Jo Sachs Eldridge from Leitrim Cycling Campaign and Cyclist.ie’s Executive Committee has penned this piece on the proposed speed reductions announced by the Minister last week, and how in particular they relate to rural roads.
At Velo-city[i], the international cycling conference, some years ago I tracked down speakers of many nations to quiz them about their rural roads – did theirs look like ours, did they have similar widths, volumes of traffics, speeds, could they help me demonstrate that the concept of ‘Rothar Roads’[ii] could work. The Swiss said no, the Austrians said no, the Slovenians said no, the French said no…and then I spoke to the Danish and they said yes! They said ‘we have roads like that and it works’ but then she laughed and said ‘but of course we have a different culture of driving in Denmark’.
As she saw it, that difference in driving culture was a fact.
And she’s right but maybe it doesn’t always have to be that way.
I went to a school where kids were regularly hit by teachers. Not so long ago you might have found yourself in a restaurant with people smoking at the next table. And driving home after a few too many drinks down the pub was the norm. All of these are almost unthinkable now.
Although there are some things that seem to be sewn into the fabric of our damp souls, we in Ireland do culture change well. That’s one of the strengths of this country. We are willing to learn new behaviours, adopt new attitudes, change our perspective.
I have huge hopes for the reduction in speed limits on our urban areas and rural roads. We probably all instinctively know that 80kph is not the appropriate speed to travel on those narrow, bendy roads with limited visibility. We know this yet we are sometimes confused by the signs we see as we enter such a road environment – the 80kph speed limit standing proud. Somewhere in our brain we think maybe it is ok. Yet the collision rates and road death statistics tell a very different story. In 2022 73% of road fatalities occurred on a rural road[iii]. This is not acceptable. The numbers of road deaths in any rural or urban area are not acceptable.
The speed reductions are not the answer, of course. As with many complex problems there is no one answer. But this is one huge step towards creating a very different kind of public space.
Some years ago, as part of the ‘Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland’[iv], the Rural Cycling Collective called for changes on our rural L roads, our “Rothar Roads” as we call them. We know that in many road and street environments we need new infrastructure to create safe, segregated spaces for people on bicycles. We also know that the creation of segregated spaces on our narrow rural roads is often not feasible. Yet we also know those same rural roads already create an almost perfect cycling network.
So often these L roads have low motor traffic volumes, have smooth running surfaces, are often lined with beautiful bio-diverse hedgerows and crucially already connect us to where we want to go. What makes them less than perfect is the culture of driving – inappropriate speeds, particularly on blind bends, overtaking without allowing for safe passing distances, driving with the assumption there will be no one else on the road.
The proposed speed reductions are, I believe, the start of a new culture of driving in Ireland. The start of the creation of an environment where people walking and cycling on our rural roads really are ‘expected and respected’.
And I say this, not just as an optimist but as someone who has observed so many changes in our culture over the years.
Last week Trinity College Dublin hosted the Cycling and Society Annual Conference – the first time the event had been held outside of Britain. In this article, the National Cycling Coordinator of Cyclist.ie and An Taisce, Dr. Damien Ó Tuama, offers some reflections on the conference while drawing on the inputs of some of the delegates from Cyclist.ie member groups who participated.
Cycling and Society (C&S) was set up as a group of researchers who wanted to share their studies and create a space for critical thinking in 2004. As explained on their website, they decided to have an annual symposium, keep it very low cost and make it very accessible. From the first edition in Lancaster, every year a local team takes on the organisation of the symposium.
I was delighted when I heard last year that the 2023 edition of the conference was being held in Trinity College Dublin. Cyclist.ie members have attended what is a top quality conference as far back as 2009 when it was held in Bolton University. This year there was a large share of the speakers who were representatives or members of Cyclist.ie. I highlight some of the contributions of these members below as well as drawing on other contributions.
Overall Feedback The C&S Conference was a terrific success by any yardstick. The planning and organisation of it was flawless, the attendance was terrific (it completely booked out with many people disappointed they couldn’t attend in person), and the quality of the presentations and discussions was top notch.
As Mairéad Forsythe, Chairperson of the Board of Dublin Cycling Campaign CLG / Cyclist.ie, put it: “the conference was a great opportunity to meet with cyclists from around the world, most of whom attended in person. The presentations were interesting and stimulating – and the ones I attended were thought-provoking about groups under-represented in cycling: women, children, older people and other minorities”.
Keith Phelan from Kerry Cycling Campaign and Vool agreed with Mairéad – he felt that the conference “provided an invaluable opportunity to gain insights from both home and abroad. I found that there was a good mix of topics, themes and presenter backgrounds. I found all of the presentations and discussions I attended insightful and engaging”.
Meanwhile Cllr. Donna Cooney, an active member of Dublin Cycling Campaign (who was just back from curating the Bicycle Space at the Electric Picnic Festival – see here) thought that the conference was very valuable – “it was great to be the company of like-minded people with the same passion for the ability of cycling to bring so many benefits to communities and our future survival.”
The social cycle organised by Dublin Cycling Campaign on Thursday evening was a big hit – just what the doctor ordered after a full day of debate and bouncing between parallel sessions in opposite corners of the Trinity campus! For Clara Clark, from Cycling Without Age, it was a “brilliant fun event”; while, as Keith from Kerry put it, the cycle “allowed participants to experience how Dublin’s cycle infrastructure has improved in recent years. We traveled through some areas I hadn’t cycled in since I lived there in the 90’s, it was like a different city.” This was great to hear – we are making progress in Dublin City after three decades of campaigning! A big thanks to all of the Dublin Cycling Campaign and Cyclist.ie marshals for running the event.
L to R: Ellen Cullen (Chairperson, Dublin Cycling Campaign), Gemma i Simón (Barcelona) and Thomas Van Laake (a Netherlander doing research at the University of Manchester) and other delegates enjoying the social cycle – Photo Credit, Miren Maialen Samper
The Minister and the Keynote Speaker Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan (below) opened the conference by returning to some of his core transport campaigning points – “we have been designing for the car for far too long – for many decades – and need to change trajectory”. He re-emphasised the need to question what the function of a public road / public space ought to be while observing how it currently works for its users – and then stressed the need to reshape it according to its agreed function (and in line with the new National Cycle Manual as published earlier in the month – see as welcomed by Cyclist.ie in our recent article).
Minister Eamon Ryan opening the conference proceedings
The Minister also reminded us of the speech of Enrique Penelosa when he spoke in the National Concert Hall in Dublin at the 2005 Velo-city conference. The former Mayor of Bogota implored Velo-city delegates and the Irish Local Authority engineers in the audience to think of streets as places for kissing and for relaxation – and not primarily as conduits for the movement of ever bigger metal boxes. Streets are quintessentially social spaces! I also remember that speech back in 2005 – such an eloquent and powerful speaker was Enrique!
The TCD keynote address, entitled “Is it all just words? How to get from cycling as storytelling to cycling as actual planning”, was delivered by Malene Freudendal-Pederson, Professor in Urban Planning Aalborg University. It provided a critique of ‘autologic’ and of the paradigm of motorised automobility. She condemned the technocratic solutions offered by a particular type of urban planning that is supported by traditional traffic models (where driving time is valued more highly than that of train passengers – a point that has been raised before at OECD workshops in Ireland as noted by Joan Swift in Sligo Cycling Campaign). There is a need, the professor argued, to sell ‘the lived’ and human scale city. And so powerful is the 15 minute city idea that it has engendered conspiracy theories around elites seeking to lock the public into these 15 minute zones!
For Miren Maialen Samper from Dublin Cycling Campaign, Professor Freudendal-Pederson’s address was really interesting as she reminded us, amongst other things, that “over 30% of car journeys in Europe cover distances of less than 3km, while around 50% of journeys cover less than the 5km. These distances can be covered within 15-20 minutes by bicycle.” These statistics are well worth repeating! The audience was also reminded that ‘at-point emissions’ from electric cars are still significant when one takes into account the fine particulates continually created from the wear of car tyres and braking systems. There was plenty more food for thought in the address, topics which are explored in her most recent book Making Mobilities Matter.
Some Highlights from the Sessions I note below a selection of topics and speakers that made a big impression on me and my Cyclist.ie colleagues at the event. Unfortunately, due to the (necessary) parallel session format, I missed many talks and discussions that I would love to have attended – so, no doubt, I am omitting plenty of fine contributions to the conference. I am just scratching the surface here.
Cycling in Older Age I was fortunate enough to chair this session which brought together four speakers who drew on some excellent qualitative research as they explored this under-examined sphere. Dr. Graeme Sherriff and Ian Cookson (from the University of Salford) conducted walking and wheeling interviews and ran mapping workshops in which older age participants plotted on paper maps the good, bad and inaccessible places to wheel/walk in their neighbourhoods – simple but very effective methods.
Meanwhile Carol Kachadoorian (from dblTilde CORE) shone a light on the Older Adult Communities in the US, and on the nature of the processes of both cycling cessation and returning to cycling. Additionally, Clara Clark gave us great insights into her Cycling Without Age experiences, and afterwards commented that “it was an honour to have the opportunity to speak on planning for inclusive cycling for all ages”. All in all, this was a rich session – it was just a pity that, due to time pressures, we were unable to have a Q&A discussion immediately afterwards… but the conversations certainly continued over lunch and throughout the rest of the conference.
Carol Kachadoorian in action
Mobility Justice, Car-centric Discourses and Social Dominance Theory Amongst my favourite presentations at the conference were those exploring mobility justice (a central concept in mobility studies which concerns how power and inequality inform the governance and control of movement) and discourses of mobility. Dr. Robert Egan from TCD unpacked the car-centric discourses we are exposed to on a daily basis, and presented the bases of alternative discourses of everyday mobility. This is incredibly important research as we seek to denormalise movement in cars which are ever larger and create increasing congestion. Meanwhile Nadia Williams (from TU Dublin) drew on social dominance theory to help elucidate the processes around how blame falls on the subordinate groups in the public realm. It was also fascinating to hear about the challenges of carving out cycle friendly environments in the city of Tehran, as described by Mohammad Nazarpoor (from Tarbiat Modares University, Iran).
A photo of from the presentation of Mohammad Nazarpoor
Local Authority Perspectives For the Cyclist.ie delegates, the presentations from the engineers and officials in Irish Local Authorities prompted the biggest reactions. As commented on by Sandra Velthuis, a member of the board of Dublin Cycling Campaign CLG, on her own blog, “Conor Geraghty of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council raised pertinent questions about the need for, and nature of, public consultation. The local authority believes in citizen engagement and consults beyond its statutory minimum requirements, yet it is his experience that no party ever feels they have had enough of a say. Around 40% of time on projects is taken up by consultation processes and a further 40% by procurement processes. At this pace, climate change targets will simply not be met.”
Conor Geraghty from DLR Council showing a sample of quotes from submissions received by the Council – Photo credit, Dave Anderson
For Keith Phelan from Kerry Cycling Festival, he was “really inspired by the contributions from the staff for the local authorities (Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Dublin City Council and Kilkenny County Council) as well as the NTA. It was really positive to see the vision for cycling in their plans and particularly to hear that cycling is finally being approached with a more holistic approach involving different departments and perspectives rather than being treated as simply a ‘transport’ concern.” And he added – “while Dublin is obviously on a different scale to other Irish urban centres, Caitríona Corr’s presentation on Kilkenny’s approach to designing a strategic cycle network was really relevant to smaller urban areas and showed the potential (and challenges) for cycling in regional towns.”
Caitríona Corr (South East Technical University and Kilkenny Co Co) speaking at the session on Engagement – Photo credit, Dave Anderson
Joan Swift from Sligo Cycling Campaign also highlighted the value of Caitríona’s contributions, with her emphasis on “collaboration, moving away from silos, expert facilitation, getting everyone in the same room, running cycling events, as well as planning, and positive messaging”.
Campaigning and Activist Perspectives I was struck by the similarities in the characteristics of MUBi, the Portuguese cycling advocacy association, and Cyclist.ie – as gleaned from the presentation by Vera Diogo who is based in the city of Porto. MUBi was founded in 2009 as a non-profit association of volunteer urban cyclists and it aims to improve the conditions for cycling in Portugal, both as a way of transportation and recreation. It has more than 1800 members. The frustration of campaigning in Portugal was palpable from Vera’s talk with a clear lack of political leadership and funding for cycling in Portugal at present.
I presented myself on Cyclist.ie’s experiences of engaging with the planning system and, in particular, on Cyclist.ie’s work (led by Colm Ryder, our Infrastructure Coordinator) in making submissions to Irish Local Authorities and An Bord Pleanála. There is a huge body of work carried out by the Cyclist.ie team, with much of it happening behind the scenes, and approx 100 submissions were made in 2022 and over 40 thus far in 2023. My presentation in full can be read here.
Damien Ó Tuama speaking on Cyclist.ie’s work
Keith Phelan gave a terrific talk on hashtag activism and on the work carried out in the (brilliantly named!) Cycle Space Invaders project. Well worth checking out the website here.
A screenshot from the Cycle Space Invaders website.
Another fabulous presentation from the campaigners side of the house came from Anne Cronin and Conor Buckley from Limerick Cycling Campaign. Their focus was the “Evidence from the E-Cargo Bike Demonstration Project in Limerick”. The project was all about supporting families and businesses to make the transition from driving to more sustainable and active modes of transport, and demonstrating that there are cycling alternatives for most short-journey trips and even some trips considered longer.
Equally, the project provided an opportunity for people with disabilities / reduced mobility and families with a child with a disability to trial the potential of an electric cargo bike for certain trip uses. One of the main takeaways from the trial was that people love looking at and touching e-cargo bikes – these are feel-good machines! This is such a terrific project overall – I look forward to hearing about the next development phases of it.
Cycle School Buses The final topic I include here is cycle school buses. There was huge interest in this topic arising from the discussions of the researchers from Barcelona.
For Mairéad Forsythe, her highlight was “meeting with Gemma Simón i Más and Anna Aretha Sach who are conducting research at the University of Barcelona on school bike buses. They were interested in seeing an Irish bike bus in action so I invited them to join the D12 Bike Bus from Crumlin Road to Riverview Educate Together Primary School on Limekiln Road on Friday morning. We escorted our charges safely to school and had some great celebratory bell-ringing at the brand new two-way segregated cycle track on Limekiln Lane. The discussion in the school grounds with Aodhán and Róisín was so interesting that Gemma and Anna had to cycle fast on their rented bikes to arrive in Trinity on time for their presentation. They are very keen to have Irish bike buses link up with their European bike bus network.” This was a sentiment echoed by Cllr. Cooney who said “it was good to link in with the school cycle bus program in Barcelona and we can send other bicycles buses their way into the international network”.
We were also reminded in the Q&A session following the bike bus presentations by one of the Scottish delegates of the gadget used in Glasgow to change the traffic lights – as reported on by The Guardian in Sept 2022. Wouldn’t it be great to trial that in Ireland as well?
In Summary It is impossible to do the conference justice in an article like this one. As with any high quality academic gathering, there was a huge amount to digest and there will be many leads and publications to follow up on over the coming months. It was intellectually exciting, and it reminds one of the importance of university based research in shaping the thinking and practices of those outside of the academy.
I was delighted to get my hands on Prof. Peter Cox’s new book, Cycling Activism: Bike Politics and Social Movements, and indeed to catch up in person with Peter who has been the heart of the Cycling and Society group since its inception. In fact, reconnecting with friends and with researching and campaigning colleagues from across Ireland, Britain and beyond was an especially enjoyable part of the conference.
Congratulations again to the Cycling & Society Committee (and to Graeme Sherriff who represented them in person in Dublin!) for supporting the local hosts in running the conference. And a huge congratulations to Dr. Robert Egan, Prof. Brian Caulfield and team for running a top notch event. They even organised a sunny evening for the social cycle! Well done.
Trinity College looking lovely in the sun – Photo credit, Dave Anderson
Cyclist.ie and Dublin Cycling Campaign have really enjoyed being part of the Global Green Area of Electric Picnic every year that the festival ran since 2009. In this article Conor Fahy reflects on EP 2023 and his experiences at the Bicycle Space. Cyclist.ie wishes to thank Conor and also Donna Cooney and all of the team who represented us so well in Stradbally this year! And thanks also to Donna for her photographs as used in this article.
My name’s Conor and I was delighted to be a part of the Cyclist.ie – Irish Cycling Advocacy Network stand at Electric Picnic again this year. My role was to help with set up, takedown and volunteering at the stall throughout the weekend and, separate to that, I performed in the Village Hall which is also found in the Global Green area.
I think it’s fair to say that the weather really brings the best out of all the stands and punters throughout the weekend and the same could definitely be said for our stand. We really got to use the space around our stall this year, showcasing the different bikes kindly provided by Donna which went down a treat with all the punters. Everyone was mad to get a go on the penny farthing and they did quite well – with the same people taking a crack at the unicycle and not having the same luck (bar a few that had it down to a tee!). All successful participants were entered into a competition to win a t-shirt as well as being given some cycling lights.
The engagement that started with the bikes acted as a great conversation starter with people stopping to chat for a few minutes after riding the bikes – or else others started conversations at our bike space while their friends tried out the bikes. Many punters asked about what cycling advocacy groups were available to join throughout the country, and they were also keen to better understand the Cycle to Work scheme and to find out what is currently being done to improve cycling safety countrywide.
All in all, I would consider it to be a very successful weekend with a lot of engagement from punters young to old, and with an engaging team volunteering at the stand throughout the weekend. It definitely bodes well for another successful weekend next year when Electric Picnic will mark its 20th Birthday.
Cyclist.ie welcomes today’s announcement by Jack Chambers, Minister of State for Transport, regarding significant changes to speed limits under the National Speed Limit review.
This development is part of a comprehensive suite of measures to be delivered under the Irish Government’s Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030 and marks a pivotal moment for road safety in Ireland. While we celebrate these changes, we must emphasise the urgency of their implementation at both national and local authority level – and the critical need for enforcement by An Garda Síochána.
The National Speed Limit review – Action #6 (page 5) of the Road Safety Strategy Action Plan (Phase 1, 2021-2024) – represents a significant step forward in our ongoing efforts to create safer roads for all users. It underscores the government’s commitment to prioritising road safety as a top concern. These adjustments to speed limits are a cornerstone of that commitment.
One of the most important proposals within this review is the call for a 30kph speed limit in built-up areas, but this must encompass not only our cities, urban and suburban areas, but also our rural towns and villages. This move will be testament to the government’s commitment to protecting vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists. Lowering speeds in these areas not only enhances safety but also fosters a sense of community and livability.
We must also address the proposed default 60kph speed limit on Local roads. On many of our Local roads, this proposed default limit would still remain unacceptably high, given these roads’ characteristics and challenges. We advocate for a reassessment of these limits, considering factors like the function of the road (is it used or desired to be used by people walking and cycling?), road conditions, terrain (e.g. bohereens with grass running up the middle?), and population density, with the aim of reducing the default speed limit to 50kph or even 30kph, where necessary.
To bring these changes to fruition, we call for strong leadership and ambition at the local government level. Local authorities and their councillors are essential in the successful implementation of speed limit reforms. It is critical that they take swift action to adjust speed limits in line with the new guidelines, saving lives and making our towns and villages more welcoming places.
In conclusion, Cyclist.ie stands firmly behind the mission of creating safer roads and promoting sustainable transportation. We celebrate the National Speed Limit review as a significant stride toward this goal, but we urge that these reforms are implemented urgently and enforced rigorously. Lower speed limits in built-up areas, near schools, and on local roads are essential components of this vision. We need to see cross-party support at national and local level to ensure that our roads are safe, inclusive, and welcoming spaces for all.
Cyclist.ie is delighted to see a new version of the National Cycle Manual finally published by the National Transport Authority. It replaces the previous NCM, published by the NTA in 2011, which is now withdrawn. The new manual can be read here.
According to the NTA, “the new manual places more emphasis on the range of cycles that cycle infrastructure will have to accommodate and the recommendations focus on segregating cyclists from traffic where speeds and volumes make roads unsuitable for sharing. There is also a general presumption towards segregating pedestrians and cyclists where possible.”
Campaigning for the publication of the NCM has been one of the priority actions of Cyclist.ie over the last number of years – and it was in our list of Cyclist.ie 10 Asks to Make Cycling Better and Safer for All that we prepared ahead of the General Election in 2020. And over recent years, we have engaged closely with the NTA discussing various design concepts and details, and providing constructive criticism on a myriad of elements that appeared in earlier drafts of the document. Over our many conversations with and in written submissions to the NTA, we stressed the need for a diversity of cycle types to be put to the fore to designers when they are conceiving of scheme designs – and we are glad to see images such as the following one presented early on in the NCM:
Neasa Bheilbigh, Chairperson of Cyclist.ie, responded to the publication of the new NCM by saying – “I warmly welcome the publication of this document, and look forward to every Local Authority engaging in systematic training in the use of it. We need to step up several gears in terms of the quality of the cycle infrastructure that is provided so that more people choose to cycle as part of their everyday lives”.
Cyclist.ie notes that Action TR/23/31*(TF) on page 58 of the Annex of Actions of the 2023 Climate Action Plan (available here) states:
“Advance widespread and consistent implementation of National Cycle Manual guidance and the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets” and with the following output identified to be completed by Q4 of 2023 “Updated National Cycle Manual guidance and training on implementation”.
We eagerly await this further guidance material so that we can ensure that the significant sums being spent on cycle infrastructure over the coming years are spent on the highest quality facilities possible.
Cyclist.ie wishes to thank all of its dedicated volunteers countrywide who have taken the time – over many years – to provide sometimes very technical feedback on scheme design and details, and on earlier iterations of the NCM. All of this behind-the-scenes campaigning work is now bearing fruit.
Finally, we note here that over the coming weeks and beyond, Cyclist.ie will be taking a closer look at the final published details in the NCM, partly in the context of us examining new cycle scheme designs coming on stream. We will also be monitoring the rollout of training to local authorities in due course. Watch this space.
Cyclist.ie – the national Cycling Promotion organisation