At 12.40 pm on Tuesday on Westland Row in central Dublin, three vehicles sat parked in the cycle lane, which was marked off from the road by a solid white line.
Towards one end of the street, a couple of guys in luminous yellow waterproofs worked near to their white Transit van. Every now and then, they’d pop back to pick up a tool they needed.
They parked there because they needed to be close to where they were working, said Eoin MacDonagh, soaked from the rain and a little sheepish.
He was conscious that it would be an obstacle for cyclists, but the only other option seemed to be to pull up onto the pavement, which would make it a struggle for prams and wheelchairs to get past. “It’s the way the city is constructed,” he said.
It’s been more than a year since cycling campaigners launched the #FreeTheCycleLanes hashtag to raise awareness about the rules for parking in cycle lanes, and the dangers to cyclists when they have to draw out into traffic with vehicles.
But not much has changed, says Mike McKillen, a spokesperson for Cyclist.ie and a road-safety consultant. “It’s been a complete and utter waste of time.”
What Are the Rules?
It can sometimes be unclear when it’s legal to park in cycle lanes, and when it isn’t. It varies depending on the kind of painted line, and whether there are signs that limit when the lane is in operation.
If a cycle track is bordered by an unbroken white line next to the vehicular traffic lanes, then — save for a few exceptions such as fire engines — only bicycles and motorised wheelchairs can use the track, said a spokesperson for the Road Safety Authority.
If a cycle track has a broken white line, other drivers can use the track if it isn’t occupied. “A driver may park in a non-mandatory cycle track for up to 30 minutes, but only if they are loading or unloading their vehicle and there is no alternative parking available,” she said.
Some cycle tracks might be operational for just part of the day, so cars can park in them at other times. But “if there is no information plate, it means the cycle track operates all the time and no parking is allowed”, she said.
As McKillen sees it, though, those rules are not being enforced.
As reported on irishcycle.com, between 30 July and 30 September 2015, gardai fined 112 motorists for blocking cycle lanes, according to a Department of Justice response to a parliamentary question fielded by the independent TD Tommy Broughan.
Those are low figures and show the issue isn’t being taken seriously, says McKillen. “It’s really an example of discretionary policing taken to an art form,” he said. But there’s no room for discretion in the law so he’s thinking about approaching the Garda Inspectorate to press the issue.
Whether the figures have changed since then is a bit unclear. An Garda Siochana and the Central Statistics Office both said they did not have up-to-date statistics on how many enforcement actions gardai have taken against vehicles parked illegally in cycle lanes.
Jim Molloy in the An Garda Siochana Press Office said that they do enforce the rules. “Road Traffic regulations are fully enforced by An Garda Síochána. If anyone observes any breeches of the regulations they should contact their local Garda Station,” he said by email.
So far this year according to a Dublin City Council Press Office spokesperson, the council’s traffic wardens have “enforced” 203 vehicles for parking on cycle tracks, 1,002 vehicles for parking in bus lanes — which are also cycle lanes — and 3,139 vehicles for parking in clearways, many of which also contain cycle lanes.
What’s the Next Step?
There are moves afoot at Dublin City Council to clamp down on illegal parking in cycle lanes.
Fine Gael Councillor Paddy Smyth has a motion that could come up soon at the transport committee.
He wants the council’s parking-enforcement unit to to set up an electronic system so that people can alert council tow trucks — perhaps by text, or using a hashtag #FreeTheCycleLanes — to come and pull away cars parked in cycle lanes.
“Essentially, it would mean that you could use Twitter to say, right, somebody’s parking in the cycle lane in Rathmines and the tow truck has to get there as soon as possible,” said Smyth. It’s not safe for cyclists to be weaving in and out of cycle lanes to avoid parked vehicles, he said.
There would be issues to be ironed out: what happens if somebody calls out the tow truck but the car is parked legally? And how much would the system cost the council to bring in?
But it’s an idea that other councillors say they think has merit. “If you look at cities where cycling is really working — Copenhagen, Amsterdam, so many cities in Germany and Holland — you wouldn’t get cars and vans parking in the cycle lane,” said Labour Councillor Andrew Montague.
It would be great for Dublin’s transport system if the city could continue to grow the number of trips taken by bike, and encourage kids, and women in particular, to cycle, said Montague. “If we’re going to reach out to a broader audience for cycling, we have to give people confidence that it’s safe to cycle,” he said.
As some see it, though, there are already mechanisms to report parking in cycle lanes. People are encouraged to report cases to gardai, and there’s also the “How’s My Driving” initiative, said Conor Faughnan, director of consumer affairs for AA Ireland.
It is unacceptable when cars park in cycle lanes, in the same way that its unacceptable when cars park in disabled bays, said Faughnan. “If a motorist does park in a cycle lane it is inconvenient, obnoxious, and potentially dangerous,” he said.
But he’d be wary of any singling out of one type of transport when, he says, pedestrians and cyclists can also be bad road users.
“I do think there’s an unfairness here, painting a picture that we have a behaviour problem among motorists, and cyclists are suffering because of it. Because that is not true,” he says. “We have a behaviour problem with a small proportion of citizens and we see that behaviour across all transport modes.”
“Is the same hotline going to be used to report cyclists mounting footpaths and breaking red lights? Because that’s every bit of poor,” said Faughnan.
About 15 metres behind the white transit van on Westland Row on Tuesday, another two vehicles were parked in the unbroken-lined cycle lane. Inside one of the nearby stores, three men were fitting out a shop.
They wouldn’t be able to get into the multi-story car parks because their van is to big, said one young guy with blonde hair. And they had to carry some stuff into the store, so didn’t think they had much choice but to pull up there.
Most of the images that McKillen of Cyclist.ie sees of vehicles parked in cycle lanes are vans and delivery trucks, he says. There are some taxis, some other vehicles, but they’re usually one-offs here and there. “All the people that are breaking the law are commercial vehicles,” said McKillen.
That’s why he thinks the state has been slow to enforce rules around parking in cycle lanes – it might be seen as anti-businesses.
That could be solved in part by adding more loading bays as parts of developments, he said. But that’s tough sell becomes sometimes developers don’t want to cede space in a site’s area to uses like that. “I blame planners for not having standards for different buildings,” he said.