Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ban the Bike

The word freedom is no longer understood in Ireland. We have no experience of the thing, and we have almost lost our conception of the idea. So completely is this true that the very organisations which exist in Ireland to champion freedom show no disposition themselves to accord freedom: they challenge a great tyranny, but they erect their little tyrannies. "Thou shalt not" is half the law of Ireland, and the other half is "Thou must."
P. H. Pearse*
I wonder is there a deep, dark flaw in the Irish psyche that makes us behave so cravenly before authority? Some atavistic throw-back to colonialism, and therefore the fault of You-Know-Who? It takes a lot for me to give up hope, but yesterday, driving behind a car travelling at less than 30 kph on a nearly empty Dublin city street, did just that. The driver in front was, of course, making sure she did not exceed the new speed limit, and just to be doubly-sure she was driving at closer to 20 kph. Ferdinand von Prondzynski had a similar experience.

The new speed limit is, you understand, designed by a species of superior intelligence - called politicians - for our own good. In the press release accompanying the changes, Dublin City Council even claims to have science on its side:
A review of accident statistics for the Dublin City area for the period 1998 – 2007 reveals that 47% of fatalities and 24% of injured persons were pedestrians. Research indicates that the percentage of pedestrians killed when in a collision with a vehicle travelling at 50 kph is 45 % but reduces to 5% when the vehicle speed is 30 kph.
I find this wording somewhat curious. Firstly, we are given percentages not numbers (are we taking dozens of fatalities or thousands?), then it refers to 'research indicates' - in other words, it isn't DCC's research, it's someone elses. Okay, it is just a press release, so I went to their website to get hold of the review. I wanted to examine the supporting data and analyses that our moral and intellectual superiors had drawn upon before handing down their decision from Olympus-on-the-Liffey. And I found it. There's even a handy link on the DCC website to the full report on the new speed limits. It's a pdf, but be careful about your download limits. Especially as it's all of one-page-long ...

That's right: the daily lives of tens of thousands of Dublin city drivers are being made miserable by people who can't even be bothered providing the statistical evidence to justify their decision. Of course this isn't about science - or safety for that matter - it's about ideology. An ideology that wallows in an anti-Millsean ethos of 'the greatest misery of the greatest number'. And yet more evidence of the 'tyranny of experts' that we now suffer under, and not just in Ireland.

After all, if we were being logical about this, then we would ban cars completely from our roads and cities. Read the data above: 5% of pedestrians in collision with a vehicle travelling at 30 kph are killed. So what are our Olympian politicians saying: 'feck the 5%'? Surely a case for the next surviving victim of a road accident in our capital city to take the Council to court for its negligence? Such are the logical cul-de-sacs you end up in when politics is no longer occupied by the historic struggle between the champions-of-freedom and the champions-of-equality, but instead has been reduced to a sad, bureaucratic exercise in risk management. By so-called experts who, when the evidence shows that their laws don't work, simply refuse to reverse them.

But I have a simple suggestion for Dublin City Council. Inspired by Theodore Dalrymple's 'suggestion' to ban lampshades, why not go the whole hog and ensure that no cyclists or pedestrians are ever again threatened by the risk of motor accidents: and ban all pedestrians and cyclists from the city centre? After all, the majority of people travelling into the city do so by car (and there are even statistics to support this). It might not go down too well with those of a NIMBY (no-incinerator-in-my-back-yard) disposition, but I have a feeling it might actually be more popular than the current policy.

Luckily we still get to elect the people who dream up these policies, and I'm sure the car drivers of Dublin will use the next opportunity to let the 'experts' know what they think of them. So long, of course, as the experts continue to think it wise to let us do such a risky thing as actually choose our own government.

* for our younger readers, Pearse was the best Minister for Education we never had, see: The Murder Machine


  1. Gerard, DCC have a made a poor case but then your critique is pretty lousy too. I think most people would accept that the maximum speed limit should be finite and there is a trade-off involved: too high and its dangerous, too low and it defeats the purpose of cars. So you have to strike a balance and they have gone for one in particular. Their logic doesn't imply banning cars any more than your logic implies letting boy racers do 100mph down Dame Street.
    I am not living in Dublin now so I can't judge how its working out and I like driving (& fast too) but some moderation of the speed limits doesn't seem so appaling if there is a significant saving of lives.
    As for the tyranny of experts, I am not so sure. My own view is that the economy would be in a far far better shape if economists & experts in bank regulation had been listened to seriously in recent years. I presume you disagree then?
    And if we don't listen to experts, who do we listen to? Mystic Meg, celebrities, the man on the 46A bus?

  2. i was being sarcastic Kevin, in the spirit of Swift's proposal to eat the poor.

    Sure we need speed limits and regulations - but like I said: we are dealing with ideological motives here, not science. And the dearth of supporting evidence for DCC's decision speaks volumes for their condescending attitude towards the city's citizens.

    Whether car drivers or pedestrians.

  3. I think its clear the underlying government/county council ethos is to remove cars from the city center at whatever cost (as long of course as they retain their own spaces). Of course we learn today that 96% of convictions challenged in courts for serious driving offences never get points.

    So the lesson is (and I think it applies to murder equally so) if you do something wrong - go to court. The peole who administer justice are equally incompetent.

  4. No doubt it is annoying to be crawling along in your car. But it's not the entire city of Dublin we're talking about here, just a restricted area in the city centre. I remember listening to a man from Jerusalem who said all traffic has been banned from the city centre there for years (because of bomb risks) and that everyone loves getting around on public transport and walking. No traffic jams!

    I drive a car, but when I was in Trinity some years ago, crossing the lights at College Green felt like an episode from a bad 'Bond' movie. It could take 15 minutes crossing from Trinity to the Bank of Ireland, while the lights seemed to be stuck on green for all the traffic thundering past at full belt. I felt especially sorry for the blind and infirm, as the green man for pedestrians was visible for such a short time that we all had to rush across the road while the impatient motorists revved their engines and started moving before the old people were even across the road.

    It's all very well complaining about the inconvenience while sitting comfortably in your car, but how about trying it from the pedestrian's side of the fence Gerard?

  5. Many cities have banned cars in city centres and even though some people resisted, the result is usually extremely popular and it has many benefits. If we really want to move to sustainability, this is an idea that needs to spread.

  6. As a cyclist and very infrequent driver the whole 30km debate, including this article strikes me as a tad hysterical. It is a limited area in Dublin City Centre yet from what was said on radio and newspapers you would think it applied to the mass of commuters who come into Dublin each day.

  7. Just to add to the debate I have pasted a link below to an article from Frank McDonald in today's Irish Times. I was particularly interested to hear that the council's transport committee was also behind the Dublin Bikes scheme and College Green Bus Gate something I didn't hear mentioned amidst the hysteria that greeted the speed limit changes. The article also states that over a 12 year period in the area covered by the 30km speed limit 25 people lost their lives and 200 were seriously injured. Didn't say which 12 year period or cite the source of the info. Personally I would love to see the quays being exploited more for pedestrian/tourist purposes, obviously the traffic would have to go somewhere else. As to where that might be, well I don't have the answer to that.

    Dublin City Speed Limit


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