By James Coghill
Pedal power is back in. As the cyclists among you will know, Dublin’s streets are busier than ever. Bicycles bustle in and out of traffic, rush-hour queues trail back for metres in the cycle lanes – Dublin is in the grip of two-wheel fever.
Cycling is, in many ways, the perfect form of commuting. Fast, cheap, healthy, exhilarating and very, very convenient, as long as you live within ten kilometres of College – any further and you need iron-like determination and even stronger thighs. The number of cyclists in Dublin is small but rising fast. It increased by eight percent last year. Around four percent of the commuters that cross the city’s two canals into the centre every day do so on a bike and Dublin City Council has a target that would see that rise to 15 percent by 2012.
After years of unpopularity, cycling is back in fashion. Labelled “the austerity commute” many believe cycle sales are booming as commuters try to save money in the current economic climate. There are other reasons for this renaissance though, namely the Bike to Work tax incentive scheme that was introduced at the beginning of 2009. The scheme covers bicycles and accessories up to a maximum cost of €1000. Your employer buys the bike and you pay for it, tax-free, over 12 months, which effectively knocks around 40 percent off the price.
For students, this is of little use and many have resorted to using Dublin’s Bike Hire Scheme which Dublin City Council’s cycling officer, Kieran Fallon aptly describes as “the most successful in the world by any measure.”
His words may have some truth. In August the scheme saw its millionth journey completed, and although official figures have never been released, there are thought to be over 37,000 individual subscribers.
Widespread speculation that most of the bicycles would end up in the city’s rivers and canals has proven to be wrong. So far just one of the bikes has been stolen (and was subsequently recovered) while vandalism has been little to none. The scheme is so popular in fact, that is expanding. Dublin City Council is hoping to increase the number of stands to over 1000 by the end of next year.
For the casual cyclist, the options are plentiful. But strike up a conversation with any bus-goer or Luas commuter and they come back with the same counter argument every time: the weather.
These anti-cyclists, however, tend to exaggerate. According to Met Éireann, someone from Dublin who cycles 15 minutes to College, five days a week, will get wet on only four days out of every 100. Those are favourable commuting statistics.
There are of course, other downsides – angry drivers, fumes and potholes, not to mention the slowcoach cyclists that block the lanes. But the real downside to cycling in Dublin is theft, which has risen significantly together with the increase in popularity of cycling.
According to the Central Statistics Office, there were 2233 bicycles reported stolen in the first nine months of 2008.
In the same period last year, immediately after the tax incentive scheme started, 3136 bikes were reported stolen, although numbers are thought to be significantly higher as bicycle theft is one of the most under-reported of crimes.
Often it is not the locks that are the problem, but what you lock your bike to. “Quite often the weakest point is what the bike is locked to and that is where people need to take the most care,” says David Cassidy, of Dublin’s Cyclogical bicycle shop. “A lot of poles in the city just lift right out of the ground so, while you think the bike is perfectly secure, it can be stolen in a heartbeat.” He recommends that people should pay in the region of ten percent of the cost of the bike on their lock.
“The cheapest locks on the market might look the same as the better options but there is a world of difference in terms of security. We get a lot of people coming in here who have had their bikes stolen and they are giving out about their locks but by then it is too late.”
Many people don’t bother reporting bike thefts to the Garda, thinking that it’s not likely ever to be recovered. Fallon says this misses the point. “People should always report the theft of a bike to the Garda. It doesn’t matter if there is no chance of getting it back. If you don’t report it then it becomes an accepted norm and bike theft should never be the accepted norm.”
Things are looking down for the thieves however. In February, the Council opened its first off-street CCTV-monitored bike park in Drury Street and while it is not being used as often as the Council would like, it is still early days. The future is looking brighter for Dublin’s cyclists.