Is Ireland facing a transportation crisis?

It seems that not a week goes by these days without another news story about our transportation network.

A few weeks ago we had a three-week strike by Bus Eireann drivers. Over the last few days there was a call for increased road capacity on the N11 as it is so severely congested, and at the same time four people die every day in Ireland as a result of air pollution, about half of which is attributed to traffic emissions.

Certainly there’s a problem with transportation in this country, particularly in our cities. Our over-reliance on cars to get about is only going to get worse over time. Particularly when 44% have a perception that public transport is difficult to use.

The answer is definitely not to build more roads. That’s not going to ease congestion or reduce pollution – it will just encourage more people to drive, and make the situation worse. The only answer is to get people out of their cars, and get them using more sustainable transport options – public transport, cycling and walking.

But how do you convince people to leave the car at home?

We need a mind-shift in Ireland. We need a change in attitude amongst the people that this needs to be tackled. And we need to decide, once and for all, whether we want a properly-funded and sustainable transport network.

That means putting proper investment into trains, busses (including Bus Eireann), trams, cycle lanes, and footpaths – to make our cities into places where its safe and easy to get about without a car. It’s only then, once we’ve made the investment, that people will finally (and willingly) leave their cars behind and we will see lasting reductions in congestion and pollution.

Unfortunately the political will at the moment seems to be leaning in a different direction. Instead of the carrot approach of making sustainable travel appealing, they are making noises about the stick approach of increasing taxation on diesel cars – through increasing fuel duties and tolls. These are the same diesel cars that the government of 10-15 years ago were trying to persuade people to buy, in order to reduce CO2 emissions.

Commute time war stories

I don't know about you, but in my office over the last week or two, there has been loads of discussion amongst my colleagues about the worsening traffic congestion in Dublin. In fact, they seem to find some kind of comfort over the bonding exercise of sharing their horrific commute times war stories.

One colleague has recently gone from a 25 minute drive over the summer to a 2-hour drive now that the schools/colleges are back. That's a long time in anyone's day to be stuck in traffic!

Another colleague realised that, after sitting in traffic queues for an hour, she would have been much quicker leaving the car at home and walking to work.

From listening to the numerous conversations, it's hard for me to comprehend these long commute times, because my journey to work on the bike hasn't changed at all. I can certainly see that the roads have gotten a lot busier, and that previous free-flowing traffic has been replaced with long queues, but they don't really affect me that much.

As a cyclist I can skip past most of the queues. There are one or two narrow sections of roads where there's not enough space for me to get past the cars. I don't want to mount the pavement, as some cyclists do, so I take my place in the queue and wait – but it only ever adds about 1 or 2 minutes to my journey.

If I were to commute by car across south Dublin, the accepted wisdom seems to be that I would need to set off from home before 7.30am in order to guarantee that I would be in before 9.00am. Even a few minutes after 7.30, apparently, and the traffic would be so bad that I wouldn't get in till about 9.30.

Leaving home before 7.30am is a bit of a mental stretch for me. I'm a fairly early riser, but that seems especially early to me. I'm normally still in the shower at that point of the day.

And while I acknowledge that there are some conveniences to using a car, these commute times would be a serious deal-breaker.

I think I'll stick with the bike, and my current departure time of just after 8.00am. I can get into the office in about 20-minutes, regardless of the time of year.

Cyclists aren’t the problem; they’re part of the solution

Taxi drivers seems to be the worst about vocalising their dislike of cyclists. I can't seem to take a cab ride without the driver complaining about cyclists being in the way and slowing them down.

But what they don't realise is that they've got it all wrong. Having to wait before you can safely overtake a cyclist may cost you a few extra seconds on your journey – but the real people who are slowing down your commute aren't cyclists, they are other drivers.

In the city drivers spend significantly more time stuck in queues behind other cars than they do being held up by cyclists.

If you want proof, just think about what happens to the roads when the schools are on holiday. Car commute times often fall dramatically during the holidays, and that's just from a 10-15% drop in traffic volumes.

So what about the cyclists, who account for just over 10% of all traffic in Dublin city centre. Suppose they all suddenly decided one day to stop cycling.  Would the roads be better? No, it would be gridlock!

People mostly cycle distances that are too great to walk. So if they're going to stop cycling and switch to a different mode of transport, then they're either going to end up driving or taking public transport – and you would have thought, if the public transport was any good, they'd already be using it.

In fact, you've probably already witnessed the problem when we get bad weather.  People who would otherwise cycle or walk to work suddenly decide to drive when it starts raining or snowing, and as such the traffic around the city grinds to a halt.

So… drivers (particularly taxi drivers), when you think about it you should be THANKING cyclists for helping to keep traffic on the move.