After two decades spent striving to improve the city for cyclists, the Dublin Cycling Campaign is more ambitious than ever, they tell Cian Ginty of their quest to fill the streets with bikes
When you hear some politicians and radio broadcasters speak of Dublin’s cycling lobby it draws the image of hired guns running around city hall after councillors or over at Kildare Street in weekly meetings with TDs.
The way some talk about it, the all powerful lobby gets everything. The reality is quite different.
“We certainly don’t get everything we want. I think you just have to look at the streets to see that’s not true,” says Muireann O’Dea, the chairperson of Dublin Cycling Campaign.
O’Dea describes the campaign as “the voice of cyclists” in Dublin. She says: “We want to make the city better for cyclists, but we also think doing that would make the city nicer for other people.”
“We’re trying to work with people, we’re not anti-motorists… sometimes it’s portrayed as a war between motorists and cyclists and that’s not the way we want it to be. We just want to share the road and get on with cycling,” O’Dea says.
She says there are bad cyclists out there but “we’re not here to defend those people”. The campaign’s goal is to have “a lot more people cycling on the streets and for it to be a much more relaxed experience”.
“I think it could all be achieved by changing driver behaviour, first of all, by slowing down cars. I know that sounds very unpopular because motorists feel they’re stuck in traffic all the time but if we just slow down the average speed, [get] rid of the people racing to the next traffic lights, it’d be much more pleasant to cycle around” says O’Dea.
“We help to put cycling on the top as a main part of the transport agenda in Dublin,” says Colm Ryder, the campaign’s secretary. “We’re not an opposition group; we’re working alongside the local authorities trying to make Dublin a cycling friendly city.”
O’Dea highlights the successful removal of the mandatory use of cycle lanes as something they’ve pushed for a long time – before being revoked, the mandatory use law said that cyclists must use a cycle lane, regardless of its condition or how it was blocked.
“The 30km/h speed limits in the city centre would be one of the campaign’s successes. I don’t think it’s being enforced enough but still it has helped,” she added.
The campaign work is exclusively done by volunteers. Often unseen in the background, those volunteers work to give Dublin’s councils input into projects at the early stages and write detailed written submissions for public consultations on projects, development plans, and local area plans. Members of the campaign sit on the councils’ transport committees and the city council’s cycling forum.
“It’s very busy, there’s enough work there for a fulltime person, certainly there’s enough work in cycling promotion for several fulltime people, so you kind of always feel that you’re not doing enough; that’s the main challenge,” says O’Dea. She says she joined at a Dockland cycling event about five years ago and soon after volunteered as membership secretary.
“I met some people who are in the campaign on that cycle and then I just turned up at one of the meetings and they were looking for a membership secretary so I volunteered because I thought it was something I could do at home and I wouldn’t have to go to meetings,” she said, jokily adding, “Little did I know.”
The monthly meeting format has been radically changed in the last year to make it more attractive to general members. The “nitty gritty” of the committee meeting takes place before the general public meetings, which now include talks on cycling related topics, usually from an outside expert in their field.
“If you cycle a bike, you’re welcome, even if don’t cycle a bike, you’re welcome to come along,” says O’Dea.
Just under 3,000 people ‘like’ Dublin Cycling Campaign on Facebook, but only a small fraction of that are paid-up members.
“That’s a problem with any NGO – people don’t understand the amount of leg work that’s involved in lobbying,” says Ryder. He says it is “critically important but extremely hard” to translate that Facebook support into paid memberships, but highlights how the campaign is gearing up to embark on a membership drive.
Ryder says: “Our rewards card is ready to launch and we’d hope to see a big movement in membership numbers. We’d be very hopeful over the next two years to see at least a doubling of membership.” New benefits to current and new members include discounted cycling insurance, and discounts ranging from 5-20% for many bike shops, on purchases and services.
O’Dea says: “Hopefully it’s also a way of supporting the bike shops as well and other bike friendly businesses. It should get going very soon, in June. We have a lot of bike shops signed up, they’re very keen on the idea so we’ll try and expand it, try to get a few cafes to support it as well.”
The campaign is about to take on a paid member titled ‘Cycling Coordinator’, although the role will start limited to a two-day week basis. The role is part funded by the European Cyclists’ Federation; it will be a joint appointment by the campaign and An Taisce.
To expand this and possibly look at employing more people, O’Dea explains: “I think we need to go out there and look for funding. Corporate sponsorship is one way we could look at it.”
The European connection
“Our links with Europe through the European Cyclists’ Federation in the last year and a half have been vital,” says Colm Ryder, the secretary of the Dublin Cycling Campaign.
The European Cyclists’ Federation are now partly funding the campaign’s first paid employee.
The campaign has also been taking part in a two-year EU Lifelong Learning Programme, Volunteers of Cycling Academy (Voca). It involves meeting up with advocacy groups from ten other European cities and hosting them in Dublin, which happened last year.
It aims to spread knowledge about high quality, bike-friendly infrastructure by studying real examples in various EU cities as well as theoretical engineering and policy principles.
“Through the Voca project just learning what other cities are doing and seeing it in practice gives you a new way of thinking about what can be done in your own city,” says Ryder.
Campaign chairperson, Muireann O’Dea, says they got involved after being contacted by a cycling campaigner from Poland.
“We didn’t really know what we were getting involved in but it’s turned out to be fantastic, as a way of seeing of what they’re doing in other cities and as well we had a group visit Dublin last June and they were really positive about Dublin,” she says.
O’Dea says: “They were saying things like, ‘Bucharest is five years behind Dublin’…there is this feeling that cycling is growing throughout Europe and it’s just where you are on the scale.”
She adds: “We’ve learned how other groups organise themselves. I think it’s made us more ambitious about what we can achieve. Some of the cities we’ve visited have been really inspirational, like Seville is incredible, the way it’s gone from almost no cyclists to 7% in six or seven years and they’ve put in really good infrastructure.”
Originally published in the Summer 2013 edition of the Cycling in Dublin newspaper, which can be viewed or downloaded here.