Cyclist.ie is very happy to announce that it is now a member of the Irish Environmental Network. This comes following the recent approval of its application to join.
As set out on its website, the Irish Environmental Network is a network of individual environmental Non-Government Organisations that work individually and, as appropriate, jointly to protect and enhance the environment, and to place environmental issues centre stage in Ireland and internationally. The IEN works to promote the interlinked principles of environmental, social and economic sustainability. The IEN represents to government the capacity building and funding needs of its member organisations, all of whom are involved in one way or another in the well-being, protection and enhancement of the environment.
Underpinning Cyclist.ie’s successful application to join IEN is its not-for-profit and registered charity status, its national remit and its proven experience over many years in conducting high quality and high impact advocacy work in the environmental and sustainable transport spaces.
On hearing the news of its successful application to IEN, the Chair of the Board of Cyclist.ie, Mairéad Forsythe, said:
Cyclist.ie is delighted to be part of the membership of IEN. We bring many years of sustainable transport advocacy experience to the network, and look forward to collaborating with other IEN members over the coming years.
On becoming a member of IEN, Cyclist.ie joins other member organisations such as An Taisce, Friends of the Earth, Cultivate and Feasta. Cyclist.ie already has positive working relationships with many IEN member organisation from running and participating in joint campaigns and initiatives over the years.
News of Cyclist.ie joining IEN comes shortly after Cyclist.ie’s major in person gathering of its groups/branches on 30th September and the 30th Birthday of the Dublin Cycling Campaign group – as we reported on here. Joining IEN represents another step in the growth and development of Cyclist.ie, and in making a bigger impact on public policy and on the culture of Ireland.
As many of our supporters will know, Cyclist.ie is part of a terrific European Commission funded Erasmus+ project with themes of climate action, cycling promotion, social inclusion and intergenerational relationships. The project involves connecting schools and non-profit cycling advocacy organisations from across Europe through carefully curated cultural exchange programmes.
Cyclist.ie’s ambassadors on this trip were Úna Morrison and Phil Murray (Dublin Cycling Campaign), Rory Maguire (Navan Cycling Initiative), Eoghan O’Leary Fitzpatrick (Galway Cycling Campaign) and Cyclist.ie’s National Cycling Coordinator, Dr. Damien Ó Tuama. In this article Eoghan, Rory, Phil and Úna each share their reflections on one of the four days of the trip, with Damien adding some further insights at the end.
Note that the featured image above shows Úna from Dublin Cycling Campaign / Cyclist.ie and Cristina from Biciclistas de Corella (and with the photo kindly provided by Biciclistas de C).
L-R: Phil, Úna, Rory, Eoghan and Damien in Lisbon
Day #1 – Friday 13th October – Eoghan Our journey began at the Secondary School in Azambuja, a meeting point for all participants in this Erasmus+ project. As we mingled and chatted in the school’s courtyard, we eventually made our way to the school’s hall.
Artwork depicting the countries involved in this Erasmus+ project
We all sat down in a circle in the hall, as one of the school’s English teachers welcomed us and introduced us to “Ubuntu,” a group within the school. Some of the students sported black t-shirts bearing the word Ubuntu alongside Nelson Mandela’s prisoner number. The teacher told us the meaning of the word Ubuntu and why it is important to her and her students. It literally translates to “I am because you are” but its greater meaning is that of connection and unity across humanity, and this was an important theme across our Erasmus+ project as we learned about our shared values across our different cultures and backgrounds.
Principal of the school welcoming us all
Following on from this, we began our icebreakers, starting with each participant sharing their name and a little about themselves. Icebreaker games, such as the “stand forward if” challenge, allowed us to see how much we had in common as relative strangers. We moved onto the “Colour Game” with coloured stickers on our foreheads, and we faced the challenge of forming groups based on colour (red, blue, orange, green, purple) without uttering a word – a slightly chaotic but fun exercise in communication beyond words.
After the school introductions, we cycled through the town, making our way to the heart of Azambuja, the Town Hall. Here, we were greeted by the town’s Mayor, who extended a warm welcome. He shared stories about Azambuja, providing a brief background of its history and its place in Portuguese culture.
Our adventure continued as we cycled to the Palácio das Obras Novas situated beside a channel of the Tagus River. We had our picnic here, followed by a few outdoor games like limbo.
Rory and Phil making their way to the Palácio
The highlight of the day awaited us — a mesmerizing boat tour of the Tagus River. Along the riverbanks, we had a chance encounter with wild horses, showcasing the region’s natural beauty. As the boat cruised through the water, we explored the area’s geological history with Annabelle, a Professor in Geology, which was both truly fascinating and informative. All topped off by a local song performed on the boat by one of the boat workers! All in all, it was a great kick off to what was to be an outstanding trip!
Annabelle detailing the Tagus during the Ice Age
Day #2 – Sat 14th October – Rory’s perspective After landing into the centre of Lisbon, we climb the hills around Alafama and immerse ourselves in rich architecture from as far back as the 12th century. They have managed to squeeze tram tracks into very challenging nooks and crannies all over the city. Somehow brazen car drivers still make their way through hoards of people on the same tracks visibly annoying and slowing everyone as they pass. I’m not sure what would possess someone to drive through the heart of this narrow city, but there is a very tangible difference between the emotion of the tram users and the stressed drivers navigating this very challenging obstacle course. I bask in thoughts of what this beautiful place felt like before cars existed. The silver lining to old cities like these are that numerous hurdles have restricted people to owning much smaller, more humble cars which are more efficient and less dangerous than the SUVs currently dominating the car market.
As we make our way up the steep cobbled hills towards the Castelo de St. Jorge, we pass musicians and artists seeking refuge in the shade between buildings which amplify their talent for the passers by. There is an incredible hum of music which beats its way up the city walls. It is surreal once we reach the castle which truly feels like the heart of Lisboa.
Peacocks outside the Castelo de St. Jorge
The tall ancient cork oak, olive and stone pine trees provide a lush green canopy that protects us from the heavy sun, and everybody centres their conversations, relaxation and movement under the trees. This experience contrasts sharply with the car-filled (more tree-less) suburbs which can get cripplingly hot when the sun is out. Perhaps there will be time when the on street parking will need to be sacrificed to tackle the heat island effect which is increasingly noticeable as the summer droughts ease their way into mid October.
The castle material itself contains incredible detail in each slab of stone. Telling the stories of the life and death of the many creatures fossilised inside. While touching these blocks I inadvertently take some of their story away with me on my fingertips.
Finding bikes for 40+ people is not an easy task by any means. Just one of many incredible feats pulled off by Margarida and others involved in this Erasmus programme. A spin down the bank of the Tagus river provides many amazing sights such as the presidential palace, Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, and the Torre Belém. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult to navigate even some of the simpler routes of the city with 40 kids and a handful of adults; Something which really makes me appreciate the work done by the network of Cycle School Buses in Ireland.
Making our way through the city
Passing under the Ponte 25 de Abril
The route along the Tagus is full of people. It always amazes me the interactions between pedestrians and cyclists. The fluidity and freedom to choose the direction of movement provides for a more relaxed environment with play, relaxation and wonderful food all around. At one of the many parks along the river we stop to enjoy a box of pastéis de nata. They don’t last long as everybody seems to be obsessed with them here. It’s so sweet to see the proud culture here of eating delicacies made by skilled local artisans rather than your standard mars bars and kitkats in corner shops. I learned that the culture of desserts here is based on egg yolks which were a by-product from monasteries using egg whites to starch clothes.
Pasteis de Nata or pasteis de Belém
The day finishes at a beautiful restaurant named Tasca da Ilda in Azambuja. I love how casual the staff in such a fine place are with us. A small thing which I think mirrors the relaxed and inviting culture we experienced throughout the trip. It was also nice to see the level of vegetarian cuisine being served not just in Lisbon but in small towns like Azambuja.
The highlight of the day for me was seeing hundreds of young people wheelying their bikes down the colourful Lisbon coastline. It gave me hope to see the rebellious nature of these kids reclaiming their city from cars in such a playful way. Bikes for them aren’t just a form of transport, but a way of life.
Wheelies in Belém
More wheelies in Belém
Day #3 – Sun 15th October – Phil’s reflections Taking our complimentary bikes our first port of call was the local secondary school, and from here we were taken by coach to a nature reserve, Paul de Manique, a 30 minute drive north-east of Azambuja. This bio-diverse lake and wetland has a total area of 18 hectares with a bird hide for spotting the 183 species of birds and 44 species of dragonfly amongst the abundance of wildlife found there.
We had two guides – Annabelle who gave us great insights into the geology of the area with her many soil and gravel samples as well as a 3m long core sample of the lake bed; and Paulo who is the main guide for the reserve and a fountain of knowledge of the area and its rich biodiversity.
Annabelle, Rory and Paulo in the dried lake bed
Paulo, described by one of our group as Portugal’s David Attenborough, gave us a fantastic insight into the rich wildlife of the wetland, despite the lake being totally dried up and the season’s first proper rain in months only starting to fall. We were reassured that it would take just two days of rain to fill the lake, and that only just below the crusty dry bed, life was still thriving in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Going by the heavy rain that fell about an hour after our tour, the lake was already beginning its annual transformation which made the timing of our visit all the more special.
Following a quick visit to a local church, which was once a Palace, we headed back to the school in Azambuja for lunch in the canteen. A fine meal was had, prepared by the ladies who ran the school’s well-equipped kitchen. At the school many activities were laid on with an opportunity for the students to get to know each other better, share their experiences and present the work they had been doing back home on raising awareness of climate change resilience in their communities.
Dinner at 8pm took place in the private home of the Deputy Mayor of Azambuja, albeit in a private clubhouse as part of the host’s residence. This big room with double height ceiling, three large tables with bench seating and every inch of wall space covered in bull-fighting paraphernalia was the kind of place only locals get to see. It was also a space where the famous Portuguese traditional music of Fado was performed.
Dinner with the staff of Azambuja Secondary School and the other Erasmus+ Partners – Photo credit: Biciclistas de Corella
Performing three songs each, our Fado singers, one male, one female and accompanied by two acoustic stringed instruments played by two men captivated us all with theatrically performed songs, sung with intense passion.
It was easily one of the cultural highlights of the trip and reaffirmed the connection that is universally made when humans come together to eat, drink, share stories and sing those stories passed down through generations.
Day 4 – Mon 16th Oct – Úna’s Reflections Monday was our final day of the trip and the core of the day was to see more of the culture and nature beyond Azambuja. Our first stop was Praia da Bafureira, Bafureira Beach, which is on the outskirts of Lisbon towards Cascais. This area is a Marine Protected Area which prohibits further development and fishing.
We spilt into groups with two pages of marine organisms to identify, including shellfish, seaweed and fish. I joined a group of four Polish students, which was great fun. Some of them had never seen the Atlantic Ocean before and were very unfamiliar with rock pooling. We all really enjoyed the natural treasure hunt and taking time to move slowly in the hunt for our various organisms.
From Bafureira, we moved on to Cabos da Roca, the most westerly point of continental Europe for a quick pit stop. We had an impromptu picnic and enjoyed the windy surroundings.
Úna and Damien on the edge of Continental Europe
Our destination for the afternoon was Sintra, a world famous town in the hills north west of Lisbon. As we travelled there, we noted that the landscape changed, with more lush vegetation, clouds and mist, along with winding roads. We walked towards the Park and Palace of Monserrate, which had a fascinating history. Since 1540 when the estate was founded, there was a succession of different owners, developments and abandonments. The British writers Lord Bryon and William Beckford were amongst the residents there. The palace that currently stands was commissioned by Francis Cook, a British trader and art collector, and it combines Gothic and Indian influences with Moresque accents. Together with the incredible gardens, featuring species from around the world, I found it an inspiring and magical place.
Rory, Eoghan and Úna – Rehydrating en route to the palace!
The valley of ferns was a highlight for me, together with the natural inspired interior architecture – both pictured below.
After walking back from the palace, we spent a very welcome break in Sintra, to explore the shops, sample the ice cream (I had a yoghurt and fig ice cream that was incredible) and enjoy the bustling town.
We returned to Azambuja for our final dinner in the school where we were joined by the principal and had the opportunity to sample some traditional chocolate cake, baked by the mother of one of the students. It was delicious, and an example of how this trip gave us the opportunity to really connect with the people of Azambuja. The students had a quiz and a sing-song and we all received our certificates of participation. And Eoghan from our group played a traditional tune on his feadóg stáin (below). It was an enjoyable end to a hectic but fulfilling trip to Portugal.
For me, the most valuable part of the trip was the chance to talk to and get to know people from other countries. I really enjoyed, for example, talking to Asia, one of the teachers from Poland about their upcoming general election and understanding her point of view. This will give me further depth of understanding when I read or hear about these types of things in the news in the future. I also really enjoyed seeing and exploring parts of the Portuguese landscape that I simply would walk, cycle or drive by if I was a tourist – such as the rewilded wetland and the marine protection area in Bafureira.
Final Reflections – Damien The third “Learning, Teaching and Training” trip of this Erasmus+ project was another rich, sociable and multi-dimensional experience for our participants. It allowed us to forge stronger relationships with the other partners and learn more about each others’ cultures and customs.
It was also valuable to spend quality time with newer members of Cyclist.ie’s own expanding network of volunteers – and I want to pay a special thanks to Úna, Phil, Eoghan and Rory for their great contributions throughout the trip and for representing Cyclist.ie so well on the international stage!
L-R: Eoghan, Rory, Damien, Úna and Phil
I also want to sincerely thank Margarida Pato from Azambuja High School for organising the full programme, and supported by her colleagues Paula, Edmundo, José and the other staff members. In fact, the programme was so full that we didn’t, unfortunately, as originally planned get to meet up in Lisbon with our cycle campaigning colleagues in MUBi (Associação pela Mobilidade Urbana em Bicicleta), a member group themselves of the European Cyclists’ Federation. Next time!
And thanks, as always, to our Project Coordinator Supremo, Toño Peña, from IES Alhama School in Corella for his ongoing support and unquenchable positive energy!
Last weekend cycling campaigners from Cyclist.ie groups / branches across the country descended on Dublin to re-energise each other ahead of what we expect will be a busy next 12-18 months of campaigning.
The Tailors’ Hall Gathering (Saturday 30th Sept) Representatives from many of our 35 groups landed into the lovely Tailors’ Hall (An Taisce’s HQ) for a day of debating our campaigning priorities for 2024. We were delighted to have two representatives (Clare and Keelan) there from the newest local group, Gorey Pedestrian and Cycling Association – and with other delegates having traveled from as far away as Skibbereen, Sligo and Gort. And we were even more delighted that Mná na h-Éireann were out in force, with slightly more women attending the meeting than men – and even more women attending the cycle on the Sunday (see below).
The Gathering was especially important since our network of groups had not met since before the pandemic – and there is nothing like meeting in person to have proper debates with one’s peers.
Cyclist.ie Chairperson Neasa Bheilbigh setting the scene for the day – Photo credit: Dave Tobin
To start the day off, we were treated to ten short talks show-casing successful campaigns and initiatives at a local level. These included talks on:
School streets in Galway [Reg Turner, Chair of Galway Cycling Campaign]
Community garden cycles, Miren Maialen [Dublin Cycling Campaign]
Biodiversity themed pedal parades – see poster below [Claire Anne Tobin]
There then followed two engaging sessions – one, gathering our thoughts ahead of the 2024 Local Elections; and the second, exploring the nature of crises and what it means for an advocacy body to be ‘crisis-fit’.
Ger O’Halloran (Dublin Cycling Campaign) reporting back on the breakout session – Photo credit: Damien Ó Tuama
All in all, there were some rich discussions and learnings from the event which we are now digesting, and which the Executive Committee will analyse in more depth over the coming weeks.
How many Brompton bikes can you store in a historic fireplace? Photo credit: Siobhán McNamara
Dublin Cycling Campaign’s 30th Birthday (Saturday 30th Sept) The timing of our Gathering was chosen so as to synchronise with Dublin Cycling Campaign’s big 30th Birthday celebrations. As explained in the press release issued ahead of the party, Dublin Cycling Campaign “emerged in 1993 in response to the systematic omission from official transport thinking of cycling as an essential part of the urban transport system. Cycling, and indeed walking, had essentially been cut out of all of the ‘serious’ transport strategies and investment programmes for several decades”.
The party brought together members and friends of the Campaign going back in time – and we were fortunate enough to have some gorgeous black and white photos from the 1990s taken by Photographer Jim Berkeley on display for the day – many thanks Jim! Additionally, seven of DCC’s 13 Chairpersons over its three decade span came along, and elected politicians from an array of parties at Council, Dáil Éireann and European Parliament levels popped in over the course of the evening to mark the occasion.
A huge thanks to DJ 25Seán who played some fine dancey tunes upstairs in the hall – the perfect way to unwind after a day of meetings!
DJ 25Seán mixing it up for the guests – Photo credit: Miren Maialen
Excitement all round at the party! – Photo credit: Will Andrews
Dodder Cycleway Spin (Sunday 1st October) To top the weekend off and wipe the cobwebs away on Sunday morning, Mairéad Forsythe from Dublin Cycling Campaign led a lovely spin along the Dodder Greenway from Rathfarnham to Kiltipper Park where all the gang enjoyed a picnic – as per the photos below.
Rendezvous point #1 at the Grand Canal: Photo credit: Katleen Bell Bonjean
The Cyclist.ie / Dublin Cycling Campaign gang at Balrothery weir on the Dodder Cycleway – Photo credit: Katleen Bell Bonjean.
Mary Sinnott and Katleen Bell Bonjean from Cyclist.ie’s Executive Committee enjoying the picnic – Photo credit: Katleen Bell Bonjean.
Anne Nospickel and Snoobles taking a break in Kiltipper Park – Photo credit: Katleen Bell Bonjean
Cyclist.ie wishes to thank all of the organisers for their work in making the weekend happen – and all of the delegates and party people for contributing to the events. We also thank An Taisce, The Tailors’ Hall Tavern, and The Right Catering Company for the venue and the fine food served on the Saturday.
We look forward to the next Cyclist.ie in-person gathering which, we hope, will be west of the Shannon in Spring 2024!
Damien Ó Tuama 03 October 2023
Note: featured image at the top of this page taken by Jessica from The Right Catering Company
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 delivered its Pre-Budget 2024 Submission to the Department of Finance (Minister Michael McGrath) and the Department of Education (Minister Norma Foley) earlier today, 28 August 2023.
You can read it in full as a PDF here or in the body text further below.
A big thanks to our hard-working Executive Committee and wider team for preparing the submission. This behind-the-scenes work is but a small part of our broader advocacy efforts to put cycling and walking to the fore in government policy, practice and investment decisions.
Aggressively Promote Climate Change Requirements Increase Level of Transport Capital Funding Allocated to Creating High Quality Conditions for Cycling and Walking Countrywide
1 – Introduction Cyclist.ie – the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network, is the umbrella body of cycling advocacy groups in Ireland (https://cyclist.ie/) and the member for Ireland of the European Cyclists’ Federation (https://ecf.com/). Our vision is that cycling, as a mode of transport, becomes a normal part of everyday life for all ages and abilities in Ireland.
As recognised in the Programme for Government (PfG), cycling as a mode of transport offers numerous well documented broad benefits to society as well as being “the most important tool in combating Climate Change” (European Commission Executive Vice President, Frans Timmermans, September 2021). Three years on from the publication of the PfG, unlocking these benefits has assumed even more urgency.
We know from data that private cars are used for nearly 30% of journeys as short as 2km or less. We urgently need to enable and encourage travel by bike and on foot for shorter journeys by funding the required infrastructure to an even greater degree than at present. We also need to enable multi-modal bike trips by funding both bike share schemes, and adequate and safe bike parking at bus, tram and train stations/stops in both urban and rural areas.
Enabling cycling – whether stand-alone or as part of intermodal trips – is the fastest and most cost effective means of meeting the targets set for transport in the Climate Action Plan 2023, and in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021. Cycling infrastructure and fiscal incentives for cycling can be rolled out on a fast timescale and offer a far better return on investment than other transport spend. 2 – Summary Asks In short, we seek the following:
Infrastructure – Urgent need to further increase funding for high quality Active Travel scheme. Increase to €1B over the final two years of the current government term.
Policing – We are seeking a commitment that a 50% minimum of new Garda recruits are deployed to roads and community policing. This is in the context of the rising numbers of road traffic casualties over the last two years.
Bike to Work Scheme reconstituted. Move away from the PAYE to a system that will allow children, retirees, unwaged people, carers, people on disability allowances to avail of an equivalent system, and hence enable more bike use.
Business focused Cargo Bike Schemes for the city centres of the five Irish cities.
VRT. Review VRT levels for all sizes, weights and types of vehicles, to promote the use of greener and smaller vehicle models. Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) should be specifically targeted for increased VRT. This reflects the increase in road danger they create for people walking and cycling arising from the driving of larger, heavier vehicles. These vehicles now command 50% of the private car market.
VAT. Zero rate VAT on bicycle repairs and businesses – to promote the circular economy, create jobs in the green economy, and make cycling more affordable for people of all incomes .
Safe Routes to School Funding increased with the outcome of the removal of all school motor traffic from all urban and suburban schools by September 2024.
Bike Parking and Bike Scheme Investment – Large indoor and supervised bike parks at all major city bus and train stations. Covered outdoor bike parking at medium sized transport hubs.
Education & Training – Funding to establish cycle training as part of the primary school curriculum
Further detail on the above items is provided on pages 3-5 below.
3 – Further Details
Walking and Cycling Infrastructure While Cyclist.ie welcomes the serious and continued investment into active travel that this government has brought forward, it has become clear that our 2030 and 2050 decarbonisation goals in transport are rapidly slipping out of reach. In the recent EPA provisional report on our emissions targets, they noted that transport was a key problem area that saw emissions increase by 6% despite the significant increase in electric motor vehicles .
Our current spend as per the Programme for Government is €360m per year. However, rising inflation levels has led to increases in the delivery costs of infrastructure projects, and this has has been earmarked by the NTA as a barrier to achieving the delivery of the full complement of projects . This is placing an increase of approx 30% cost onto delivering active travel and other infrastructure projects. From our engagement with local authorities, active travel teams and the NTA, there is a clear demand and willingness to do more but limited funding does not allow this. Quite simply €360m in 2023 does not deliver the equivalent in terms of infrastructure that it did in the first year of the Programme for Government.
In short, high quality infrastructure is what enables modal shift. Investment in this area will deliver huge value for money in meeting our climate targets. We are calling for an emergency measure raising this annual funding to €500m per year over the remaining two years of this government. The allocation of €1B of Active Travel infrastructure funding between now and 2025 to meet what is required in our climate responsibilities would send a clear sign that the government is taking this aspect of the climate emergency and the need to decarbonise transport seriously.
Policing 2023 has been one of the worst years in recent memory for deaths and injuries of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. While we welcome the increase of 1,000 new garda graduates, we ask that their deployment is focused on Roads and Community Policing.
We also ask that there is a funding stream made available via the Department of Justice to An Garda Síochána to develop a robust advertising and education programme around driver responsibility in regards to vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. As part of this there should be an upskilling of all existing Garda through a CPD course outlining the dangers vulnerable road users face and the tools AGS members have to enforce dangerous driving, overtaking and parking.
Bike To Work Scheme and Bike Libraries While the Bike to Work Scheme was a success for its time it’s clear that the urgent need to decarbonise our transport system means we need to have a root and branch rethink of the current model. The current system, based on PAYE, is exclusionary and rewards the wealthiest with the biggest cost reduction. The system needs to have equitable access and social inclusion as its core guiding principle allowing children, retirees, those with limited mobility, carers, unwaged people and others to achieve bike ownership.
We are calling for a decoupling of the Bike to Work scheme from PAYE tax and for a wider and more equitable roll-out allowing people from all walks of life to have affordable and easy bike ownership.
Additionally, we ask that funding is made available through the Department of Education and Skills to all primary and secondary schools to facilitate the establishment of Bike Libraries. These comprise a fleet of cargo, electric or folding bikes that are operated by schools and parents’ associations where parents can borrow them over the school term to trial what bike would allow them to make the switch from the car . To date the Dept of Education and Skills has been a laggard in terms of climate action with many of their current policies around school building projects incentivising car use and suppressing modal shift to active modes. We would request that they make funding available to all schools at both primary and secondary level to enable projects like this to take place.
Business Focused Cargo Bike Schemes Cyclist.ie requests that the Dept of Communications, Climate Action & Environment engages with Chambers Ireland to develop a series of pilot programmes across the country to roll out cargo and e-bikes for last mile urban city centre delivery.
VAT and VRT changes Cyclist.ie calls for the review of taxation and fiscal policy to help further modal shift by:
Reviewing the VRT levels for all sizes, weights and types of vehicles, to promote the use of greener and smaller vehicle models. Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) should be specifically targeted for increased VRT. This reflects the increase in road danger created for people walking and cycling from the driving of larger, heavier vehicles, which now command 50% of the private car market.
● Zero rate VAT on bicycle repairs and businesses – to promote the circular economy, create jobs in the green economy, and make cycling more affordable for people of all incomes.
Safe Routes to School Unnecessary school trips by car are a key journey type that need to be reduced significantly if we are to address our transport emissions. The Safe Routes to School programme and its associated schemes have been an excellent method to make active modes a safer and more accessible choice for parents and students. With the recent rise in deaths of children cycling and walking it is even more pressing that the immediate vicinity and the grounds of their schools are free from unnecessary car traffic. We would ask for a significant increase in funding and staffing levels to allow these programmes to move forward with a goal of the removal of car traffic from the internal roads and front of school streets of all urban and suburban schools by September 2024.
Bike Parking and Bike Scheme Investment We know from data that private cars are used for nearly 30% of journeys as short as 2km or less. This is a startling statistic that needs to be tackled. We need to enable and encourage travel by bike and on foot for shorter journeys, by funding the required infrastructure to an even greater degree than at present.
We also need to enable multi-modal bike trips by funding both bike share schemes and adequate and safe bike parking at bus and train stations and bike parking at bus stops in both urban and rural areas. In urban areas more cycling trips are an obvious answer to traffic congestion and in rural areas the welcome expansion of Local Link services can be further leveraged by the provision of bike parking at bus stops.
Education & Training As we move to more active modes of transport, we need to ensure that all our children have the skills to cycle with confidence around urban and rural settings. It’s vital that we develop cycling as an integral part of the school physical education curriculum. This approach is taken in countries such as the Netherlands, where we see the majority of school children cycling to school.
The Cycle Right training has been a huge success in empowering and enabling children to cycle safely, but we need to see proper investment to ensure every child leaves primary school with an adequate level of cycle training.
This important life skill will not only build the child’s sense of confidence and independence while maintaining a healthy active lifestyle, but will develop their empathy and awareness of other road users if they go on to become drivers.
4 – Conclusion / Summary Unlocking the multiple benefits that cycling offers the economy, society and the environment requires continued targeted and sustained investment. Government and Local Authorities must continue to be steadfast in ensuring that these value for money and wide social benefits are availed of.
We look forward to having the above recommendations considered favourably by the Department.
Neasa Bheilbigh Chairperson Cyclist.ie – the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network
Last week, an alliance of health, medical, environmental and sustainable transport advocates joined forces to call for the urgent implementation of BusConnects, the Government’s plan to improve public transport, cycling and walking, and reduce carbon emissions in Ireland’s major urban centres.
The press release circulated for the event (on 23 August 2023) can be read below, and a summary of the extensive media coverage that ensued on the back of the press event can be read here.
Members of the alliance include the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish College of General Practitioners, Irish Doctors for the Environment, Royal College of Physicians, the Irish Pedestrian Network and Cyclist.ie, the national cycling advocacy network. At the launch in Dr Steeven’s Hospital on Wed 23rd August, Dr. Sean Owens of the Irish College of General Practitioners said, “BusConnects will provide more reliable, punctual bus services, better footpath and crossing facilities for pedestrians, and joined-up bike lanes across Dublin and other cities. Regular physical activity has been found to be one of the most sustainable ways of improving health. Designing a transport system that builds in some level of exercise, whether that be a 10 min walk at either end of a bus journey or a cycle to work or school, is the easiest way of achieving this. Active travel projects will have significant public health benefits and we need our public representatives to stand up and support them.”
At recent public meetings in Cork and Dublin, political support for BusConnects was lukewarm at best. Projects are at risk of being delayed or watered down unnecessarily. It is vital that public representatives give their full backing to these projects so that their many health, environmental and public realm benefits can be realised as quickly as possible. Members of the Active Travel Coalition, established in 2021, share the goal of enabling people of all ages to have healthier choices in transport. Active travel is defined as any functional transport that involves physical exercise, such as walking or cycling, and includes the use of public transport.
BusConnects is a Government-led initiative to reorganise bus routes in five main cities and construct continuous bus lanes, connected cycle lanes and enhanced footpaths and crossings for pedestrians. Roisin Breen from the HSE’s Strategy and Research group added that “Supporting healthy behaviours from childhood through to healthy ageing is a key pillar of the HSE Healthy Ireland Plan for 2023-27. The plan calls for a shift towards a culture that places greater emphasis and value on prevention and keeping people well.
One of the key focus areas in the plan is on active living. BusConnects helps facilitate active living which will keep people healthier longer.
In addition The HSE Climate Action Strategy 2023-2050 includes action to enable transition to low carbon and active travel alternatives for people working in, visiting and using our services.” Buses are the backbone of our public transport so supporting an expanded and more effective bus system makes sense. In Dublin for example, buses carry more passengers than car, rail or Luas. Major rail projects take many years just to obtain planning permission, and cost many times what a bus lane would.
“Ireland has a transport problem, but more specifically a car problem”
…said Dr. Colm Byrne, consultant geriatrician and member of Irish Doctors for the Environment. “We rank only behind Cyprus as the most car-dependent country in the EU, with 76 per cent of people using a car as their daily transport, with even very short journeys done by car.”
According to Mark Murphy, advocacy officer with the Irish Heart Foundation, “30 minutes of moderate intensity activity, such as walking or cycling, five days a week, reduces your risk of developing heart disease and stroke, and contributes to overall improved levels of health”.
Cycling has immense pent-up demand, according to the Coalition, and cycle traffic would be greatly increased by BusConnects. “In Dublin, for example, roughly 25% of adults cycle one or more days per week. There is a further 21% who would cycle if they felt safer. The #1 reason given by people for not cycling is fear of sharing road space with motor traffic. With safe segregated cycling infrastructure therefore, we could almost double the numbers of adults cycling in Dublin. This is to not even consider the potential for growth in schoolkids cycling to school. Cycling can be an option for almost everyone if we design for it correctly. Segregated bike lanes will be delivered alongside the improved bus routes as part of BusConnects,” said David Timoney of Cyclist.ie.
Air pollution improvements, reduced congestion and addressing our carbon reduction commitments were cited by the Coalition as ‘co-benefits’ that improved bus, pedestrian and cycling facilities would bring. However the Coalition pointed out some issues with the plans. ”We’re aware of weaknesses in the designs, and we do acknowledge that the loss of private garden space and the inconvenience of losing habitual car park spaces are difficult for those affected,” said Timoney, “but we are convinced that BusConnects will bring such major benefits to the public good – improvements in peoples’ cardiovascular and respiratory health, even their sense of general wellbeing – that any losses will be far outweighed by the gains”.