We often hear people talk about cycling campaigners abstractly, despite all of them being volunteers, they are regularly called “cycling lobbyists”. But who are these people and what motivates them? In a new series, each week a cycling campaigner from somewhere around Ireland tells us a bit about themselves and why they campaign for safer and more attractive streets and roads.
Who are you and what group are you involved with?
Hi, I’m Peter Collins and I volunteer with IBIKEDublin. I am also a member of the Dublin Cycling Campaign with my family and I regularly take part in the #CriticalMassDub cycle on the last Friday of the month and other advocacy throughout the year.
What was your earliest memory of cycling?
My earliest memory of cycling was on a new bike, if I recall correctly that was blue in colour. I received it for my 4th or 5th birthday. I also remember using one of my sister’s “Super Deluxe” branded cruiser-style bicycle which was notable for only having a back-pedal brake. Later we had identical folding bikes that “Santa” delivered that we went on, eventually, and used for family touring holidays in Ireland.
After childhood, why did you start cycling yourself?
I always cycled to get around, like most of my friends growing up. Following some family holidays, by bicycle, across three of four years I continued to be attached to the bicycle. We visited the west coast including Limerick, Clare, Galway, Wexford and Waterford by bike for family vacations. 6 of us with rucksacks on our backs and tents and sleeping bags on our racks was the order of the day.
Aside from that, I was always fixing our bikes be it mending punctures, adjusting brakes, gears, or swapping parts. I was always happy to be collecting shopping, briquettes and anything else I could imagine to carry on the back of the bike from the local stores – it was always by bike.
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I recall that after my folding bike, I had a smaller-than-adult-sized Raleigh Sprint and that was my pride and joy. Following that I had a hand-me-down Raleigh Medal which I successfully had the forks replaced under warranty (after 14 years) much to the annoyance of the local Raleigh dealer who was liable for the repair.
I took it “mountain” biking with my mates in the most extreme terrains and could always manage a wheelie on “a racer” often easier than others could on their BMXs or MTBs. We cycled to school and continued to cycle to sports activities and also to our workplaces eventually after we had outgrown school.
Finally, with the wages from my first regular job, I was quickly able to afford my first adult bicycle which I used for a number of years as my transport to get to a number of jobs, college courses and all other trips until eventually it was stolen some years later after I moved from the South East of the country to Dublin city.
What motivates you as a cycling campaigner?
There is a sense/myth that people who cycle are poor, second-class citizens who can’t afford a car and don’t contribute, ie pay “road tax”, and who are generally hardcore green environmentalists and shouldn’t be on the road “holding up” other road users. That view is misconceived. I advocate for a safer alternative to the now “default” or preferred way of getting around, ie the motor car.
The car has its place but to push the narrative that people who walk, cycle or take public transport are in some way disadvantaged or poor is a falsehood. In fact, people who don’t need to rely on the car to get around are richer for it.
I wish to change the narrative and show others that active travel and utility cycling are very much a viable, convenient & enjoyable alternative. It does however need to be recognised as a serious form of transport and not simply a hobby or sport or one that you must dress from head to toe in specialised equipment. Instead, you can simply dress for the destination.
I would also like to see the return of Traffic Wardens in our cities appointed to record and enforce the everyday violations that go unpunished and feeds into the “untouchable” narrative we often see. Illegal parking, even for “just a minute” is not victimless and has a lot of knock-on effects. Road traffic laws are useless without enforcement and the powers that be consistently and seriously underperform in this area.
How did you get involved in campaigning in the first place?
In adulthood and being a parent to my own kids who were introduced to bikes as transport, at first as passengers and later on their own bikes, I wanted to keep them safe and also encourage them to be skilled in cycling. First for skill, learning to balance and cycle in the local park and then to cycle to primary school and later secondary school and other trips for social and leisure or transport.
Whilst travelling with them daily we became very much aware of the inconveniences and often dangers imposed on us by drivers who didn’t give a second thought to parking on a cycle track or parking with two wheels on footpath forcing us out into faster-moving traffic due to their parked vehicle blocking or obstructing our path. Then when we met by drivers, some would beep the horn and gesticulate that we were in some way an obstruction when instead we were occupying our correct place on the road.
Then in 2017, I discovered IBIKEDublin, who amongst other actions were preventing drivers from parking in cycling lanes. To do this they called on people to physically protect cycle lanes, #PeopleProtected, by standing between traffic and those using the cycle lanes. I recognised this as a very practical, albeit somewhat risky, answer to address the issue of drivers parking their cars obstructing the space provided to keep people cycling safe from traffic. Especially the “just a minute” drivers whose mission was somehow more important than others’ safe passage.
This was a successful campaign under the title #FreeTheCycleLanes which helped change the narrative and drew the attention of the authorities to this serious issue. So much so that most, if not all, of the locations that were ‘People Protected’ have since become segregated cycle lanes as part of the Covid response from the City Council. We quite literally ran out of locations to protect. Other activities included die-ins and other forms of protest including doorstepping the then-transport Minister at events to raise awareness.
Since then I’ve been involved in a range of campaigning — I have lobbied stakeholders to seek improvements and awareness of the dangers of motorists towards pedestrians and people who cycle. This has included operators of public transport, courier companies, big brand distribution companies, councils, politicians etc. Another volunteer and I represented IBIKEDublin in front of the Oireachtas Justice Committee having been invited to discuss enforcement of road traffic offences amongst other activities.
I have also pursued dangerous drivers via Traffic Watch, An Garda Síochána and the Courts system in an effort to highlight and humanise the dangers imposed by the actions of drivers upon people who cycle.
What’s the most effective way you think that more people will hop on their bikes in Ireland?
I know many who have forgotten how quick, easy and convenient it is to cycle and I like to encourage them to make some journeys by bike and you find that quickly once they realise it’s less dangerous than they may have perceived or even remembered it can be an eye opener.
Try and join them for specific routine journeys as an alternative to the car or public transport and to keep it up routinely. You will find that they realise that it doesn’t rain as often as they might have thought and also that they enjoy this rekindled convenience with consistent, and often faster, journey times. A forgotten bonus is that there is less fussing about parking at the destination. Dublin is not a large city and is reasonably flat. Dublin is a cycling city.
And if people are looking to get involved, what should their first step be?
Come and introduce yourself at a #CriticalMassDub cycle at 6pm on the last Friday of each month on Parnell Square, D1. it’s a fun way to meet some of the other volunteers and it’s also a chance to meet others such as attendees of MonthlyCycles who encourage more Women cycling and also members of the Dublin Cycle Campaign who are known to enjoy a good #IBIKEBop. Alternatively, drop us an email or connect via the social media platforms.