight, at junctions and all involved the drivers cutting right across the people on the bikes. In one case the driver stopped to abuse the person on the ground and then drove off. In one case the driver initially started to complain to the cyclist on the ground but quickly stopped when other people started pointing out his error. Two of the drivers were women, two were men. One person suffered a broken arm. One suffered a broken back, broken clavicle, 4 broken ribs, brain damage. One was shaken but physically ok. The last cyclist was just annoyed. All the cyclists were male. None of the drivers were wearing high-vis or helmets.

    But, you know yerself….. bloody cyclists.

  3. “But still it’s unknown to me to this day why people think sound is so important to people cycling.”
    As one who has cycled regularly for the past 60 years, I am amazed at this statement. Whether commuting in busy city traffic or on group leisure spins on the backroads of Counties Dublin and Meath, I find it essential from a safety perspective to get early warning of traffic approaching from behind. This can then be confirmed by a glance behind and will then influence whether or not to pass a slower cyclist, if it’s safe to move out to avoid poor road surface or to call the group to single out.
    Arguing that the onus is on the overtaking driver to anticipate all this will may be correct in theory but in practice, for my own safety and that of my clubmates, I very much value my ears as the eyes in the back of my head.


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