Credit: Maksim Chernyshev / Scopio

Scooter! Are you ready?  

The Road Safety Authority has been accused of victim-blaming by hosting a campaign to encourage cyclists and pedestrians to wear hi-vis gear when out on the road. According to the Irish Independent, the agency said that it had received 25 formal complaints about its Seatbelt Sheriff and Hi-Glo Silver campaigns, with complainants claiming the campaign “is attempting to reinforce the unfounded perspective that pedestrians and cyclists are to blame for their safety, injuries and deaths at the hands of motorists”.

After years of Road Safety campaigns targeting driver behaviour, it seems an over-reaction to common-sense advice to vulnerable road-users to take some responsibility for themselves. It is fairly obvious that the campaign is not victim-blaming, but the response is indicative to the latter-day attitude that all drivers are devils and cyclists and pedestrians are innocent cherubim. This form of gaslighting is indicative of the times we live in. No longer is there a mutual and individual responsibility for the reasonable use of a shared public space – not to mention the common-sense acknowledgment that those more vulnerable need to take prudent measures rather than using their vulnerability as an excuse for irresponsible behaviour. Yes, drivers can be careless, but so are other road users.

First, I need to complain about cyclists. I am at breaking point. Well, I am not, but something needs to be done. I cycle myself so I know what they are thinking. But I run, I walk and I drive on the roads as well. Yes, drivers can be a pain. But in Dublin right now, there is nothing worse than humans on two wheels: scooters, bikes and e-bikes. I don’t like them when I am driving, I don’t like them when I am running, I don’t like them when I am driving, and I don’t like them even when I am cycling.

Let me start with the easy part. Get off the footpaths. Footpaths are not for cycling. A mature woman cycles past my house regularly. On the footpath. She is old enough to know better and she is not even on a busy road. And kids, teenagers, on their fat-tyred bikes think it is ok to cycle on the footpath. One who nearly ran me over as I was running, told me he was allowed to cycle on the footpath. He was certain. It’s the law. Do they teach them nothing at home or at school? Obviously not, as there is a family that cycle to school on the footpath every morning, mother at front, father at back and kids that are old enough to look after themselves, in-between.

Then there are the cyclists who think a footpath is a contra-flow lane. They edge past you with a muted ‘sorry’, shuffling along because they are too lazy to follow the one-way system. I have done it myself. I know the creeping temptation to apologise as I make a nuisance of myself. And I complain when someone else does it.

But maybe it is strategic. After years of cycling up the footpath on North Frederick Street, these nuisances have been rewarded with a contra-flow cycle lane, inserted surreptitiously during lockdown like a host of other cycling initiatives. Just behind it, the single lane magically converts into a dual-carriageway cycle-lane so the throng of non-existent cyclists can arrange themselves in a lane to turn left onto Parnell Street or in another to straight on up the hill. And even better, it has been accompanied by some great big flower-pots in the middle of the street to usher the two lanes of actual traffic into what is now a bottle-neck single lane to facilitate this cycling dual-carriageway.

This isn’t a singular phenomenon either. Along with the proliferation of red and white sticks along random cycle lines and the narrowing of bus and car lanes to less than the width of your average Micra, some genius decided to throw a lane of flowerpots alongside a cycle-lane on the wrong side of the Quays coming into the City-Centre. Alongside this lovely cycle lane is a pedestrian lane, which happily, is alongside a footpath. So now, instead of three lanes of traffic, we have some stupid looking flowerpots, a cycle lane that no one uses, and a pedestrian lane in case you don’t want to use the footpath that is beside you.

But this isn’t the only nonsensical initiative on the Quays. There is another dual-carriageway for bikes running past Collins’ Barracks – both lanes going in the same direction. It isn’t clear whether one is an overtaking lane for the angry fellas in yella who are in a crazed hurry to get to work in the shortest possible time, or meant to capture the huge volume of cyclists that are expected to funnel into a single lane a few hundred metres further down the quays as they are joined by even more who are on their way to the city centre from the N3 direction. (To be clear, there is never a huge volume of cyclists at Collins’ Barracks).

And this is not before the cabal reach another innovation for the Quays – a filter light for cyclists who have had the freedom of dual-cycleways – to be ushered across from the left of the street to the right, crossing lanes of traffic into the aforementioned cycle-lane by the flower pots. Unfortunately – or maybe sensibly – most refuse to do this because unless they hit a red light that stops the vehicular traffic, the only way to get across traffic from the right-hand-side lane to the one on the left is to brave the two lanes of traffic. This might mean slipstreaming fast moving traffic if things are going well or weaving in-between near stationary cars, bouncing off wing-mirrors as they do so. Daft, and dangerous.

So, they don’t do so. Because it makes no sense. They are in a hurry and they can do the same manoeuvre at O’Connell bridge when they get there after observing the signposts that advise motorists that they are going to meet the most bizarre of traffic-light systems in Europe: the bus-lane filter to allow buses to get from the right lane to the left lane and then  another filter light back again so they can turn right onto O’Connell Bridge. The straight-forward, though slow, drive along three lanes from Heuston Station to O’Connell Bridge, has been transformed into a lattice braid.

And even more recently, the road out of Dublin to Hueston Station has been reduced to two lanes – one for buses and one for ‘others’ with a newly instituted super-wide cycling lane coupled with voluminous concrete kerbing. Now, not only are drivers discouraged from entering the city, they are trapped once they get in, forced to a standstill every evening as they seek to join the traffic jams in Palmerstown. All this done while the focus of the country is on covid and drivers are working from home, unawares their commuting times were being doubled by their caring councillors.

All of this is not the cyclists’ fault. Dublin City Council has been doing what government does best – meddling. But what is their fault is how they make their journey on their two-wheeled propellers. A red light or a pedestrian light means nothing to an angry fella in yella in a hurry on a workday morning. They have calculated their journey to the minute and no inconvenience is going to get in their way. They have dressed for speed and a luminous yellow top gives the assumption of invincibility. The don’t all do it, but if you are in touching distance of the wheel in front of you, then no red light is going to deny you that minute-saving lunge to get ahead of the perpendicular traffic. Cars take this approach to traffic lights as well. Green means go, amber means go faster, and just-turned-red means go-go-go.

And it is not just men – but it is predominantly so. It’s a male thing – to maximise the time in bed, minimise the time getting ready for work, and aim to make up the time on the rush to work. It’s just their nature. But they don’t need to be so angry with it. There is nothing more angry than the fella in yella on his way to work encountering a car/pedestrian/bus/bike that gets in his way. Every middle-finger, every curse, every kicked side-door is justified in the mind of the angry fella in yella on his way to work. Cycle lanes are secondary despite all the clamour for more of them and the complaints about their quality. When they exist, they are treated as optional.

But bad as they are, they are not as infuriating as the electric scooter. While cyclists make it impossible for drivers to respect the one-meter passing distance by cycling on the outer edge of their lanes, or increasingly cycling with impunity outside their lanes and weaving wherever they want, the scooter user can not decide whether he or she is a car, a bike or a pedestrian. Cycle lanes, traffic lanes and footpaths are all fair game. Contra-flow? Not a problem for the scooter user. Pedestrian? Whoops, sorry. Excuse me. Sorry. Ahem, coming thru. It doesn’t matter a jot.

Except the scooter user has nowhere near the street smarts or the cop-on of the average cyclists. Spatial awareness? Not a bit of it. Any awareness: none at all. Whoop-dee-doo, in and out and roundabout, up the kerb and down the kerb, in the lane and out. Doesn’t matter to a scooter. Look, I’m a car. Now I am a bike. Now I am potentially going to walk. No, I won’t. I changed my mind.  I had the firm intention. Just needed to rat-run across the footpath. Now I am a car again. But I am skinny. So I can just … squeeze … in … here … in front of you … at the top of the queue … if you don’t mind.

Scooterists are the worst, I have decided. They are like infants on the edge of a swimming pool. Or a dog off a leash. You have no idea what they are going to do next. If a car behaved as a scooter does the driver would be off the road quick-smart. And not too different (or not dissimilar – who started saying that?) is the Deliveroo guy or gal on the e-bike. There has been a proliferation of these on newly-converted, souped-up bikes that are as bad as the scooters, undecided as to their identity – they go fast enough to be a car but want to use the footpath like a regular cyclist. When they are in your rear-view mirror they are going so fast they are actually nearer than they appear before you know it. They treat car lanes as their own and footpaths as a speedbump. And they are in a hurry. The phone has binged and they have to get to that order. Or they have to get that hot food to the angry fella in yella who just got home.

The streets of Dublin have become a crazy place. Fortunately, there are only a few Segway uni-wheel electronic scooter things on the streets at the moment but the few that are have taken to interpreting their place in the hierarchy of road users as superseding everyone else. The rules need to be cleaned up and cyclists, scooterists and wannabe junior motorcyclists need to have some form of regulation. It is a free-for-all at the moment. The law puts all responsibility on the car driver to be respect all other road-users whether this is reciprocated or not, and none at all on the cyclist or these newer phenomena that have made the footpaths a dangerous place for pedestrians.

Road Safety Authority adverts tell the driver to do this and to do that, while the cyclist is portrayed a blissful, nature loving, inoffensive bundle of love. The truth is much the opposite.  I have yet to see a health warning for the angry fella in yella on his way to work, or a scooterist weaving across and back on a busy road, side to side like he just don’t care.  Trying to figure out what one of these is going to do next is like trying to pick the Lotto numbers. One simple campaign to encourage cyclists and pedestrians to act responsibly is the least that can be done.

Not all drivers are devils and not all cyclists are innocents. Rather, I would say the odds are the opposite. The vast majority of drivers take their responsibility seriously while an increasing number of cyclists are doing the opposite. Vulnerability is not licence to be cavalier with the nerves and stresses of drivers, just as much as the security of a vehicle is not licence to bully vulnerable road users.

 


 

David Reynolds

 

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