Navan Cycling Initiative is a brand new cycle campaigning group that came into being just in the last few weeks. Dr. Damien Ó Tuama, National Cycling Coordinator with Cyclist.ie, caught up with the group’s founder, Kevin Corrigan, to pick his brain about the cycling issues in Navan and the new group’s aims.
So, Kevin, tell us why you have founded a new campaigning group in Navan – and how did you come to hear about Cyclist.ie?
Good afternoon Damien. Well, having always cycled around my hometown, wherever that was, I was very disappointed when I moved to Navan two years ago. There is scant cycling infrastructure in the town, and what is there, is disjointed and in places dangerous. Up to now, I had sent occasional exasperated emails to the local authority but having seen the appetite that people have in Navan for cycling since the Covid-19 restrictions, I felt a more structured and sustained approach was needed to ensure our town’s love for the bicycle endured.
It was during this period that I discovered Cyclist.ie while listening to a webinar for a documentary called Motherload about the cargo bike movement [broadcast as part of the recent 2020 Clonakilty Bicycle Festival]. Your organisation has been extremely helpful to date, offering amazing guidance and support which is much appreciated.
Have you cycled in other countries or cities which have inspired you?
I often joke that I cycled in Bangkok for three years and felt safer on the roads there than I do in Navan! On my way to work, I would cross junctions with literally hundreds of motorbikes stopped at the red lights. Turn green and it was mayhem, or so I initially thought. However, it was organised chaos. Cyclists, motorcyclists and motorists moved in harmony and were respectful of each other, unlike my experience to date in Navan. Of course, most drivers respect the shared spaces that are sadly busy roads in Navan, but between a combination of a drastic lack of infrastructure, and an impatience from some very time pressed locals, cycling in the town is by and large not a safe, convenient or fun experience so far.
Aside from jostling with motorbikes and Tuk Tuks in Bangkok, I was a utility cyclist in Dublin, Cardiff, Lausanne, Portland as well as having cycle-toured in Thailand, Tasmania, Germany, Switzerland and Ireland. I travelled on everything from world class cycling segregated bike corridors to dirt paths, from traffic-choked multi-lane roads to deserted country lanes. All these experiences have brought me to firmly believe in the bicycle as an extremely fulfilling way to get around, create stories and adventure-filled memories all the while igniting that child-like sense of freedom
What are the main issues people wishing to cycle in and around Navan might encounter or experience?
As mentioned above, there is a serious lack of continuity in Navan’s cycle infrastructure. Areas that have been recently developed or roads that were newly built or upgraded, have for the most part cycle lanes, some segregated. The problem is that when you leave these islands of safety and comfort, you are on your own, often arriving at busy junctions with no cycling provision whatsoever, and the need to join a lane with heavy flowing traffic and very often no hard shoulder. Even when there is a hard shoulder, these are often full of debris and tree cuttings, so punctures are not uncommon.
Cycling on footpaths is commonplace and understandable, given the choice cyclists are faced with. This inevitably leads to unsafe footpaths and negatively impacts cyclists’ reputations. Like a lot of regional towns in Ireland, Navan’s transport infrastructure has been devoted to the private car for decades. There are glimmers of hope in some of the development plans and a huge sense of optimism for the future given this government’s commitment to the development of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
Are there particular ideas or proposals you have to make Navan much more cycle friendly, both for utility trips and recreational / leisure cycling (and with children) and perhaps linking with other towns in County Meath?
The vast majority of Navan residents (26,000 estimated) live within 10 minute cycle from the town centre. There are over 7,000 school students within the town boundaries. While some travel from outside the town, most do not, and numbers cycling are extremely low.
We are calling for segregated lanes on all major approach roads to the town, as well as safer, cycling-adapted junctions, so as to facilitate the movement of people for both utility and recreational cycling. While waiting for these capital projects, we would like to see interim measures, such as wand-protected bike lanes and the temporary redesign of major junctions to include road markings and signage. Bike parking needs to be extended to all major retail outlets, public buildings, key bus stops and schools.
Meath County Council states in its Navan 2030 plan that “it is essential that a more sustainable model is applied to movement within the town, therefore a focus on the local bus service, walking and cycling networks will be a key grounding objective of this plan” We would encourage them to deliver this sustainable model for the people of Navan.
In terms of linking to nearby towns, there are several greenway projects planned, both proposed and potential, which could eventually see Navan at the centre of a network linking Trim, Kells, Dunshaughlin, Slane, Drogheda and Kingscourt. These would have to be supported by the in-town measures above to enable locals and visitors to move safely to and from these amenities.
And what about linking cycling and public transport in Navan, perhaps aimed at those commuting from the town? Is this currently catered for? And how is the cycle parking around the town?
Navan has some bike parking, although there is a demand for more. Sadly in a recent upgrade of a busy street and ongoing upgrades, there is no bike parking included so the lack of commitment is failing cyclists in that respect.
In terms of commuting from the town, Navan has a huge population of commuters to Dublin and the greater Dublin area. While there is a frequent bus service, it is currently not fit for purpose as journey times are extremely slow relative to the distance, and most people choose to drive or park-and-ride at the M3 Parkway near Dunboyne. There is very little bike parking at key bus stops and if it is there, it would not be considered secure enough for bikes to be left all day. With improved infrastructure elsewhere which would encourage more people to take to their bikes, secured bike parking could help alleviate traffic around key bus stops. It would be great to see a provision on buses for bicycles, I remember in Switzerland and Germany it was common to put your bike on the front of regional buses.
Ultimately though, the best way to tackle Navan and Meath’s commuting chaos will be with the reinstatement of the rail line that has been in the shadows for years. With no end in sight to the development of housing in Navan, people in the town were disappointed to see this key piece of infrastructure omitted from the recent Programme for Government.
Do you have other thoughts you want to share with us about creating cycle friendly towns and routes?
I would really like to see this current government’s commitment to their stated annual spend of €360 million on cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. In a country that has grappled with and met resistance to the implementation of a fit-for-purpose network, this seems like it could be the huge propulsion forward, if properly managed. Add to the fact that the actual cost to us as a society is greatly offset by the benefits of cycling and walking, this could be a game-changer.
Ultimately, the appetite for change and the will to bring it about comes from the people. This hunger is palpable in Ireland right now; the promise of improved infrastructure was the starter, but I think we’re ready for the main course now.
Cyclist.ie wishes Kevin the very best in growing the new local cycle campaigning group and making waves in Navan!
For more information, check out Navan Cycling Initiative – Home.
If you are wondering how to start up a new cycle campaign group in your town or area, please Contact the National Cycling Coordinator and we will be happy to exchange ideas.