WexBUG – Wexford Bicycle Users Group
Submission to An Garda Siochana
on the development of the County Wexford Garda Policing Plan 2020.
20 September 2019
Theme: Protection of vulnerable road users from inconsiderate and dangerous driving and parking
‘Cyclists annoy motorists – Motorists kill cyclists’
This imbalance should inform all road safety interactions between these equally valid modes of transport.
This document is a submission on a call for submissions on the development of the County Wexford Garda Policing Plan 2020.
WexBUG welcomes the opportunity to state its priorities for ensuring safety on the roads.
There are a number of issues raised in this submission and each is accompanied by a recommendation for action.
First and foremost, WexBUG would welcome periodic meetings and engagement with An Garda Siochana to discuss road safety for cyclists. As more people cycle and because, like drivers, not all cyclists are well-behaved, there is a risk that tensions will rise. An Garda Siochana as guardians of the peace and protectors of people need to be in the middle of this.
Introduction to WexBUG
Wexford Bicycle Users Group was formed in 2019 by Phil Skelton, the founder of the Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 campaign. WexBUG was established to represent the interests of cyclists and to promote cycling as a sustainable form of active transport in County Wexford.
WexBUG represents all the people who cycle to work, to shops, to school, to the library, with children, with mammy or daddy, for fun, for sport. We represent those people who already do this as well as those who don’t but would like to.
WexBUG represents all people who use bicycles to get around, for whatever reason: the commuter, the student, the pupil, the child at play, the shopper, the leisure cyclist, the exerciser, the tourer, the racer, the off-roader, the courier, the gravel biker, the mountain biker, the unicycler.
Our objective is to ensure that bicycle users can get around safely, in an enjoyable and stress-free manner, without danger or harassment from others.
We aim to achieve this through persuading public authorities to:
- invest in safe, segregated cycling infrastructure,
- acknowledge that roads are shared spaces where cyclists and walkers are vulnerable,
- reduce speed limits in some urban areas and small roads,
- enforce road traffic laws regarding
- incursions onto cycle lanes and footpaths,
- speed and
- parking, and
- promote the safety message without victim-blaming or handing out hi-viz.
This submission on behalf of WexBUG will focus on the enforcement of road traffic laws so that, taking from An Garda Siochana’s strategy, people can be protected.
Cycling is inherently safe.
This irrefutable fact is not universally appreciated. Some people think cycling is a sport and for some people it is. And as a high speed sport, it can be risky for the riders.
But cycling as a means of active transport is not a sport and WexBUG does not represent only sportspeople. Cycling at its simplest is transport undertaken by children, their grannies and granddads and everyone in between. The main, and only significant, danger to the active child or grandparent is motor traffic, sometimes moving, sometimes stationary. This danger can be eliminated simply by providing safe, segregated cycling infrastructure (which to all intents and purposes doesn’t exist in County Wexford).
Absent the provision of safe, segregated cycling infrastructure, cyclists have to use the public road, whether inside a painted line or sharing the carriageway with motor vehicles. In these circumstances, safety can only be assured by enforcement of traffic laws and the goodwill of drivers.
The case for protecting people who choose to walk or use bicycles
Wexford’s main roads are full of traffic, in and out of town. The competition by drivers for space is intense. Consequently roads are generally unsafe for walking and cycling. There is no apparent effort by public authorities to make them safe.
We don’t want the roads made safer!
We want to be safe!
The facts are:
- Drivers continue to drive in cycle lanes and on footpaths.
- Drivers continue to park in cycle lanes and on footpaths.
- Drivers continue to break speed limits and red lights.
- Drivers continue to use their mobile phones while driving or queuing in traffic (“crotch watching”).
- Drivers continue to close pass cyclists and walkers, whether wilfully or through ignorance.
Many of the above activities are illegal and all contribute to the roads being unsafe places. There is no apparent effort to consistently enforce the laws related to these illegal activities.
Each driver CHOOSES to engage in illegal and inconsiderate activities. There is never a compulsion to do so. A driver ALWAYS chooses to drive too fast, or leave their vehicle in a place and manner that poses risk to others. There is always a choice. But there is currently little or no risk of detection.
The bottom line is:
If drivers would just slow down and park respectfully, the roads need not be so dangerous.
Each of the above activities have negative consequences for vulnerable road users and often lead to dangerous consequences, for example:
- A cycle lane occupied by a parked or moving vehicle means a cyclist has to move out into the main thoroughfare, sometimes unexpectedly.
- A footpath blocked by a parked vehicle means the child on a bike (or the person pushing a baby’s buggy or the wheelchair user or the visually impaired person) has to move onto the road.
- A tractor driving in the cycle lane (using it as an overtaking lane) puts apparent pressure on drivers behind to overtake, often illegally.
- The same tractor feels threatening to the cyclist in the cycling lane and, as it pulls out into the vehicle lane in order to overtake the cyclist, puts all road users at risk through unpredictable maneuvers.
As long as these activities are carried on without enforcement and without fear of being caught, cyclists will not be safe on the road or in painted cycle lanes and these will remain mainly uninviting places for people who ride bicycles.
So why would An Garda Siochana want to protect people who use bicycles for travel or leisure?
WexBUG’S own research revealed that 95% of Wexford parents are scared to allow their children to cycle on our roads. This is sadly reflected in our very low numbers of children now cycling to school for example. According to the 2016 Census just 79 pupils cycled to primary school and just 34 to secondary school for all of Co. Wexford. Poor car-centric road design and hostile driver behaviours around vulnerable road users contribute to such low figures in our county.
If it is safe to cycle, more people will cycle. It is Government policy to promote cycling and active transport. If An Garda Siochana can support this objective through prioritised enforcement and protection of people, we are likely to see more people cycling. This means fewer cars on the road and less risk to all.
WexBUG would welcome engagement with An Garda Siochana to work through the issues.
WexBUG recommends that An Garda Siochana prioritise the protection of cyclists and, accordingly, engage with WexBUG to tease out the pertinent issues and how they might be resolved.
It is Wexford County Council’s job to provide safe, segregated cycling infrastructure in County Wexford. In this regard it has provided none to date. Lines are sometimes painted on roads and certain areas are designated as cycling lanes. Footpaths are sometimes converted into unsuitable shared spaces.
Paint is not infrastructure and does nothing to protect cyclists from drivers who couldn’t care less.
And what do these painted areas become? Carparks and overtaking lanes!
In this image a number of cars are blocking the cycle lane on the road into Wexford. When the driver was challenged as to their obstructive parking they responded with aggressive expletives. Needless to say, they didn’t move.
A painted cycling area is commonly or usually used for vehicle parking. The painted cycle lane on the Newtown Road in Wexford around the race course is being used as event parking. The painted cycle lane around Crosstown (Hertz, building sites) is used for parking by rally participants and builders. These drivers should be sanctioned.
Tractors have been observed daily using the painted cycle lane from Ardcavan towards Wexford town as an overtaking lane. These drivers should be stopped and sanctioned. See picture.
Drivers have been observed stopping in the cycling lane (crossing and then sitting across a solid white line) picking up passengers or taking a call. These drivers should be sanctioned and moved on.
This picture shows the cycle lane used as a car park during a race meeting in Wexford. A cyclist can be clearly seen – having had to dismount to pass these cars.
Poor surfacing of roads coupled with speeding by motorists increase the risks to cyclists greatly.
In this picture tar & chip resurfacing which was carried out on many roads across county Wexford in August/September 2019 results in an extremely hazardous and hostile experience for cyclists. Inappropriate speeds by motorists – largely unchecked – increases these risks. The temporary speed limits set of 35kph were completely ignored from the moment the road was reopened after chipping. This is very poor design by the local authority but also a feeling of very little speed enforcement allows motorists free reign.
WexBUG recommends that An Garda Siochana conduct high visibility enforcement and detection of driving and parking in cycling lanes. The danger to cyclists posed by drivers (and their vehicles) in cycling lanes cannot be understated and the risk of detection should be high. In fact, we’d start by saying the risk of detection should exist.
WexBUG recommends that An Garda Siochana engage in speed limit detection in roadworks areas and areas where tar & chip was recently applied. Speed limits are routinely ignored because there is little to no risk of detection.
Badly behaved cyclists
A common refrain from badly behaved drivers is to point to badly behaved cyclists breaking red lights and mounting footpaths. The fact is that not all drivers are badly behaved or inconsiderate or dangerous. Most are not. Equally, not all cyclists are badly behaved or inconsiderate.
The fact is that a badly behaved driver can cause serious injury or death to others. This can happen in an instant through crotch-watching, texting, operation of a radio or impatience (road-rage).
By contrast, a badly behaved cyclist will cause injury to few and death to fewer if any. There have been no recorded deaths caused by cyclists in Ireland in recent years. A badly behaved cyclist is more likely to kill or injure themselves than others. This doesn’t excuse illegal behaviour, but it highlights the different risks posed by illegal behaviour depending on the vehicle (bicycle or motor vehicle) being used.
Drivers are far more likely to be killed or maimed when undertaking their activity compared to cyclists. Not only that, the cyclist poses a vanishingly small risk to other people, compared to the risk posed by drivers to cyclists and pedestrians.
WexBUG recommends that An Garda Siochana enforce the road traffic laws in a proportional manner, stopping non-compliant cyclists only where there are no badly behaved drivers causing a hazard through speeding or illegal parking. Contingent in this recommendation must be a recognition that badly-behaved cyclists are more likely to be a nuisance than a hazard.
Events management plans
The organisers of events generally have to prepare event management and safety plans, of which traffic management and parking are often important elements. Organisers often (typically?) consult An Garda Siochana on these plans.
This picture shows parking for the recent visit of the circus to Wexford (Sept 2019).
The cycle lane is completely blocked for a significant distance alongside the race course. There are parking areas within the race course.
The Wexford People reported on 17/9/2019 (page 20) the Director of Services for roads as saying, in relation to race meetings, “the cars have to park somewhere.” Whilst factually true, WexBUG rejects the sentiment out of hand. Cars or, more accurately, their race-going drivers, should not be allowed to park on cycle lanes just to avoid them having to walk or take shuttle buses from designated parking areas. The car-centric culture illustrated by the director’s statement is something that WexBUG will take up with Wexford County Council. In the meantime, An Garda Siochana and the public at large must live with the consequences of the Council’s laissez-faire attitude to the safety of road users arising from bad events planning, bad road design and parking in cycle lanes.
WexBUG recommends that An Garda Siochana protect people by ensuring that events organisers take measures to respect cycling areas by preventing incursions or parking in them.
Visible Garda presence
It is apparent that so many drivers speed, drive in cycling lanes and park on footpaths because there is no fear of detection. Whilst speed detection vans are commonplace out on the “open road”, they are rarely seen in 50km/h zones where the risk of hitting a cyclist or pedestrian is highest. Where space is tight and urban/suburban speed limits are inappropriately high, detection should be high so that there is a risk of being caught.
Drivers park on footpaths because the risk of detection and sanction is practically zero. Why are the drivers in these photos allowed to park like this?
Parking – the gap between Garda and local authority enforcement
The line between responsibilities of traffic wardens and Garda officers is not clear. We understand that traffic wardens will ticket vehicles parked outside parking areas or where paid parking times are exceeded. Traffic wardens do not work out-of-hours, yet this is when some of the more heinous footpath and cycle lane parking takes place.
It is not apparent that there is any enforcement of parking laws out-of-hours or at weekends.
Also, it’s not clear that traffic wardens operate outside the main towns in County Wexford. For example, WexBUG has never seen a traffic warden in Castlebridge despite footpath parking being the norm. Where footpaths exist in Castlebridge, they are like as not being used as carparks and this poses considerable danger to pedestrians and cyclists. Speeding is also the norm in Castlebridge and this adds to dangers for pedestrians and cyclists. Castlebridge is mentioned here as an example. It is apparent that this situation is repeated across many of County Wexford’s busy small towns.
The UK Government has found that so-called “pavement parking” is more than just an issue to be addressed by traffic wardens. It poses a significant danger to citizens and should be addressed as dangerous driving. WexBUG contends that parking in cycle lanes is the same and should be prioritised for Garda enforcement.
WexBUG recommends that traffic wardens spend less time enforcing parking infringements in parking areas (where there’s no risk to other people) and more time enforcing parking infringements outside of formal parking areas, focusing on footpath and cycle lane parking, where there is real risk to people. It is not clear whether An Garda Siochana have a say in this, but WexBUG would contend that Wexford County Council would respond appropriately if dangerous parking became a priority for An Garda Siochana.
WexBUG recommends that An Garda Siochana protect people out-of-hours by enforcing parking laws outside of formal parking areas. This means ticketing footpath and cycle lane parking when traffic wardens are off-duty.
Reporting criminal activity
Police forces in the UK and elsewhere allow members of the public to report crimes using video and photographic evidence.
Cyclists observe illegal activity on the roads almost every time they go out, from mobile phone use to close passes to illegal parking and driving in cycle lanes. These can easily and quickly be reported using mobile phones. It is only through widespread and consistent detection and enforcement that old (illegal) habits will change.
WexBUG recommends that An Garda Siochana engage with cycling and other civil society groups to find ways to let citizens become ‘eyes-on-the-ground’ thereby increasing the coverage and detection of criminal and dangerous activity.
A few personal accounts in 2019 of WexBUG members dealing with local roads on a bike:
|Who am I?||What happened?|
|I am a professional who commutes to work on the bike through Wexford town||I was knocked off my bike on Wexford bridge on the way to work – summer 2019. I was abused by the driver, told it was my fault, I was breaking the ‘cycling rules’ and the motorist then drove onto the pavement to avoid traffic and drove away.I was nearly hit when a motorist overtook me on the Murrintown road, on a blind corner and a solid white line with a car coming in the opposite direction – Sept 2019.I challenged a motorist parked on a footpath (blocking it for pedestrians) and a double yellow line as to his behaviour. I was told ‘thanks’ but the motorist did not move.I was almost hit by a car on Wexford bridge as it veered into my path. On passing the car I observed the driver fixing their makeup in the rear view mirror – March 2019.|
|I work in an office. I often cycle to work on the bike through Wexford town (male)||I was dangerously overtaken or ‘punishment passed’ in Drinagh when a driver incorrectly informed me that I had to use the unsafe shared pedestrian/cyclist path alongside. – July 2019.|
|I am a fitness instructor – who mostly road cycles for fitness/pleasure. (male)||I was cycling into Wexford via the bridge. I was verbally intimidated by a group of males in a vehicle who attempted to push me off my bike – through the window of their moving vehicle!|
|I work in a 3rd level institution, am a mammy and regularly cycle my 2 kids to school.||I cycle with my children along Whitemill Road in the morning. I use the road and I insist my children cycle on the footpath – as its too dangerous otherwise. There are often cars parked along the footpath which forces all three of us to cycle on the road. Cars then weave around other cars due to the narrow road with two way traffic. (Sept 2019)I regularly pass through the two roundabouts at Clonard Church and the poor visibility and the tendency for cars to bolt due to poor enforcement/adherence to roundabout protocol makes it quite hostile to pedestrians/cyclists. People in cars that stop to allow us to cross are often nearly rear ended for stopping at the pedestrian crossing. Incidentally, these roundabouts are often fraught with ‘Dash’ being the modus operandi as opposed to ‘Yield’. (Note: A child was knocked off their bike Sept 18th 2019 at this location – an ambulance was required)|