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.
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!
Keynote speaker, Prof Malene Freudendal-Pederson – Photo Credit – Miren Maialen Samper
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?
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