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.
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.