Opinion: The programme for government is like a visit from Santa for cyclists

COULD IT REALLY be that Santa has arrived six months and one week ahead of schedule? In the programme for government, we are told that €1 million euro a day, every day, will be invested in safer cycling and walking during the lifetime of the next government.

This Opinion piece first appeared in TheJournal.ie on Thursday 25 June, 2020.

Image: Sascha Kohlmann/Wikimedia

Not so long ago, buses, vans and Ford Cortinas vroomed through the towns and cities of Ireland. Just two decades later, we hope to move ever closer to safe strolling, an abundance of food offerings, street conversations, and bike bells. Investment in cycling and walking in the programme for government is a smart and progressive deal for transport, health and revitalising town centres.

Hopefully, this time next year, we will have spent €360 million on cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, more than has ever been spent before. Investing almost €1 million a day, every day, for the lifetime of the programme for government means that people in Irish cities, towns, villages and suburbs will enjoy safer, more vibrant and attractive streets.

With an emphasis on quality and oversight, these efforts, if agreed and implemented, could make the places we live better for people, business, the environment and our sense of community.  

Cycling is the solution to a myriad of intimately intertwined social and economic problems of congestion, public health, and quality of life. And since cycling does not produce emissions, it reduces air pollution and carbon as well.

And as many of us rediscovered recently due to the coronavirus lockdown, cycling is social, fun, and inexpensive.

Cycling doesn’t make sense for everyone and that’s ok. But we want to get those within cycling distance to the places they need to be on a daily basis to feel cycling is a very real and very safe option. 

The bike boom of 2020

The bike boom of 2020 is a global phenomenon. Bicycles are sold as fast as they are assembled. People are waiting for bike orders to be delivered in August. Bike repair services are rammed.

With the absence of HGVs, vans, and the school commute during the lockdown, unoccupied roads turned into urban parks with families and small crews of happy teenagers strolling, cycling, and scooting.  Empty car parks became cycle training grounds for very young children. We have found that women, especially, felt a little braver when it came to cycling in this time:

“For the first time in 12 years,” said Anne Bedos of Café Rothar in Dublin’s Phibsborough, “we are selling more bikes to women than to men.”

Bikes are selling as fast as they can be assembled. Pictured: West Ireland Cycling, Galway’s Westend

More space, less speed

Everyone is a pedestrian, whether they’re standing at the bus stop or walking to their car. A safe street is where you’d let your five-year-old play with peace of mind. According to Prof. Kevin Leyden of NUI Galway, ‘‘If we want to get more people cycling, we need to make cycling feel safer. Key to that is slowing the speed of cars and providing a cycling infrastructure that reduces the probability that cyclists will be killed or injured by motorists.”  

If this programme for government goes ahead, towns with smart travel strategies will have funding and expertise to develop comprehensive networks of safe paths and attractive lanes connecting commuters to their workplaces and children and teenagers on safe routes to their schools. 

Residential areas need to be conveniently connected to retail and recreational spaces. Protected footpaths and cycle lanes need to be considered as ‘mobility lanes’ and be comfortable for people using wheelchairs, adapted bicycles and adult tricycles.

The seven new Regional Cycle Design Offices promised in the programme would expand and enhance the expertise available to support local authorities. Every local authority would be supported by a Cycling Officer. Along with the funding, this emphasis on expertise and quality infrastructure would be a game-changer.

Slow down

The commitment to reduce speed limits doesn’t grab headlines, yet slower speeds and their enforcement are a huge part of what it takes to get more people cycling and walking.

Mairéad Forsythe of Love 30, Ireland’s campaign for lower speed limits, says, “Reducing speed limits in towns, villages and cities to 30 km/h will make our roads safer for people walking and cycling. It lowers the risk of collisions and the risk of injuries. Most important of all, slower streets make our neighbourhoods more pleasant places to live, shop, and work, and for children to play.”

Dublin City already has cross-party support for a 30 km/h speed limit almost everywhere within the M50. If our capital city can decide to do this, so can every town, village and suburb. 

We want more people cycling, and more types of people cycling. Measuring only fatalities and injuries is crude. We need ambitious targets for children cycling to primary and secondary school, in particular teenage girls. In Ireland, just 2.1% of teenagers cycle to secondary school. In The Netherlands, that figure is 75%. 

Lessons from abroad

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party have clearly incorporated international evidence into the programme for government. From Seattle to Sydney, cities are being radically reshaped in favour of people walking and cycling.

The Belgian port city of Ghent implemented a light, quick and cheap traffic circulation plan in 2017 and witnessed a 60% rise in cycle use. It reached its target of 35% cycling last year, 13 years earlier than planned for. There has been a 17% increase in restaurant and bar startups.

Galway city, towns and villages will now have the funds and expertise to build connected networks of safe and separate cycle baths. Photo: Galway Tourism

Before coronavirus, the Mayor of Paris unveiled her plans to transform Paris into a ‘15-minute city’ of self-sufficient neighbourhoods with grocery shops, parks, sports facilities, and schools just a walk or bike-ride away.  

Since then, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has urged ‘those who can’ to cycle plus announced a €300 million investment to install up to 650 km of new temporary and permanent bicycle lanes. This is about three times the length of the total Paris Métro network.

Return on investment

European research last year showed that every 1-kilometre drive costs the public purse €0.11 in terms of congestion, pollution, and time. Every 1-kilometre cycle brings a benefit of €0.18. Walking is even better. Each 1-kilometre walk adds €0.37 to economy and society in terms of improved public health, tourism, and quality of life.

Journey times

More than 23,000 people live within a 10 minutes cycle of Carlow Post Office, for instance. Over half of all journeys by adults in Ireland are 6 km or less, according to the Central Statistics Office. This is a comfortable distance on a bike for most people – providing you have a bike and a safe route to go where you want to go.

Over 76,000 people in Galway City live within a 30 min gentle cycle of Eyre Square. E-bikes will make commuting easier from Oranmore, Bearna and beyond.

Get bikes, get cycling

We need to help people purchase bikes and get cycling. The Cycle to Work Scheme is a good start. The same wide access for e-car grants must be made possible for bike grants. New help to buy e-bikes and cargo bikes is particularly welcome. Bike share schemes should be expanded and include e-bikes and e-scooters. 

“Sharing schemes are low cost and e-bikes help cities reduce congestion and meet climate change targets,” says Colin Barry, founder of Brite Mobility, Galway. “The motor’s assistance level attracts users who would have been afraid of the exertion of cycling before.”

So, what happens now?

Immediately, each local authority will be mandated to assess where road space can be re-allocated for walking and cycling. We want plans to be audited for quality and involve input from local communities.

Bike parking

Already, we have heard government radio ads asking us to cycle and walk where possible. Children need to be able to park their bikes at sports grounds.

Like wildflowers, we expect to see bike parking sprouting up everywhere – outside local shops, cafés, retail parks, parks, and beaches. Wherever bikes are tied to poles, there should be bike parking.

Bikes are good for business

Local businesses can request installation of quality bicycle stands from their local authorities. Customers by bike are local and loyal. Cycle parking delivers five times the retail spend per square metre than the same area of car parking, according to Transport for London research

Safe cycling for all

By this time next year, I hope we will have experienced a major cultural shift in transport policy, in moving people safely and sustainably around our towns, villages and cities. Cycling will be seen as the solution to congestion, a key contributor to better public health, and a powerful tool in developing a better quality of life for all of our people. 

Cycling has arrived and there’s no going back. Let’s pedal onwards to our new normal.

Martina Callanan is the spokesperson for Galway Cycling Campaign and a member of the Executive Council of Cyclist.ie – the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network, helps organise CycleCoffeeCake for women and novices on bikes, works in strategic communications, and tweets at @MartinaCallanan and @GalwayCycling.

#ChangeOurStreets says to City Mobility Team, Pedal on!

Galway Cycling Campaign sent a welcome letter to the new City Mobility Team at Galway’s City Hall every success in getting Galway thriving again.

Chairperson Kevin Jennings welcomed the publication by Galway City Council of the draft Local Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business and Covid-19 Temporary City Mobility Framework Plan documents.  

He said: “We are delighted that the two principles of the ‘Change Our Streets’ initiative for More Space and Less Speed are at the heart of our city’s plans to get Galway moving and thriving again as restrictions begin to lift.

We outlined our desire for More Space and Less Seed in our Open Letter to Galway City Council Chief Executive on Wednesday 7 May 2020, which was co-signed by over 200 organisations and individuals, including many representatives of local businesses, community groups, sports clubs and health professionals.”

He continued: “We are heartened to hear that the Framework will be a live and dynamic document, and that it prioritises active travel modes of cycling and walking. Walking and cycling are fast and affordable ways to travel short distances, and exercise is vital for our mental and physical health during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

A happy explorer
A happy explorer

Martina Callanan, spokesperson for Galway Cycling Campaign, said: “We welcome the statement that Community Wardens will place  ‘particular emphasis…on enforcement of illegal and unauthorised parking that impairs mobility, such as parking on footpaths, yellow lines, loading bays, taxi and bus designated areas and disabled parking bays.’ There can be no tolerance of inconsiderate behaviour which places cocooners, parents with buggies and small children at risk of stepping out into the road instead of continuing on footpaths.

She added: “We welcome the provision of extra bike parking and expect all will be safe, secure and sheltered. People on bikes are good for local business. Having a bike parking outside your shop or business means space for potentially ten customers right outside your door, and bike parking helps keep your shopfront visible.”

The letter to the City Mobility Team pointed out that mobility obstacles and touch points should be eliminated where possible, for example kissing gates, beg buttons at pedestrian crossings, and narrow stiles.

Actions to reduce speed should also consider measures to temporarily alter road design and provide traffic calming.  

Kevin Jennings concluded: “We look forward to engaging with the City Mobility Team in the weeks and months ahead to create a safer Galway for all ages and all abilities during coronavirus. As they start their work this week we say, Pedal on!”

Cycling in Galway

This article was written by Stan Carey for the Galway Cycling Campaign. A version of it was published by the Galway Independent for its ‘Inside Out’ column on 4 June 2014.

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People sometimes ask why I cycle around Galway when I have a car, and I’m surprised the answer isn’t obvious. Then I remember there are lots of answers. Cyclists are commonly stereotyped – as lycra-wearing fanatics, cardboard-eating eco-warriors, etc. – but we’re as diverse as any random group of people, and we have countless reasons for cycling and styles of doing so.

One thing that puts people off is the perceived danger, but cycling is a lot safer than it’s made out to be if you have the right skills. And it becomes safer with numbers. All road users need to share the roads respectfully, and above all be patient. Overtaking a cyclist dangerously just to save a few seconds is a nasty thing to do, illegal too, yet it happens all the time. I don’t care how much of a rush you’re in, your time isn’t worth putting someone’s life and well-being at risk.

Not that cyclists are immune from bad behaviour. I see examples every day – like footpath cycling, which I don’t mind when it’s a child or learner taking their time, but when it’s an able-bodied young male zipping by makes me want to lecture and fine them on the spot. Still, it’s nothing to the danger posed by driving at speed, which is rife and inadequately enforced and has helped decimate the number of children and families cycling on city and rural roads in Ireland.

Galway’s size and layout are well-suited to getting around by bike or foot. The city has a proud tradition of cycling, and it wouldn’t take much to make bikes a strong part of its culture again – a bit of promotion, know-how, and political will. The upcoming Greenways and Coke Zero bike rental scheme should help normalise and boost cycling again, following the great successes in Mayo and Dublin.

Like learning to drive, it’s hardest when you’re starting. How can beginners and nervous cyclists develop the confidence and skills to manoeuvre roads that seem so hostile? Know your bike and your capabilities, for starters. Watch and learn from experienced cyclists. Get a copy of the Galway Cycling Campaign’s “Cycling Skills” leaflets, or read John Franklin’s book Cyclecraft in the city library. And practise. It takes time to learn how to read the roads, to anticipate threats, to know when it’s safer to use the centre of a lane and when to keep in. Just give those car doors a wide berth.

Galway’s infrastructure isn’t very cycling-friendly, with its roundabouts, slip roads, poor surfaces, one-way systems, meagre parking, inept cycle lanes, and aggressive emphasis on traffic “flow” rather than safe, accessible, permeable streets. But the benefits more than compensate. JFK was right: Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride. It’s great for mental and physical health. The financial savings are amazing. Parking is easy, even if it often requires lampposts and railings. Traffic jams are irrelevant. (I can’t be the only one bemused by all the empty roads in cars ads.)

Less obviously, cycling brings a real physical quality to a journey. Instead of being cut off from the world around you, you’re immersed in it. You can enjoy its sights and sounds and take in the scenery Galway is blessed with. Feel the sun on your face (if there is any), the wind in your hair (if you have any), the joy of freewheeling downhill. You can stop on a whim to look at something or chat to someone you know. And when you get home you have the satisfaction of having exercised and gotten a good dose of fresh air. Even the weather’s not as bad as you’d think.

Dangerous Roundabouts to be Tackled Under the City Development Plan

Councillors passed a Galway Cycling Campaign/Community Forum motion at Monday night’s Council meeting that will see the notorious pedestrian- and cyclist-unfriendly roundabouts of Galway City tackled under the latest City Development Plan.

Under the new Plan, which will be in place by January 2011, the City Executive will be committed to addressing the significant difficulties posed by roundabouts for pedestrians and cyclists. The Plan will compel the Council to explore remedial treatments, such as raised zebra crossings, in order to improve the safety of non-motorised transport users.

Roundabouts on national routes in Portlaoise and Limerick City have already been re-designed to include raised zebra crossings and zebra crossings, and hopefully Galway City will be next

said Oisin O’Nidh, PRO of the Galway Cycling Campaign.

 

Roundabout in Portlaoise town with two lane entries and raised zebra crossings

The new City Development Plan will also endorse the ‘Hierarchy of Solutions’ in the Government’s National Cycle Policy Framework. This document, which supports the remedial treatment of roundabouts, prioritises traffic reduction, traffic calming and road redesign over dedicated cycling facilities in order to create a pedestrian- and cycle-friendly urban environment. According to Mr O’Nidh,

The inclusion of the Hierarchy of Solutions will enable the City Council to do more to promote cycling ith less revenue. It is the perfect solution for Local Authorities in ifficult economic times.

However, according to Campaign Chair Shane Foran, Galway’s development as Ireland’s Cycling City could be undermined by the actions of Council Director of Services, Ciaran Hayes, who successfully opposed a motion that would have provided primary school children with a network of backstreet routes to school. Mr Foran said:

Cycling to primary school has been in steep decline in Ireland for the past 20 years – down 83% between 1986 and 2006. Proactive approaches such as safe routes to schools are needed to address the low levels of cycling among school children and to foster a culture of cycling for the future. By opposing such measures, the City Council Executive has missed out on a perfect opportunity to dramatically increase the number of young cyclists in Galway, and at the same time ease the chronic traffic congestion that the city currently suffers from during school term.

Groody roundabout Limerick on the N7 out of Limerick towards Dublin

Bike Movie Night in NUI, Galway (Sept 2010)

A Bike Movie Night will take place in NUI, Galway, on Wednesday 22 September 2010, from 7pm to 9.40pm.

The location is the Kirwan Theatre on the main Concourse.

Admission is free! Full schedule and details are here.