The real reason cycling is such a pain in Dublin

Cian Ginty at the Irish Times writes:

As clunky helmets, yellow reflective gear, and Lycra could be used as a stereotype for Irish cyclists, it might come as a surprise that women wearing high heels are a common sight on bicycles in Copenhagen.

The general image of cycling here is vastly different to so-called bicycle cultures where cycling is normalised and there is talk of a “slow bicycle movement”.

“Among thousands and thousands of cyclists on my daily routes, I think I see one or two reflective vests a week, if that,” says Mikael Colville-Andersen, a cycling advocate living in Copenhagen.

With Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany – where bicycle usage is high – the helmets and reflective clothing we think of as “a must” for cyclists are far from standard.

It then goes on to rehash some of the stuff that has cropped up recently on cycling blogs about cycling safety, helmets, etc.

The only problem with casualization of cycling, removing gear like helmets, is that without corresponding changes to the road and cycleways to make them safer, it will increase accidents and fatalities. I looked this up a couple of weeks back when I came across an anti-helmet site. Chasing up the figures and doing some research, it became clear that if you simply want to cycle without hurting yourself, the facts were not on their side — helmets save lives, especially when dealing with shared roadways as we have here.

Copenhagenization is a result of a better, safer road environment for cyclists, as seen in Denmark and the Netherlands, which makes safety gear not as much of a requirement. But on the other hand, Ireland’s roads are designed mainly for cars, and Dublin Council have done little to help — that makes safety gear a requirement, unfortunately :(

However, I think this is the real reason why people don’t cycle in Dublin:

Let’s take a fictional person, let’s call her Kassandra. Kassandra lives a little north of Copenhagen and rides every to work every day between 07:25 and 07:55 and back again between 15:35 and 16:05. Kassandra doesn’t mind a little light showers, but if the intensity increases to over 0.4 mm over 30 minutes (light rain), then she thinks it is too wet. Kassandra works five days a week and has weekends and holidays free. That gives her 498 trips between September 2002 and the end of August 2003.

How often does Kassandra get wet either to or from her job that year? The answer is, in fact, rarely. On those 498 trips it was only 17 times. That is only 3.5% or on average 1.5 trips a month.

3.5%. Compare that with what’s happened in Dublin this month — I’d estimate that’s meant that at least half of my rides have involved some degree of rainfall, occasioning many cries of woe.

It takes dedication — and lots of wet-weather gear — to ride a bike here…

(Of course, having said that, I look out the window and it’s immediately sunny ;)

Update: Ryan Meade corrects me in the comments:

Justin, you need to take a look at Owen Keegan’s paper to Velo-City 2005, “Weather and Cycling in Dublin : Perceptions and Reality”. The probability of getting wet is actually pretty comparable to the Copenhagen scenario detailed above – 5.5% for a 30 minute journey if you take 0.2mm per hour at the threshold for “getting wet”. On the other hand the vast majority of both cyclists and motorists think it’s more than 15%, with half thinking it’s above 30%.

Amazing how the psychological, “glass half-empty” factor influences my thinking on this. I had no idea!

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  1. Posted August 28, 2008 at 22:09 | Permalink

    Justin, you need to take a look at Owen Keegan’s paper to Velo-City 2005, “Weather and Cycling in Dublin : Perceptions and Reality”. The probability of getting wet is actually pretty comparable to the Copenhagen scenario detailed above – 5.5% for a 30 minute journey if you take 0.2mm per hour at the threshold for “getting wet”. On the other hand the vast majority of both cyclists and motorists think it’s more than 15%, with half thinking it’s above 30%.

    Obviously this summer and last have been depressingly wet, but I think it’s a bit early to throw out the figures in the 2005 paper. I’ve been a committed cyclist in Dublin for 15 years, and I haven’t bothered with wet gear for about the last 13. When it’s wet I just get the bus.

    The helmet issue is a more vexed one, which I’d probably better not get into. However, my slogan is “safety in numbers”. Getting more cyclists on the roads will in itself make it safer to cycle.

  2. Posted August 29, 2008 at 12:28 | Permalink

    Ryan — thanks for the comment!

    that paper’s numbers are amazing (going by your quote — there doesn’t seem to be a working link btw). I guess there’s a strong psychological effect at work; plus it seems to be simply rainier this year than previous years, anyway.

    I agree that more people cycling on the road would increase safety, as would better (separate, Dutch-style) cycle lane faciilities. My take on helmets is that it should remain a personal choice, fwiw. For me, I’m happy to wear one, and I believe it increases my safety, but I don’t think that means I should force others to do so….

  3. Posted August 29, 2008 at 19:11 | Permalink

    For the record, my article was emailed to the newspaper on August 1 – that’s before the blog post you linked to was posted (and also before the Guardian article it links to was published).

    Reading Mikael Colville-Andersen’s blogs was the main factor in coming up with the idea for the article. Also, at the beginning of the summer, I saw cycling in a number of cities around Europe for my self (in Copenhagen, Berlin, Paris and other cities).

  4. Posted August 29, 2008 at 19:27 | Permalink

    Ooh, my link seems to have got stripped out for some reason. It’s the second link on this page.

  5. Posted September 1, 2008 at 12:33 | Permalink

    sorry for the allegations of “rehashing”, Cian, I had no idea of the real timeline there! that’s a slow news cycle — it really did take quite a while to get published….

  6. Posted September 1, 2008 at 13:07 | Permalink

    No problem Justin, generally freelancing can be (overly) complex.

    In this case the story wasn’t linked to the news cycle of any one week, so it was relativity timeless. On my part, other commitments slowed me slowed down writing it in the first place and then slowed following up pitching it to editors – the interview with Mikael Colville-Andersen was actually done some time ago.

  7. Posted September 1, 2008 at 18:11 | Permalink

    You forgot to mention another big difference between Dublin and Copenhagen. Bicycle crime. The main train station has an estimated 5,000 bikes outside it during the day. Most of these aren’t locked.

    In Dublin, you have a 1 in 7 chance of having your motorbike stolen in any given year. For a bicycle, I assume it’s much higher – I’ve had one taken every two years, and always from locked garages.

    If the roads are dangerous, you can’t bring your bike on public transport or leave it locked at the station, and you can’t leave your bike in your own garage, never mind a street – why would you bother, unless you are a hard-core cyclist ?

  8. Gordon
    Posted October 2, 2008 at 15:34 | Permalink

    I generally found in the past that the number of days you actually got wet were very few. Once I get into work dry, I don’t mind getting wet on the way home as I can change straight away. And you can usually go between showers. Although this year has been bad, mainly due to the swift changes from sunshine to rain, when you think you can make it in and then don’t. I was in Berlin last weekend and we hired bikes, it was such a different experience from cycling in Dublin. Very little traffic, respect for cyclists and/or the cycle lane, and the fact that you could bring your bike on the train was brilliant. If only you could do that on the Dart, whatever about the Luas..

  9. Posted October 2, 2008 at 18:44 | Permalink

    RE: Bicycle crime

    Yes, that is true about Copenhagen, but not of Amsterdam where it is a problem. So, I don’t think it is a huge factor in people taking up cycling or not. It would be more likely a reason why people would stop cycling after a bike or bikes getting robbed or damaged (which is an important issue, but slightly different).

    But on cycling parking… even if you keep in mind “a pro will take a bike if he wants it”, there are a lot of foolishness with some cyclists. The head of security at DCU apparently has for at lease the last few years been warning freshers you need to lock more than just the front wheel of a bike — but he still see it happening again and again. He shows a video of where a scumbag takes a quick-release wheel from one bike and attaches it to another and cycles off.

    (btw in Copenhagen a lot more bikes are locked than it looks. Although they are only wheel locked, so you could lift them away etc)

  10. Til
    Posted October 29, 2008 at 13:22 | Permalink

    I think it’s all about getting the Irish mentality into the right gear!! Please hop on your bikes, get out there, enjoy the fresh air and the passing of so many crumpy people in their cars slowly moving to their work. It is NOT dangerous. Keep your eyes and ears open, don’t cycle in between cars but just stay in the cycle lane (if it’s not there just stay at the left) and you’ll be perfectly safe. Get a bell on your bike and some lights, that’s all you need. I’m a Dutchy and spoiled I know but having cycled for over 2 years now in Dublin I can say it’s fine and much faster than any other means of transport. And rain? Come on, get over it! Ireland really isn’t all that wet. And we would say you won’t melt getting a bit wet. Maybe if more people will take up cycling the government will finally start scratching their ears and will invest some money into more decent cycle lanes.

  11. Andrew
    Posted February 28, 2009 at 14:18 | Permalink

    @Til: righteous comment

    We have the same objections here in Canada about cycling in the winter. Everyone thinks you’ll be cold but actually most rides end with being quite warm due to the exercise with the winter clothes you’re wearing (or should be wearing). Ice is a hazard but studded tires take care of that. Cycling in the snow is a blast and definitely a workout!