One of the newest member groups of Cyclist.ie is Portarlington Cycling Campaign based in the midlands town on the Laois – Offaly border. We were delighted to do a little interview with the group’s coordinator, John Holland, to find out about what the group’s priorities are. The article below includes some photos taken at events organised by the group in 2022 – monthly Critical Mass cycle events and a ‘Tour De Port’ cycle as part of the French festival in the ‘Solas’ Eco Garden Centre in July last year.
Can you tell us a bit about Portarlington Cycling Campaign – why / how / when did it come into being?
The Portarlington Cycling Campaign was born out of the Portarlington Business Association (PBA) Sustainability group which has been advocating for improved active travel and sustainable transport in Portarlington since the group was formed in 2020. The PBA Sustainability Group has made several submissions to Laois and Offaly County Councils (a portion of Portarlington being in Offaly) regarding improved walking and cycling infrastructure as well as traffic calming measures which we would like to see in the town. We have also made strong connections with both councils (with quarterly meetings between all parties) to get updates on sustainable transport plans and to provide feedback and guidance on how these plans can be improved for the safety of vulnerable road users and with the aim of maximizing active travel within the town. The group has also run events such as the Portarlington Critical Mass cycling event, which commenced on a monthly basis in 2022. This has been a great success at getting cyclists of all ages to come out for a safe, gentle cycle around the town centre, and in advocating for safe cycling for all ages and abilities.
We decided as a group in 2022 to formalize the work we’ve been doing on active travel by setting up with Portarlington Cycling Campaign. This has enabled us to more directly promote cycling as a means of replacing motor vehicle use and to avail of the expertise of Cyclist.ie and other campaign groups around the country.
What are the big issues, as you see them, in Portarlington (and in neighbouring towns perhaps) by way of creating a cycle friendly culture / making everyday cycling safe and normal?
Portarlington is very much like other similar sized towns throughout Ireland – it is choked with cars! However, a key advantage within Portarlington is that it is relatively flat, there is the beginnings of a cycle network (with plans by Laois County Council to implement a much more extensive network), most roads are wide enough to support safe cycling, and a link road around the town centre provides an opportunity for a traffic calmed or (ideally) a pedestrianised Main Street. We see every day the impact that car culture has on the way people interact (or not) with the town. Most children are dropped to and from school despite the primary schools being centrally placed and within walking/cycling distance of the majority of residents of the town.
There is widespread illegal parking on footpaths and cycle lanes.
Additionally, there is also a large volume of HGVs travelling through the town making it unsafe for most people to consider cycling as a means of getting around. We want our children to be able to enjoy their town without being confined to a tiny cordon of safe, car-free areas such as the playground or the GAA pitch. We want to live in a safe and vibrant town, with strong social cohesion, a people-friendly central core and a safe, segregated cycle network which provides real alternatives to the motor vehicle.
Is there any particular type of support that your group would appreciate from Cyclist.ie and from our advocates countrywide?
The group are regularly liaising with Laois and Offaly county councils on plans for a cycle network in the town. These plans are currently with the NTA (National Transport Authority) for approval. We would appreciate the support of Cyclist.ie in advising on these plans – e.g. areas where they could be improved and how best to engage with the local community on public consultations.
Have you or other members of your group cycled in or visited other countries which have given you inspiration for Portarlington?
Members of our group have witnessed first-hand what impact properly planned, safe, segregated cycling can have on the number and diversity of cyclists that will use such infrastructure. We have seen this in places such as The Netherlands, France and Belgium, and this has fed our determination to advocate for similar high quality infrastructure here. If it can be done there, it can be done here!
We totally agree John! Anything else you want to add?
We see walking and cycling advocacy as a means of moving the dial significantly towards a sustainable town. More people getting around on their own steam means fewer cars on the roads, and that in turn means a safer environment for everyone, stronger social networks as people reconnect on safer streets, healthier outcomes and more independence for our children, and a healthy and vibrant core of businesses in our town centre. We have seen evidence of this throughout Europe so we know the benefits of more active travel…we just need to embrace the change that is necessary for our and for our children’s sake.
Cyclist.ie wishes Portarlington Cycling Campaign the very best with its campaigning and we look forward to meeting up with the local campaigners in person in 2023!