The cycle lanes on Harold’s Cross Road aren’t anything special. A string of dashed white lines here, a wide lane shared with buses there.
But they were busy on Monday morning.
A woman in a helmet with a wicker basket on the front of her bike. A man with no helmet, but a great moustache. Another guy with a cargo bike.
All buzzed past cars and buses crawling along this eastern edge of the Terenure A electoral division.
It’s a sliver of the city lying between Kimmage Road and Harold’s Cross Road, stretching south from Harold’s Cross Park to Mount Tallant Avenue.
It’s also the electoral division in Dublin with the highest share of people who, when asked “How do you usually travel to work, school, college or childcare?” responded “Bicycle”, according to the 2022 census: about 20 percent.
So why is this part of the city so cycle-y?
Location, location, location?
Terenure A is in the cycling sweet spot, distance-wise. A bit too far for an easy walk into town, but still close enough that it’s an easy cycle.
But it is far from the only electoral division in Dublin that fits this description.
On a map of Ireland’s electoral divisions, with each one colour-coded by what share of people responded to that census question by saying “Bicycle”, if you zoom in on Dublin, it looks like a blue donut on a green background.
Those blue electoral divisions ringing the inner-city have the highest shares of people who say they commute by bicycle.
But if you look, in the south-west of this ring, there’s a bit of the donut that is even bluer than the rest.
So there must be other factors, besides distance from town, that make Terenure A – and neighbouring electoral divisions – more cycle-y than the rest of the city.
Some might also be related to geography.
Fixing a customer’s bike at the Life in Motion cafe and bike shop near Harold’s Cross Park, Juan Rodriguez says it’s also a pretty flat ride, no hills to speak of.
And, says Colm Ryder, Dublin Cycling Campaign’s representative on the council’s transport committee, “it sits directly between 2 major commuter routes”.
However, other people who live and work in the area suggested more factors that could be in play.
Is it the type of person who lives here?
At Michael Grant Motors, on Harold’s Cross Road, car salesman Rob Gugles mentions the area’s distance from town. But there’s something else too, he says.
“I think it’s more of a cultural thing here than anything else,” says Gugles, sitting behind his desk on Monday morning. “And there’s a lot of young, healthy people who live in this area.”
Gabrielle McCarron, who lives in Terenure A, says she grew up in Drumcondra. “I always cycled,” she says, standing at the door to her house on Monday morning, bicycles in her front garden.
“I still cycle. My kids cycle – I have three boys. My husband cycles,” she says. Not only that, she’s healthy club officer at St Kevin’s hurling club, where they are working on encouraging more people to cycle to trainings and games.
McCarron’s family are far from the only cyclists in Terenure A, she says.
She names a couple down the street who run a “bike library”, and on a walk through the roads in the area there are bicycles and cargo bikes in front gardens, alongside trampolines and kids’ goal posts.
Said local Green Party Councillor Carolyn Moore: “There’s a lot of inter-generational cycling within households, and it’s very normalised for kids, who then become adult cyclists.”
“I know from chatting to people who grew up in the area that many of them cycled to school and just kept it up. They in turn are now encouraging cycling in their own kids,” she says.
Social class might also be a factor. Census data shows that professionals and managers are over-represented among cyclists (as well as semi-skilled and unskilled workers).
And in Terenure A, there are much higher shares of professionals (20 percent) than average for a Dublin electoral division (11 percent), and of managers (42 percent) than the Dublin average (32 percent).
The group that is most under-represented among cyclists are “skilled manual” workers such as bricklayers, plasterers, plumbers and taxi drivers. Terenure A has fewer skilled manual workers (5 percent) than the Dublin average (10 percent).
While Gugles suggested that another factor might be Terenure A having a younger profile than other areas, that’s maybe not quite right.
This electoral division does have a different age profile than the average Dublin electoral division. But it actually has fewer 10- to 25-year-olds than the Dublin average.
It has more 25- to 50-year-olds than average, according to the census. And about average numbers of people who are 50-plus.
So, maybe a bit more middle-aged middle-class people than the Dublin average.
Better than the alternatives
Location, a local culture of cycling, and demographics might play roles, but that wasn’t the most frequent refrain.
Again and again, people compared cycling to the alternatives and said it’s not perfect, but it’s the best available option.
Behind the coffee bar at Life in Motion near Harold’s Cross Park, Maria Carrero says she reckons the reason so many people in this area cycle is the traffic.
“Going from here to the city centre by bus, the traffic is crazy,” she says. “So people prefer to go by bike.”
That’s why she cycles from Terenure to work, anyways, she says. Like a lot of the houses in this part of the city, hers has a garden to park her bike in too, somewhere to store it.
“By bus, if I’m going to the city centre it’s 40 minutes at least, and sometimes an hour,” Carrero says. “And by bike it’s 15 minutes.”
Does she feel safe cycling along the main roads into town though, in among the cars and buses?
“Not really,” she says, shrugging. But it’s worth it, it’s better than sitting on a bus stuck in traffic for an hour.
Even if someone wants to catch the bus from this area into town, they might have difficulty, says Moore, the Green Party councillor.
“I know at peak times buses can often be full by the time they reach these areas,” she says. Also, she says, buses are “slow enough getting into town, so cycling is probably the preferable option, and much quicker than driving at peak times”.
Rodriguez, a couple doors down in another part of Life in Motion, after fixing the woman’s bike, also mentions the traffic as a motivator for people to get on their bikes.
“And having a car, in Dublin, it’s very hard. It’s expensive, and, with the traffic, it’s just not worth it,” he says. Plus cycling’s better for the environment, he says.
A little ways south along Harold’s Cross Road, walking their dogs together along the footpath in front of Michael Grant Motors, John Doyle and Paddy McGovern also mention the traffic as a reason people in the area cycle.
“It’s such a central road,” says Doyle. “If you stand here, the number of cyclists that come through here.”
“And as regards to driving in – forget about it!” says McGovern.
Room to improve
Although Terenure A already has a lot of cyclists, it’d probably have more if the cycle lanes were better, McCarron said, standing in her doorway.
That’s something Peter Keogh mentioned too, saying that while there are cycle lanes on the main roads into town from there “they’re not great”.
An analysis shows that, in plans to build out Dublin’s cycling infrastructure, better-off areas like Terenure A are due to get a bit more.
As part of the BusConnects redesign of the city’s bus network, there are plans to improve bus service and cycling routes along Kimmage Road and Harold’s Cross Road.
With the new cycle routes, if they are eventually built, perhaps the already high share of cyclists here will rise even further.
However, there will always be some who cycling doesn’t suit.
On Monday morning, Keogh was standing next to a yellow pole on Clareville Road, ear buds in, waiting for his bus. He does not cycle to work, he says.
“I go Ballsbridge direction,” Keogh says. It’s a 40-minute walk, or a ride on the bus, he says. It’d be quicker by bike, he supposes.
So why doesn’t he cycle? “I’m just not in the habit of it, I guess,” Keogh says. “And I work till eight o’clock at night and I don’t like to cycle in the dark.”