21 September 2010

Bubblin' in Dublin

My recent trip to London also afforded me a chance to visit some good friends on an all-too-short 24 hour whirlwind to Dublin, via a cheap ticket on Ryanair (speaking of whom, this may the best argument yet for investing in a high-speed rail network). This marks my third visit in the last 2 1/2 years, and I must declare that I am rightly impressed with the progress that has been made in developing a bike network. During each subsequent trip, the number of bikes on the street seems to grow exponentially. It is doubly impressive considering that my first visit in May 2008 coincided with the entry into a recession which struck Ireland even harder than most countries, and from which it would appear they have some distance to a recovery. Still, the tail of the Celtic Tiger meant that several large capital projects have been underway for some time and are beginning to come online. Dublin Airport's expansion project is nearing completion (for fans of airport architecture, I might add that the new terminal is absolutely stunning) and traffic improvements include new separated cycletracks along the airport approach.

On the bus to An Lar, I made note of the infrastructure; shared bike/bus lanes and bike boxes at intersections were common even in more suburban car-oriented neighborhoods. Pedestrians were abundant as well, areas that don't look much different from any suburb in the States had a life on the streets that would make any New Urbanist green with envy. I reckon this owes to Ireland's economic history more than anything, the culture of car ownership is relatively new and by the time most working-class people could afford one, Dublin was already a densely-built city.

Upon arrival in the Phibsboro neighborhood, it wasn't long before I came across a dublinbikes docking station...an entirely new development since my last visit, run by JCDecaux, who also operates Paris' Vélib' and who was the original first choice to run Chicago's system back in 2007. The scheme would appear to be a resounding success, having drawn 40,000 subscribers in the first six months. Users pay just €10 for an annual hire card, which then allows them to check out bikes from forty stations across the city centre. The first half hour is free, and given that it's possible to walk pretty much all the way across town in that time it means that subscribers are seldom charged. Best of all, the bikes are branded with only a small Dublin City Council logo, as one of the chief complaints toward London's program is the rolling advertisement for the corporate sponsor. That said, I still think London's bikes are better than Chicago's, given that they are much more noticeable coming down the street. While I like the B-Cycles from an aesthetic standpoint, they would be difficult to pick out by somebody unfamiliar with the program. The "Boris bikes" for all their faults are at least also advertisements for the service itself.

Check out this excellent post over at Copenhagenize for more, along with some great photos of Dublin. I really need to get myself a decent camera.

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