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I survived riding a bike in Dublin
It's bad enough being on the wrong side of the road, but this city makes Toronto feel like Copenhagen.
Thanks to Louise for her corrections!
Years ago, I learned that the best way to get to know a city is to sign up for a bike tour. I have been to the UK (but never Ireland) many times but never got on a bike because I was always afraid that I would look the wrong way and get in trouble, but I thought being on a tour would give me someone to follow who knew where to go and how to turn. I had only planned one bike tour, but in checking out the various companies, I accidentally signed up for two tours on consecutive days and decided to do both; they were very different experiences.
I wasn’t sure I would make it to my first tour with Cycle Dublin Bike Tours; I had to go straight from the airport after being up all night on the flight from Toronto and made it with ten minutes to spare. Colin Ring led us to all the important sites and was extremely knowledgeable and funny. The routes he chose were not particularly scary; he knew his audience. It was also a bank holiday, so there was not a lot of traffic.
I was particularly impressed with his discussion of the Custom House, describing why the base is one kind of stone and the tower was another; it was originally built in 1791 with a white English stone, but the dome collapsed after a fire set during the War of Independence in 1921. Wikipedia says it was rebuilt with darker Irish Ardbraccan limestone “to promote Irish resources;” Colin says another story is that the Irish government asked for the same stone, but the British government refused to allow it out of spite. I find Colin’s version more entertaining.
That afternoon I found a portrait of the building’s architect James Gandon in the National Gallery; you can see the Custom House in the background. Every architect of quality buildings should get one of these.
When we stopped at the Famine Memorial, Colin noted there was a version in Halifax; I corrected him and said it was in Ireland Park in Toronto, and he did not throw me in the river but appeared appreciative of the information. I told him about how the city was previously not very friendly to the Irish and banned St. Patrick’s day parades for 110 years; after the tour, I sent him a link to Adam Bunch’s great story about the ban, and he said he would add this information to future rides when Canadians were present. A smart, funny, and cheerful guide, highly recommended.
My next tour, guided by Ben Shorten of My Bike or Hike, was a very different experience. It was private and expensive but worth every Euro. I told Ben that I had seen the tourist sites and wanted to learn about Dublin’s bike infrastructure and get a better idea of the larger city.
I got thrown into that in a hurry, as I find myself in a “bike lane” in a car sewer on the north side of the River Liffey. Both sides of the river are one-way arteries when they should be car-free promenades; Former Green Party Dublin councillor and now Member of the European Parliament Ciarán Cuffe told me later that they have been trying to do this for years and that I am lucky to have had a bike lane at all. So here I am, out in the middle of the road with cars and buses passing over the so-called bike lane.
It starts. it stops. It’s full of trucks and buses. When of course, it should be on the other side, running continuously along the side of the Quay. Just a giant wasted opportunity, a deathtrap bike lane when you should be able to ride with your mom and kids along the side of the river.
We then rode out into the suburbs along a bucolic towpath beside a canal until we couldn’t because it was blocked for construction, and we had to go by a horrible road on the other side of the canal. But for me, the worst was yet to come.
Phoenix Park is a huge, beautiful park with a road through it, but not a nice curvy boulevard as Frederick Law Olmsted might lay out, but a straight gash from end to end. It should be the kind of bike path where you might want to take your four-year-old to ride. Instead, you get: useless flex posts pretending to separate your kid from the road. In a park.
No wonder they must put No Cycling symbols on the footpath; this is where any sane cyclist wants to be. I suppose it is better than nothing, given the fights about bikes in Vancouver’s Stanley Park and Toronto’s High Park, but it is still terrible and unimaginative.
Perhaps I was spoiled by my trip to Amsterdam a few weeks earlier, where people of any age can cycle in safety and comfort on fully separated bike lanes. Perhaps it is unrealistic to believe that we can take space from people in cars and share it with people who walk or bike. But maybe, instead of throwing billions of dollars at battery and electric car plants and big incentives to get people to buy electric cars, as they are in Ireland, the UK and Canada, they should invest in the kind of infrastructure we need to get people out of cars and on to bikes and e-bikes where our moms and kids can ride. It will be cheaper and safer and better for everyone.
And in Dublin, seriously, take back the streets. This could be a glorious place instead of this nightmare of a car sewer lined with boarded-up shops.