Safe to Cycle? – Let’s See!

People often ask if it is safe to cycle. With the relative quietness of our roads recently, and more people taking to cycling, the question is more pertinent than ever.

I mounted a bike for the first time at the age of 6. My mother holding the handlebars, my big sister the saddle, suddenly and simultaneously let go, without warning. Like sink or swim, or topple or cycle in this instance, thankfully the latter prevailed and I’ve been at it pretty much ever since. A lifetime of almost daily cycling, to and from school, college, work, and now running my own bike tours, has given me  a good insight into the enjoyment that cycling can bring, but also the hazards and how to avoid them or adapt to stay safe.

There are many aspects to cycling safely, from bike condition, surface condition, weather, clothing and visibility, observation and reaction, behaviour, and so on. These subjects are frequently discussed and well documented. For the purposes of this piece, my focus is on one important aspect: cycling infrastructure.

As Dublin is where I live and have lived for most of my life, this is where my analysis is based. I also focus on the urban and suburban environment, where there is a variety of hazards. That is not to say that cycling on rural roads, mountain trails and elsewhere are hazard free, but we will leave them for another time.

Why focus on infrastructure?

For sure, all of the aspects mentioned before are important for safe cycling, but I believe that the importance of good or bad infrastructure, and their impact on the safety of users, are often underestimated, and even overlooked. Simple measures such as the installation of bollards, demarcation of lanes, or even simple signage, can all have significantly positive impacts. Contrary to what media headlines might frequently suggest, I believe it is a lack of clarity or awareness on the part of all road users that is often the main culprit when it comes to accidents and near misses, and not just careless behaviour. While this does exist, most people want to do the right thing, and well engineered, clear and consistent infrastructure really does go a long way to facilitating this desire, in my view.

With all of the above in mind, I have classified the cycling infrastructure into three broad categories, with further sub categories in each. Their definitions are broadly based on The National Cycle Manual produced by the National Transport Authority (NTA). While this is a very comprehensive and detailed document, its 236 pages contain far too much information than could be summarised here. Furthermore, I have disregarded some of its classifications which are less relevant, and simplified some of the terminology used.

The first broad category is the Cycle Track. While the terms Cycle Path and Cycle Way seem to be used interchangeably here, I’ve gone with Track for simplicity. This is the category that is away from roadways and is typically found in public parks and amenity areas, such as greenways and towpaths, for example. More detail on the subcategories anon.

The second broad category is the Cycle Lane. This is a demarcated lane along the side or adjacent to a roadway. There are three sub categories, and again, more anon.

The third broad category is simply where there is Shared Space on the roadway, where there is no demarcation and the cyclist shares the road with other users. The three sub categories here are to do with the type of road and its environment.

If you are already familiar with the types of cycling infrastructure, you may have noted the omission of other categories and terms, such as shared bus and cycle lanes, contra-flow lanes, raised cycle lanes, and so on. These omissions are intentional, not just for simplicity, but also because their differences are relatively insignificant for our purposes here, which is to give a general overview of the types of cycling infrastructure, and how each makes cycling safer.

Category 1 – Cycle Tracks


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Many parks and amenity areas have dedicated cycle lanes which are separate from pedestrian paths. They are recognisable typically by continuous white lines, like the mandatory cycle lanes on roads, and a bicycle symbol at regular intervals. This is probably the safest of all cycling infrastructure, as the cyclist is not only away from roads, but is also separated from other users. Examples are in Tolka Valley Park and along the River Liffey between Chapelizod and War Memorial Park.


More common in parks and amenity areas are shared use tracks, sometimes indicated by a cycling / pedestrian symbol. Again, being away from roads avoids traffic hazards, but there remains a duty of care on all users, and on the cyclist especially, to travel at a safe speed and manner. As with all shared spaced, the risk of the unexpected is greater. One of many such examples is an dog lead extended across the cyclist’s direction of travel. Byelaws governing the precise use of shared tracks can vary between local authorities, but the general rule of thumb is unless there is a sign prohibiting cycling, then it is permitted but with due care and attention to other users, and cyclists should give priority to pedestrians. Some parks such as Marlay, Herbert, Sandymount and Griffith Parks have clear signage prohibiting cycling, but most parks do allow shared use.

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Category 2 – Cycle Lanes


Very simply, the segregated cycle lane runs alongside the road but is separated by a physical barrier or feature. Typically, this is a series of bollards or a kerb. Sometimes the cycle lane is elevated above the level of the road. Other times there may be a space between the road and the cycle lane, typically in the form of a grass verge. The additional protection afforded to the cyclist allows for more freedom of movement and a more enjoyable experience, as well as being safer. However, much depends on the layout, continuity and integration of these lanes, and due care is still required at busy junctions especially. This type of lane is more recent than the other sub categories, but they are generally designed with most new roads, upgrades and developments, where space allows.

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The word dedicated may have been more appropriate than mandatory, but the latter is the official term so we’ll go with that. This cycle lane is part of the actual road surface, usually running along its left hand edge. The distinguishing feature of this lane is the continuous white line. Its surface is sometimes, but not always, a different colour from that of the rest of the road. The main point to note is the mandatory cycle lane is for cyclists exclusively, and no other road users are permitted to enter. It is important for all road users, and not just cyclists, to be aware of this. Anecdotally from general observation, it would appear this awareness is sometimes lacking: vehicles are often stopped or parked in these lanes.


The advisory lane is similar to the mandatory lane, with the exception that it is demarcated by a dashed or broken white line, as opposed to a continuous one. This lane is a shared space of sorts, in that other road users are permitted to enter it, but cyclists are given priority. The design guidance is that the advisory lane is deployed where it is impractical to prohibit other road users, typically when there is insufficient road space. Safety can be assured provided all road users are aware of the guidance, and behave accordingly.

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Category 3 – Shared (Road) Space

Suburban  / Residential

Roads with no cycle lanes which pass through residential and suburban areas. While there is no additional protection for the cyclist, of the shared road spaces, this environment generally poses the least risk to the cyclist. Speed limits and traffic levels tend to be lower than on other roads. When planning a cycle route, in the absence of cycle tracks or lanes, the cyclist should try to use these types of roads if possible.

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It may seem odd to include rural roads as a sub category in Dublin, but there are many back and minor roads, in the outskirts of the county especially, which best fit this description. Cycling on quiet country roads can be extremely pleasant, especially from late spring to early autumn, when it is common to find oneself passing through a tunnel of colourful foliage of trees arching across the road overhead. Cycling these roads can be reasonably safe, but being especially visible and aware are important: surprises can appear unexpectedly around tight corners or at hidden junctions.

Urban / Main 

When planning cycle routes, unless there is an imperative to get to my destination within a timeframe otherwise not possible, I do try to avoid cycling on urban streets and main roads that do not have cycle lanes. That is not to say they cannot be negotiated safely, but the quantity and variety of hazards, and the associated risks, generally rise significantly. It is only through decades of cycling through busy streets that I have learnt how to manage these risks, and developed skills in identifying and dealing with frequent hazards. I would only recommend this environment for experienced cyclists, or being accompanied by one. If you must, apply extra caution, be visible, and obey all the rules of the road. Many junctions especially, are old and not designed for the modern day, and it is often faster and safer (though not always) to dismount and cross as a pedestrian.

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This overview is based on my observations from several decades cycling through Dublin City and County. Though not without risk, I firmly believe that cycling here is safer than some media headlines and commentary may suggest, and the trends in awareness and proper provision of infrastructure are positive. The huge increase in the popularity of cycling, seemingly brought about in response restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, have probably fed into this also. A recent survey report indicates that the numbers cyclists crossing the grand canal citybound was double that of the same period a year ago. In locations such as the North (Liffey) Quays, Nassau St. and Blackrock Village, the types of initiatives that seem to have been just talked about for years, even decades, have suddenly been implemented.

New Cycle Lane on Ormond Quay

Cycle Lane Through Blackrock Village

See the summary table below of the different types of cycling infrastructure below.

I plan to soon post a series of my top cycle routes in Dublin. Each route will have a breakdown of the proportion of cycle lanes as described here, so readers will hopefully gain an informed appreciation of as to their merits.

I do hope I have encouraged more of you to venture out on your bike, armed with some information to help you better enjoy a safer cycle.