In some European cities, cycling is pretty much the dominant mode of transport. Visit Amsterdam, for example, and you’ll see a sea of bicycles.

Ireland doesn’t quite have the same weather for cycling, but it’s a bit odd that there’s not a lot more bikes on the roads than there are right now – especially considering how difficult it can be to get around in Dublin, Cork, and Galway by car. Cycling is on the rise in some areas, for example cycling routes like the Great Western Greenway and the Waterford Greenway are becoming very popular for tourists, but commuter cycling is well below the normal European levels.

One of the main reasons for that is just how dangerous cycling on Irish roads can be. Last year, 15 cyclists died on Irish roads.

And while there’s no numbers for 2017 yet, there were 1,339 cyclists hospitalised in 2016, and 1,350 in 2015.

Obviously addressing this safety issue should be a priority. Sadly, the government has been slow to act. However, it is being pushed as an issue by some in the Oireachtas. Last year, Ciaran Cannon TD and Regina Doherty TD (Fine Gael) proposed a Private Members Bill in Dáil Éireann which would help to make cycling safer. Unfortunately, Private Members Bills are a bit of a lucky dip – there’s so many, proposers have to wait for their Bill to be chosen at random from those awaiting debate in the Dáil. And this one hasn’t been chosen yet.

Luckily, cycling is one of few areas where cross-party support happens. And Fianna Fáil’s transport spokesperson, Robert Troy TD, stepped up and proposed Cannon’s Bill as an amendment to Minister for Transport Shane Ross TD‘s Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017.

Bill or amendment, it’s pretty simple. It establishes a minimum safe distance for drivers to leave when overtaking cyclists: 1m lateral distance at 50kph or under, and 1.5m above 50kph. Here’s the complete text:

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This has been sought by Irish cyclists for some time, with a specific campaign group set up just to campaign for such a law – Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 – in addition to the local and national cycling groups calling for its introduction.

I see no reason why this amendment shouldn’t become law. For a start, similar minimum passing distance laws are already in place in most of the USA, most of Australia, three Canadian provinces, plus Portugal, Spain, France, and Belgium, visually illustrated in this infographic from the Sligo Cycling Campaign.

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Many people are complaining, however; mostly centred around the idea that such a law would not be enforceable. Minister for Transport Shane Ross expressed this concern on a recent interview with Matt Cooper on The Last Word:

Ross has asked the RSA to report to him on whether such a law would work and be enforceable, based on the experience of the other jurisdictions with such a law.

Spain doesn’t seem to find enforceability a problem, however:

Other arguments against are along the lines that Irish roads are too narrow. To which I’d say well, then they’re too narrow to be overtaking on. Close passes are dangerous for cyclists. It’s terrifying when a vehicle, be it a car, or worse a bus or truck, speeds past at close distance (watch the video on this page if you haven’t experienced it yourself).

It’s easy to misjudge distance:

And even if they don’t hit you – well, there’s a very good reason why you have to stay behind the yellow line on a train platform, and it’s the same for cyclists – the airflow can push you over. It’s dangerous.

Yes, it can be irritating waiting behind a cyclist to overtake. But it’s not for very long, so just wait, and don’t take the risk. A couple of minutes is not worth risking killing someone – and that’s the stakes.

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Shane Ross won’t get his report from the RSA until near the end of the month, and the Committe Stage of the Bill – where the amendment will be proposed – will be taken shortly after that. We’ll see what the RSA says, but passing this amendment into law seems like a no-brainer, to me, and I have my fingers crossed that the committee approves it.

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Oh, and by the way, for the record – I own one car and no bikes.


Breandán MacGabhann

Dr. Breandán MacGabhann is a Geography lecturer at MIC/UL in Limerick.

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