COMMENT & ANALYSIS: The Netherlands is just over 1,000km from Ireland. So, why does Ireland’s attempts at cycle routes continue to fall desperately short compared to a country so close to us? Myths around our differences don’t explain the full story, but they hamper progress. In this mini-series we explore seven of the main myths:
4. “Distances travelled in Ireland are too far for cycling”
Decades ago the Dutch transport planning system targeted trips under 7km for cycling. That changed in recent years and longer distances are now targeted. This is partly using a planned national network of dedicated fast cycle routes between urban areas and partly because of the growth electric bicycle use.
We can plan for longer distance and electric bicycles straight away, there’s no need for us to install a cycle route network and then go back an retrofit it.
Average commuting distance in the Netherlands is over 35km
According to a 2014 National Travel Survey by CSO, the average distance of a journey in Ireland is 14.5km — that might sound like a lot until you compare it to the daily average commuting distance in the Netherlands of over 35km.
Yes, cycling is not suitable for all distances or all types of trips, but a mix of conventional and electric bicycles gives cycling a range well beyond 8km. It means 60% of trips taken in Ireland by people over the age of 18 are within cycling distances. While not everybody is able to cycle all the time, where proper cycle routes are provided a wider range of people will see it as an attractive option.
The above chart shows data from the 2014 CSO travel survey (which for some reason excludes shorter trips by children and teenagers to school, these trips on average are shorter).
The above graph from a 2006 Dublin travel survey shows how the bulk of trips to shopping and to education are below 5km — this is well within the range of cycling. The issue for cycling to shopping, school and college is mainly one of safety and attractiveness. Around 75% of Dutch secondry school students cycle to school, we should be at least targeting close to 50% just on health grounds alone, before you factor in congestion and other issues. And it’s not that uncommon for some Dutch teenagers to cycle around 10km+ to school.
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For longer trips, cycling has two rolls to play — a small percentage of people will cycle longer distances (ie 10km to 20km+) and then others will use a bicycle for one or more parts of multimodal trips (ie bicycle-train-walk or bicycle-train-bicycle).
Safe and attractive cycle routes and secure parking at public transport hubs allows more people in commuter towns to get catch a train because cycling has a longer range than walking and you can park more bicycles than cars at train stations.
In city centres and at other transport hub locations, secure bicycle parking and bicycle share allows people to hop on a bicycle for the last mile of their commute after using a bus, tram or train. Bicycle parking and bicycle share systems can also be provied at park and ride locations so people can swicth from car to bicycle for the last leg of their commutes.
Overall distance as an excuse should be filled as a myth
7-8km is mostly the radius of the M50 from O’Connel Street in Dublin and 4-6km in Cork and Limrick brings you from the city centre to most suburban areas.
Even in Galway more than half of the western suburbs are just around an 8-9km trip from Parkmore East business park on the eastern edge of the city — can you image a Dutch-design fast cycle route which cuts down on the need for stopping by having cycling bypasses of large roads using Dutch-quality underpasses or overpasses?
Other places are tiny — Maynooth is less than 3km from end-to-end and 4km brings you from rural suburb to rural suburb in many large towns.
Cycling can even help the poorly planned areas where public transport will not be sustainable — for example the sprawling parts of Athlone are within cycling distances, from the town’s (poorly planned) Roscommon suburbs on the west of the town to the Athlone Institute of Technology on the east is only around 6km.
Better land use planning in the future will make walking and cycling even more attarctive, but the vast bulk of trips made in Ireland are relitively short and distances are currently not the major issue many people make out to be.
Distance is an excuse
When distance is given as a reason for us not to invest in cycling, or for cycling not to become a core part of Ireland’s transport network, it’s wrong. Some of it might be targeted misinformation, but most of it is most likely just a lack of research, a lack of looking at the facts, or biases from individuals who live in places where longer-distances are more common or from the media who often overhypes long commutes.
Cycling won’t suit everyone or every trip, but when it’s used as an argument against high-quality cycling investment, distance is an excuse. It’s more of a myth than a real issue.
MORE: Myths: Distances