Dublin's drivers beat down on 'bicycle brigade'

It's funny what will light a fire under people. There have been all sorts of government decisions recently that could have sparked a revolt. Yet the people have been pretty accepting of all the budget cuts and bank bail-outs, probably because it was difficult to see any alternative.

All very quiet, until the past couple of weeks when there was an eruption over a new speed limit in Dublin. Dublin City Council voted to reduce the limit from 50 kph (31 mph) to 30 kph (18.6 mph) in the city's central areas.

At first the objectors' concerns and arguments were dismissed. 'People just needed some time to adjust' or 'this will make the city safer and better for cyclists and pedestrians' or 'it's only a limited area.'

It was a typical story until something very unusual happened. The more the City Council tried to ignore the uproar and carry on with their unpopular decision, the more those who opposed the change grew louder, not quieter as usually happens.

Taxi drivers complained that their passengers didn't want them to obey the law and that they were being passed by bikes. But it was the general public's voice that was the angriest. Newspaper columnists and talk radio fed off this anger. People were angry as hell at the decision, out of proportion to the importance of it really, but they were fed up. They weren't going to be dictated to by the "bicycle brigade."

Gradually the one or two politicians who were against the change from the outset were joined by others. Those who'd changed the limit started to waver. They haven't reversed the decision yet, but Dublin City Council has decided to review the decision at its next meeting on March 1, when, most commentators now say, the new limit will be scrapped.

I can't quite figure out why it was this decision and no other that roused people so much. The nation's drivers raised hardly a peep as the government added $0.60 in new taxes on a gallon of gasoline over the past year. We're the only people in the EU who pay a one-off 30% Vehicle Registration Tax on top of the 21% sales tax on all new cars. Municipal parking charges have gone through the roof.

All of these changes are, like the speed limit change, part of a general policy designed to discourage driving (at best, some say it's a war on cars), yet none of these often significant costs managed to cause the stir that a couple of miles of slow (admittedly, ridiculously slow) roads did.

As a car owner I'd like to think this is the beginning of a fightback against those who want to eliminate the automobile or who see drivers as a cash cow waiting to be milked. And I'm curious to see if other popular uprisings like this take hold as people's patience with our rulers wears thin. For the moment I'm assuming this was a one-off.

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