Oh you mean the blue fenders that they also tried to sell off as advertising space, but were unable to in the recession
Dublin might be one of the most pedestrian and cyclist friendly capitals in the world. There are no monumental avenues to cross as there are in Paris or New York. Motorists have mostly been beaten into submission by thousands upon thousands of jaywalkers unlike Rome, the vehicular homicide capital of Europe. The entire city centre slopes gently towards a thin river with a frankly excessive number of bridges. And if the main thoroughfares are packed too tightly with traffic and crowds, a pedestrianised side street is never far away. We actually have it so good that Dubliners have lost all sense of proportion when it comes to distance. It might be an arrow straight road from Cineworld on Parnell St down to Temple Bar but manyâ€™s the time that friends and I have ducked into TP Smyths on Jervis St because of â€œthe distanceâ€ we would otherwise have to travel from the cinema to a decent pint.
Cheers secret headquarters, a hollowed-out volcano near St. Stephenâ€™s Green, is inconveniently located for northsiders such as myself. Its location was especially inconvenient when I got off the DART at Tara St one evening in May to find an entire month of belated April showers bucketing down. With the usual half-hour walk from the Liffey completely out of the question, the solitary thought that ran through my mind as I pedalled soddenly along Dame St like a starfish on the run was, â€œthank God for Dublin Bikes.â€ I was still dripping dolefully when I arrived at the staff meeting, but at least my exposure to the Irish climate had only lasted for ten minutes and not thirty.
Dublin Bikes is a cycling scheme that was launched in September of last year to massive acclaim. The city resounds these days to a gentle trill from the bells of over four hundred rent-a-bikes provided by Dublin City Council and advertisers JC Decaux. From forty stations across the city centre, handsome blue-fendered bicycles are available to revolutionise the Dublinerâ€™s relationship with his cityâ€™s streets.
I am a long-time pedestrian and now first-time urban cyclist. Living out on the cityâ€™s fringe, where the postcodes meet the county, cycling into town has never been a realistic option for me. My poor bike has been looking at me reproachfully for years now, all too aware of the big, cycle-tracked world that it has long been denied because of the bus stop right outside my front door. In any event, I came to the Dublin Bike scheme with no knowledge of transporting myself by wheel along hectic traffic arteries.
I still remember my first time and that youthful flush of nervous anticipation that I felt as I sidled up to the station beside the GPO. Perpetuating the usual gung-ho enthusiasm that I reserve for stupid notions that enter my head, I had paid the â‚¬10 fee for the annual Long Term hire card. I climbed onto a bike and wobbled embarrassingly too and fro until my feet had a grip of the pedals and I of long repressed memories of how to actually cycle. And then, with a beseeching prayer to the Creator, I swung out into traffic with the world, as a friend once unforgettably put it, as my lobster.
It was a revelation on that short initial trip up to the Bull & Castle by Christchurch (I didnâ€™t cycle for my supper so much as for a session) and it remains so today. Dublin is a fantastic city for cycling. With a good pair of legs under you and the bike in the third of its three gears, youâ€™ll find yourself moving at roughly the same speed as most motorised traffic as you curve around Parliament House on College Green and shoot down the middle of Westmoreland St, like an interplanetary space probe breaking orbit. No longer the drudge of the trudge from one end of the city centre to the other when you can freewheel down the long, southside hill from Camden St to the Liffey and then cycle up to the top of Capel St within ten to fifteen minutes. If DITâ€™s student body cops onto the benefits of these bikes for travelling from one faculty building to another, thereâ€™ll be none left for the rest of us. Dublin Bikes bring the points of an already compact city centre even closer together. What has been for decades referred to as â€œtownâ€ now truly feels like one.
I know Iâ€™m babbling but these bicycles are an absolute joy. In the week that I wrote this article, I found myself spending a pleasant afternoon criss-crossing the city centre on Dublin Bikes, conducting interviews. Build up speed on the little plateau in the Liberties from High Street to Christchurch and then down little Castle St and Dame Lane, avoiding as many traffic-strewn main roads as possible. A quick turn up South Great Georgeâ€™s St and then a left onto Wicklow St, where the cars were outnumbered by tourists. Then an intrusion onto Grafton St, the mecca of pedestrian Dublin, where my wheels and bell were not appreciated, and a right turn to Nassau St, where the buses could be outpaced and the smart cyclist raises his rear from the saddle, so as to avoid losing a filling from the full-body shocks and vibrations that the potholed surface throws up. And finally to the Georgian serenity of Merrion Square, where I could lazily pedal under the dappled leaves and almost forget that my journey had a destination.
If you havenâ€™t tried Dublin Bikes, then I urge you to pony up the price of a small coffee and buy a three day ticket for â‚¬2. Experience the convenience of cycling around town in a bike that you can leave behind at the end of your travels. In the sun, it beats walking. In the rain, it replaces it.
Rail passengers heading for the city are being encouraged to get on their bike rather than take a taxi or hire a car, with a cycle rental and storage scheme being copied from the Netherlands.
Abellio Group, whose parent company runs the Dutch railway, is behind the first such facility, which will open in Leeds in July. Passengers will be able to rent bikes by the day from the Cyclepoint, as well as lock up their own machines, have repairs done and buy cycling accessories or bikes. The Leeds Cyclepoint is funded with a Â£500,000 grant from the Department for Transport, through Network Rail, which is being spent on the new two storey building.
Evans Cycles has been contracted to run the facility and will supply 350 bikes for rent at Â£8 per day. The charge for storage is likely to be Â£1 a day, with discounts for season ticket holders.
Plans are in place to introduce radial cycling routes from the suburbs into the centre by 2011, aimed at people living three or four miles outside the city centre. It is also proposed that satellite cycle points at other nearby Northern Rail stations, such as Bradford, Harrogate and Skipton, could be created so that passengers could start and finish their rail journeys by cycling.
Abellioâ€™s parent company NedRail found that the provision of extra cycle parking and bike storage had substantially boosted the number of passengers it carries. However, in the Netherlands, a third of all trips to and from the station are undertaken by bicycle, whereas in Britain only 2 per cent of rail passengers arrive by bike. At the moment about 100 passengers a day leave their bikes at Leeds station.
Anton Valk, the chief executive of Abellio, believes that the number of rail passengers beginning and ending their journeys by bike could increase substantially if the facilities that his company runs for the Dutch state railway are adopted in Britain. In the Netherlands, cycle hubs can be found at 40 stations and have between 500 and 3,000 cycles per station.
Mr Valk, who cycles daily from Marylebone to his Central London office on the fringes of the City, said that if the Leeds Cyclepoint pilot proved successful, his company would like to introduce others. The Department for Transport and Network Rail have earmarked Liverpool Lime Street, where Abellio operates Merseyrail; Londonâ€™s St Pancras, Victoria and Waterloo stations; Grimsby; Hull; Scunthorpe, Sheffield and York in the next two years.
The Leeds Cyclepoint will be situated directly in front of the station, next to the taxi rank. The development will start small but storage can be increased as demand grows.
Capital idea, Mr Mayor
Behind the story: Alex Spence
Thousands of new cyclists will be encouraged to take to Central London streets after the launch of a Â£140 million bicycle hire scheme on July 30.
The brainchild of Boris Johnson, Londonâ€™s Mayor, the scheme will allow the public access to 6,000 Canadian-made bikes from 400 docking stations across the city. The Mayor claims the scheme will generate an additional 40,000 cycle journeys each day and revolutionise transport in Central London.
The fleet, which will be maintained by Serco, the services group, is based on a scheme in Montreal that had more than a million users in its first year. Other cities have similar schemes. Parisâ€™s VÃ©lib, below, has become a favourite of tourists since it was launched in 2007 and now has 20,000 bikes at almost 1,700 locations. In Hangzhou, China, a scheme is said to have 40,000 bikes. Other cities with bike-sharing schemes include Berlin, Barcelona and Mexico City.