COMMENT & ANALYSIS / GUEST ARTICLE: Never before in my life have I had to explain to people why I cycle, let alone defend my choice of transporting myself on two wheels rather than four. Never before, that is, until I came to Dublin. The first time I came here, as an Erasmus student in 2009, I was bemused by the surprise and sometimes horror that people expressed when I explained that I cycled.
But, with me being Dutch and, more importantly, a student with no money, people sort of got it. On top of that, as a young student on an international adventure, I felt invincible and as long as I avoided O’Connell’s Bridge, the traffic didn’t scare me. (The same could not be said for my parents who, when they came to visit me, took one look at Dublin traffic and ran into the nearest bicycle shop to buy me a helmet.)
Now that I am back, ten years on, and I am a thirty-something professional, I am scared witless and I am not sure whether this is because Dublin traffic has increased so much or because I am just getting old.
Also, the horror and surprise expressed by people is more serious and, strangely, seems to contain more judgement. Surely, if I cycle at this stage of my life, where I can comfortably choose any other mode of transport, cycling must be some sort of statement: an expression of my identity, my political views – I must be one of those vegan climate madmen or a car-hater.
So, while people think I cycle out of hatred for things, there also seems to be a hatred towards me for the simple fact that I choose to go to places on two wheels. This was, in fact, the most difficult thing for me to get used to when I started cycling in Dublin, even more so than the lack of safe cycling infrastructure, or the lack of traffic law enforcement.
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Hatred not just from professional drivers like taxi drivers or truckers, but also from a large percentage of everyday commuters. This culminated a while back in me bursting into tears after having been beeped at (beeped sounds so friendly! It was not) for just standing still on a road while waiting to turn right. I did not burst into tears because this particular person beeped at me at that particular moment, but because it felt like the culmination of 18 months of being bullied on the road, of being considered a nuisance, for the simple reason that I was a person on a bike.
It is difficult to explain to people in Ireland that — to me — cycling is the neutral option. In fact, I myself had never thought about it until I experienced the cycling culture in Dublin. I do not cycle because I hate cars, or pedestrians, or because I hate anything really – rather, I cycle because I love it.
I love that it’s quick and cheap, I love that it gives me an independence that even the best public transport could ever provide, and I love the pure joy it brings me.
Now that we are rethinking the streets of our cities, I sincerely hope we can also rethink our attitudes towards those who use them, because changing the infrastructure of our city will be successful only if we also change the infrastructure of our minds.