Are cyclists safe on Irish roads?

Róisín Phelan

From the precarious placement of a bicycle seat Dublin’s roads can feel like a dangerous place. The vulnerability that a cyclist has while on the roads is one of the reasons why separate cycle lanes were first suggested and implemented in Ireland.

In 2019 the Irish Times reported that Irish hospitals treat one cyclist every three days for major trauma sustained in road traffic incidents.

Last March, DCU student Jennifer Keegan was nearly one of these statistics when she was hit by a car while cycling at night. This was the second accident involving a car she had been in in 2019.

“I think the person was just in a hurry and didn’t look…I had my lights on and everything and she just didn’t see me.”

Keegan had to head straight to hospital after the accident where doctors told her she was extremely lucky to not have sustained serious injuries.

“Apparently the way I landed I should have shattered my elbow and my forearm but I just by fluke didn’t.”

Keegan said the reason for both crashes was “drivers not looking into the cycling lane and looking just for cars.”

According to data from the Road Safety Authority (RSA) , there has been an exponential increase in cycling injuries since 2003 and in 2012 alone there was a 59 per cent increase in the number of cyclists injured on Irish roads.

Most recently, in 2017 the RSA and the Garda Siochana found that 17 per cent of serious road injuries belonged to cyclists. Of that 17 pre cent, 79 per cent occurred on urban roads and also of that 17 per cent, 29 per cent occurred in Dublin.

Another study published in the Irish Medical Journal entitled “Cycling Injuries Presenting to an Irish Emergency Department” analysed the number and type of cyclist injuries that entered St. Vincent’s University Hospital’s emergency department, from January 1 to December 31 2014.

The study reported that 534 cycling related injuries presented to the ED during the study time period. 40 patients required admission to hospital following their injury with 6 of these patients spending time in the intensive care unit.

162 patients sustained a fracture. 83 patients were documented as having a head injury and a diagnosis of concussion was made in 70 patients

Many students like Keegan use cycling as their main form of transport due to its economic, environmental and health benefits. Others have taken it up as a pastime.

Caoimhe O’Carroll cycled from Dun Laoghaire to DCU and back everyday while she was in college last year.

O’Carroll, who has been cycling since she was three years old says she feels safe and comfortable on Dublin’s roads most of the time but has also been involved in road accidents while cycling.

She described one example saying, “a pedestrian walked out in front of me and I braked and rather than putting my hands out I just went face first into the ground”. The accident caused O’Carroll to sustain extensive injuries to her face.

She said this accident was a “prime example of the culture in Ireland of pedestrians just not being aware of cyclists, and it’s because the infrastructure isn’t there for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists all to get along in Dublin.”

“It would be very difficult for anybody to get into cycling in Dublin because it’s so dangerous,” said O’Carroll.

“Particularly in the morning…it feels like the Tour de France, it feels like there’s not enough space there’s not enough resources, it’s the fact that they’re promoting cycling but not actually meeting the demand of what they are promoting.”

However, cycling in Dublin may not have always been as difficult and dangerous as O’Carroll has described.

In 2013 Dublin was ranked among the world’s top 20 bike-friendly cities, this was largely as a result of the National Transport Authority’s (NTA) promises to improve Ireland’s cycling infrastructure.

In December of 2013 the NTA summarized these promises in the Cycle Network Plan which comprised of “ a mix of cycle tracks and lanes, cycleways and infrastructure-free cycle routes in low traffic environments”.

The plan aimed to implement up to 2,840km worth of cycle routes in Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow.

This offer was promising for Irish cyclists as it would lessen their interactions with other motorists, possibly decreasing the number of accidents.

However in 2018 key sections of the plan were abandoned and little progress has taken place in meeting the promised 2,840km of cycle route originally envisioned.

In November of 2019 Green Party Deputy Leader Catherine Martin TD spoke out on the dangers associated with cycling in Ireland. She referenced the eight deaths of cyclists that had occurred so far that year saying, “ I believe that these deaths were avoidable, and we are calling on the Minister for Transport to take immediate action to prevent further fatalities.”

In the same month, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross TD announced new legislation that “will make it an offence to dangerously overtake a pedal cyclist.”

The legislation issues a 120 euro fine and three penalty points for offenders.

For Keegan, who continues to cycle in Dublin, all road users cyclists and motorists have to acknowledge their shared responsibility to travel safely.

“Everyone has a shared responsibility on the road but I definitely see that there’s some cyclists that just do not know how to share the road and think they have the right of way all the time and end up endangering other people on the road.”

Even if there were cycle lanes on every road in Ireland Keegan said, drivers still need to “ be aware that there are cyclists around and not just forget about them.”

Róisín Phelan

Image Credit: Isabella Finn