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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chief Superintendent Tom Curley gave his support to reduce Galway city speed limit to 30 km/h to make streets safer for everyone at the Joint Policing Committee today, Monday. He was responding to a question from Cllr Níall McNelis, chair of the Joint Policing Committee, who asked for garda support to make Galway’s streets safer for families and older people walking and people cycling. The Chief Superintendent said that a 30 km/h speed limit was already being discussed to improve safety for cycling and is supported by Inspector Peter Conlon and Superintendent Damien Flanagan.
Galway Cycling Campaign warmly welcomes support from the Garda and the Chair of Joint Policing Committee, Níall McNelis, for a 30 km/h speed limit for safer cycling and safer streets for people of all ages and abilities.
This comes after a public meeting last week about the benefits of lower speed limits hosted by Galway Cycling Campaign, which was addressed by Prof Kevin Leyden of NUI Galway, Maria Delaney of Noteworthy, and Mairéad Forsythe of Love 30. Rod King, founder and campaign director of 20’s Plenty for Us, attended the online meeting and said that he will address the annual Road Safety Authority conference in the autumn.
Spokesperson Martina Callanan said lower city speed limits are becoming more common in European cities such as Athens, Milan and Brussels and thanked the Garda for their support.
Slower speeds will give parents peace of mind to bring small children into the city centre to shop and dine, when children play and cycle outside their homes, and as children and teenagers walk and cycle to school. We want to thank An Garda for their support for lower speeds to make Galway a safer and nice place to live, shop, and play.
Martina Callanan, spokesperson for Galway Cycling Campaign
Mairéad Forsythe of Love 30, Ireland’s campaign for lower speed limits, was in attendance at today’s meeting. She commented on the Chief Superintendent’s remarks.
Introducing a 30 km/h speed limit would be a significant achievement for road safety in Galway. It will make our roads safer for people walking, cycling and driving. Most important of all, slower streets make our neighbourhoods more pleasant places to live, work and for children to play.
Mairéad Forsythe of Love 30
Chairperson of Galway Cycling Campaign, Kevin Jennings, also attended and warmly welcomed the support of An Garda for slower speed limits.
The typical road speed limit of 50 km/h does not feel fast if you are behind a windscreen. The research is stark: speed is the biggest contributing factor to road deaths in Ireland. If a person walking is hit by a person driving a car at 50 km/h, there is a 50% chance that person will die. At 60 km/h – that’s only 10 km faster – 9 in 10 pedestrians will die.
Kevin Jennings, chairperson of the Galway Cycling Campaign
He added, “Slower speed limits have an added benefit of improving traffic flow. Scientific models show motor traffic flowing more steadily at lower speeds in congested networks.”
World Bicycle Day saw cross-party support for 30 km/h speed limits for Dublin’s city centre and suburbs. We expect Galway to follow suit. Join us for a special guest speaker event this Wednesday, 17 June 2020, from 8 pm to 9 pm about how lower speed limits will make a happier and healthier Galway with investigative journalist Maria Delaney from Newsworthy, Mairéad Forsythe of Love 30 – Ireland’s campaign for lower speed limits, and Prof Kevin Leyden of NUI Galway. Event open to all.
This one change to our streets will have an immediate impact on improving road safety. It will also make cycling and walking easier and more pleasant for people of all ages and abilities.
Lower speed limits will enable road redesign and so with narrower road carriageways there will be more space for cycle paths and wider footpaths. Lower speeds reduce the risk of road traffic collisions, reduce the risk of fatalities, and reduce the risk of life-limiting and life-changing injuries.
More Space and Less Speed are the two principles of our Change Our Streets campaign.
We are delighted to invite you to a special guest speaker event this Wednesday event at 8 pm on Zoom.
This Wednesday, 17 June 2020 8 pm to 9 pm ‘Doors’ at 7.45 pm ‘Drinks’ afterwards until 9.30 pm
Join Zoom meeting at this link Meeting ID: 826 4005 1920 Password: 320894 All welcome
Change Our Streets
Less Speed is the second principle of #ChangeOurStreets campaign. We need our Council and Government to lower speed limits and redesign roads to enable adherence to lower speeds.
Less Speed supports the More Space principle of re-allocating road space to people walking and cycling.
Join Galway Cycling Campaign
Our public events are free events and open to all. If you’d like to get involved, please join us and our everyday cycling community. Our membership contribution is €10 or €5. If you would like to donate more, you’d be most welcome!
Galway Cycling Campaign and the ‘Change Our Streets’ movement welcomes the online request and mapping tool for ideas to improve mobility in the city during coronavirus. It was made available today, Friday 22 May 2020, by Galway City Council and the City Mobility Team.
Kevin Jennings, chairperson of Galway Cycling Campaign said, “We welcome this easy-to-use online form. We are glad that the Council have made the suggestions transparent and map-based, as we suggested in previous correspondence.”
All requests will be populated on a map of the city, so everyone can see requests submitted for areas of interest.
Categories for change: wider paths, lower speeds, space for cycling, cycle parking, maintenance, more space for queuing
Martina Callanan, spokesperson for Galway Cycling Campaign said, “We encourage everyone to use the online request form to support social distancing. If you are concerned about space at a bus stop, touching beg buttons at crossing, need a wider footpath in your residential area, or need space for cycling, you can make a specific request for a particular location. We suggest people bookmark this online form in their web browser to access it quickly and easily.”
She continued, “We welcome the categories for change which include requests for wider paths, lower speeds, space for cycling, cycle parking, maintenance, and more space for queuing. These changes to our streets will make our city safer and more pleasant for walking and cycling for people of all ages and all abilities.”
Galway City Council says, “Please note this information will be made publicly available on a map on www.galwaycity.ie Please do not include any personal details, names or profanities in your submission.”
Galway City Council says that all requests will be carefully reviewed by the City Mobility Team (CMT) to identify which initiatives can be progressed safely. Galway City Council will update the status of requests, as they are reviewed by the CMT.
Yesterday, Thursday 21 May 2020, Galway Cycling Campaign submitted a 20 page document of 60+ specific suggestions to improve mobility during coronavirus.
Galway Cycling Campaign is a voluntary group which represents cyclists in Galway. We promote cycling as a common and accessible form of transport with the goal of creating a more liveable Galway for everyone.