I hold a BA (Hons) First Class in Communications in Creative Media, in which I learned the theory and practice of media discourse analysis, visual design, audio design and more. I am also a TU Dublin Research Scholar with a deep interest in active travel and reduced or eliminated dependence on the private car. My research focuses specifically on cyclists as this road user group is like a lightning rod, eliciting the most interesting behaviours and communications. This smorgasbord of interests and competencies lead me to be fascinated with seemingly disparate elements of our roads that are, at heart, connected. Everything is an act of communication, including the way we design our public spaces.
Discourse – the currents of communication that surround us – is not harmless. These messages and beliefs go with us onto the road, and affect our behaviour as road users. They are with us in boardrooms where policy decisions are made. They have a seat at the table of design teams deciding the physical shape of our roads. They sit on the shoulder of the Gardaí making decisions on road policing. They are there in the budget allocations decided by the powers that be. Therefore the largely negative discourse related to cyclists plays its part in making roads less safe and less welcoming to vulnerable road users.
In plain language, the virulence directed at cyclists in all our media communication, including social media and “traditional” media, plays a part in frightening near-misses, unpleasant intimidation, injuries, and yes, also deaths of cyclists on Irish roads. Likewise, it plays a part in the dishearteningly low modal share for the bicycle in Ireland – only 1.7% in 2017.
We cannot afford to shrug and say: “That’s just the way it is. Ireland is just not a cycling country.” The climate crisis cannot be ignored. Our behaviour is going to change, either by force as the consequences of the way we live result in societal breakdown, or by choice if we recognise the harm in our way of life and change it intelligently. Transport “was responsible for 20.2% of Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas emissions in 2018”, with road transport by far the biggest contributor. The means of transport responsible for the biggest share of this pollution is the private car. Electric cars are not the answer.
On several occasions I have heard people express feelings ranging from indifference to hopelessness when it comes to their ability to matter with regards to addressing the looming climate crisis. This area, transport, is one where we each as individual actually can make a difference. We don’t need to passively wait for clever new technology to be found sometime in the hazy future: alternatives are in our hands right now, right here. We need to walk and cycle more.
How do we accomplish that? Sometimes this feels like a catch-22. Drivers are the majority group so roads, road policing, and government decisions related to roads are all geared to serving the majority. This makes roads hostile to the minorities. This sustains the driver majority, which sustains resistance to the change needed to reduce that majority.
I am one of many researchers devoting ourselves to finding out how to break this impasse. My viva voce and thesis publication should be complete by end 2022.