“But will it stop the pests?”
Asked an angry Ivan Yates, former Irish politician turned bankrupt sports gambling magnate turned cantankerous grump radio talk show host. He spoke of Ireland’s new law—enacted August 1st—allowing Irish police officers to issue fines to cyclists running afoul of traffic laws.
Armed with this new, robust enforcement power, gardaí will be issuing on-the-spot fines of 40 euros for such grievous offenses as running red lights, cycling on pedestrianised areas, and operating a pedaled vehicle ‘…without reasonable consideration.’
While it is true that many cyclists blatantly disobey simple safety ordinances—neglecting to use lights during nighttime hours and howling through busy intersections without so much as a California genuflect to check for cross traffic—most urban Irish cyclists, myself included, face a very hostile and unforgiving world on the streets. This new enforcement law might be targeting the wrong dancers in this dangerous ballet, or as Irish Green Party leader Eamon Ryan called Dublin’s streets when seen from a cyclist’s point of view, “…a Ben-Hur racing track.”
When I first heard of this new clampdown, I checked my own cycling habits to see if there were any legal cracks. In one journey to the city center and back, I found myself committing several infractions almost without thinking—and I consider myself a defensive and careful cyclist!
[RELATED: Read this editorial in local Dublin community newspaper NewsFour]
Prohibiting the running of red lights seems like a no-brainer; they are in place to ensure no road user gets gunned down by crossing traffic. I obey red lights as often their design allows, but I repeatedly run into one major flaw: bicycles can’t trigger car-sensors. A patient cyclist waiting for her protected right turn might be waiting a long while if no car happens to be going her way. On my way home, I have to make such a turn into a small, dead-end residential street. If I’m not traveling at rush hour—and heaven help me if I am—I could stand at the intersection through a dozen light cycles before someone living in the tiny neighborhood has to come home for a lunchtime nap. If, from today, I make my usual light-running right turn when the road is clear, will I find myself staring down the barrel of an angry guard’s pen?
Will I also be dragged, bound in my own bike chains, before the High Court for hopping the curb to ride on the pedestrian footpath when the cycle lane is clogged with illegally-parked cars? I have watched countless police cruisers glide by these icebergs in the cycle lane North Atlantic. If a biker swerves to avoid such a hazard, who gets the citation? Delivery vehicles and post trucks are allowed to stop for a short time only, of course, but that makes them no less obstructive and dangerous for cyclists.
When vehicles, delivery or otherwise, block the cycle track, we must choose the specter of crushing death in the bus and taxi lane—not to mention the elevated risk of a Chaplinesque crash into a suddenly-opened car door—or face the oncoming dog-walkers and pram-pushers on the sidewalk. When I zip and dodge my way through this cycle-lane slalom, will an overzealous officer smile at the neighborhood UPS driver as she chastises me for such lack of “reasonable consideration?”
But I am a man of the law, and I plan to stay on the right side of Justice as much as the streets of Dublin will allow. As I dismount to push the pedestrian cross button for my signal, and carefully walk my bike on the footpath when delivery trucks and lazy residents block the cycleway, I can only wonder if I will be the only sucker in the country silly enough to be scared of this questionable crackdown on the most vulnerable and least harmful road users.