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.

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.