I was born in 1970 and grew up on a farm in west Limerick. I can’t ever remember not being able to cycle as racing my bike on improvised courses through empty sheds and yards was a regular source of entertainment as a child. When BMX arrived in Ireland in the early eighties, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. We lived a little under 2 miles from Rathkeale so cycling to and from town for GAA or soccer training would also have been a regular habit. It wasn’t until I went to college in Dublin that I first encountered cycling with traffic. I can’t say it really bothered me, in fact I think I enjoyed the excitement of it. I was in college in Dublin from 90-93 and the motor traffic volumes then were a fraction of what they are now. After college and nearly 3 years living in Barcelona, I returned to Dublin and bought my first car – a Toyota Corolla. That was 1996. Since then, I have pretty much relied on my car (not the same one) as my sole mode of transport. Cycling for fun was pretty much forgotten about although I and a couple of old college friends did go through a short mountain bike phase soon after I returned from Barcelona. It wasn’t until 2008 before I started to cycle for fun again, thanks to my friend Martin who persuaded me to do the Etape du Tour in France in July 2009. We went on to ride other events such as La Marmotte in France and the Maratona dles Dolomites in Italy. Sadly, Martin died suddenly in 2014 aged only 36 so I will always remember those trips with fondness but I also started racing in 2009 which I found much more enjoyable – perhaps it was the adrenaline rush that reminded me of my childhood racing about the yards at home, who knows? I loved the suffering of racing. I loved the speed. I even won a race once. The joy I felt after was almost spiritual! That was just over 5 years ago and I have hardly raced since. I lay the blame for this at the arrival of… children! And possibly laziness too…
My first was born 5 years ago and my second nearly 3. I know there are lots of people with kids who race bikes but between work and parenthood, I certainly didn’t have the motivation to put the time and effort into cycling that I felt was necessary to make racing enjoyable. As our youngest is coming out of the toddler stage and becoming more independent, I am slowly finding the time to get back on the bike again.
But this isn’t really about me. I am a designer by day. My primary field of design for the past 20 years has been software but I have practised in other areas of design from time to time too. The title usually used to describe me is a User Experience (UX) designer. It’s a term I loathe but for now we’ll stay with it. As a designer who’s focus is always on how people will use the things I design for them, I have found that good product design is more about understanding people than engineering. As I live in Limerick but work in Dublin, I rely on my car for commuting. It’s not a scenario I am completely happy with but that’s just how things have worked out for me. As someone who commutes across the country to work by car, I have lots of time to observe and contemplate the design of our travel infrastructure, particularly in urban areas like Limerick and Dublin. Whenever possible I take the bike to run simple errands in Limerick or Dublin but 99% of my trips are done by car which I’m not too happy about. But that’s not the worst of it.
Everyday, I continue to observe with growing disbelief the poor design of our urban travel infrastructure and the continued prioritisation of motor traffic over people whenever the two come into contact with each other. Whenever I use my bike to do something simple like going into town for a meeting or to buy something more extravagant than a pint of milk, I haven’t got particularly upset sharing roads with motor traffic, dodging potentially dangerous manoeuvres by motorists not expecting to see someone on a bike or entering and exiting completely random, fragmented, nonsensical cycle lanes. I’m not sure why, it could once again go back to my childhood and the fun we had racing through obstacle courses at breakneck speed. But I know only a very small minority of people would accept that cycle travel experience.
I studied industrial design in college and whenever one particular tutor of ours was discussing the ergonomics of our designs, his usual questions always started with “what if a child…”? This catchphrase became something of a joke to us. We would ridicule such a question by asking each other similar style questions about ‘serious’ things. “What if a child was to open the escape hatch in the submarine”. “What if a child was to put her head inside the oven while you were baking a cake”. You probably had to be there at the time but this catchphrase has been on my mind constantly of late with regards our travel infrastructure. “What if a child wanted to cycle to school?” “What if a child wanted to cycle to their friend’s house?” “What if I wanted to cycle with my children into the Milk Market on a Saturday morning?”
My eldest boy is now 5 and able to cycle but in order to do so, we have to drive someplace safe first before unloading the bikes and experiencing the simple joy of cycling. This angers and saddens me. This is why I have decided to start this blog. I have been frustrated about the poor state of our travel infrastructure for years but I have coped with it. But now that I have kids that are coming to an age where they should have the freedom to cycle anywhere themselves, to explore, to learn, to be social, my wife and I could easily become another set parents who will spend the next 10-15 years of our lives providing a daily taxi service for them instead. Cycling as a simple mode of transport, a simple way of getting from A to B, for all of us, is practically non-existent in Limerick. This is not only bad for those that would like to use a bike to get around, it’s also bad for those that want to use a car, for public transport, for pedestrians, for business.
The aim of this blog is to address the issues that have caused or are continuing to cause this problem. My primary focus will be the use of bikes as a mode of transport in Limerick but I will also look at our public system from time to time as we need a fully integrated, multi-system transport network unlike today’s car centric one. I will examine our cycle infrastructure (that may not take long as we have none), design and human behaviour and how we supposedly promote cycling and encourage people to cycle more. Maybe no one will read this but that’s okay. Maybe someone will read this and completely disagree with my views but that’s okay too. I’ve simply had enough with our abysmal attitude towards cycling as a mode of transport so rather than do nothing, I hope that this may enlighten a few more people to the problems that exist which might somehow result in change for the better.