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Bicycles help green Ireland's capital

A free bike scheme and a bike-to-work program have encouraged cycling in Dublin.

Alas, the shiny new bikes bought under the bike-to-work scheme have created a bigger turnover for bicycle thieves. According to the Irish Central Statistics Office, the number of private bicycles reported stolen in Dublin in the first nine months of last year rose by nearly one-third, to 3,136, compared to the same period the previous year. The real figure is undoubtedly higher as many people don’t bother reporting the theft of bicycles.

(Bicycle stealing is one of the oldest forms of theft in Dublin. This correspondent recalls his Raleigh being lifted 40 years ago, and being told by a police sergeant, with an exaggerated wink, “there’s your bike over there,” as he pointed to a thousand stolen machines in a storage shed. I took the nearest good-looking one and cycled happily away.)

The police in Dublin have also taken to the bicycle again after a lapse of half a century. For the last five years police patrols on mountain bikes have become a familiar sight in the Irish capital. This, as any reader of the celebrated satirist Flann O’Brien will know, carries special risks. In O'Brien's popular book “The Third Policeman,” published in 1940, a guardian of the law spends so much time on his bicycle that molecules are transferred from one to the other, and he adopts the habits of the machine, preferring to rest by propping an elbow against the wall.

To encourage cyclists, the council has also dropped the Dublin speed limit in the city center to 20 miles an hour. At that rate the cyclist is just as likely as the motorist to get a speeding ticket.

Incidentally, the image of a rainy Dublin is not quite accurate. The city gets 29 inches of rain a year. This compares to 42 inches a year in Boston and 45 inches in New York. According to the Irish meteorological office, Met Eireann, a commuter who spends 15 minutes cycling to work every day will get wet on only four days out of every 100. This assumes, of course, that the cyclist can pick just the right time between the showers.