I’m going to pull my hair out if Irish politicians don’t stop repeating cycling myths

IMAGE: It rains in the Netherlands too -- Amsterdam has more rain the Dublin.

— It might be a provocative headline, but, if we’re stuck on myths, cycling for all has little hope.

COMMENT & ANALYSES: Last week while Dublin was hosting the international Velo-city conference three experts visited the Joint Committee on Climate Action — despite what the experts said, the myths on cycling were strong from some of the committee members.

County Cork-based Senator Tim Lombard (Fine Gael) said: “We must consider urban planning and how we build infrastructure, particularly for our industries. Local authorities and the manufacturing industry need to promote cycling to work but, on the other side, Ireland experiences nearly 40 in. of rainfall every year. There are, on average, 160 days of wet weather. This is slightly different from weather on the Continent.”

Fabian Küster, a senior policy officer at the European Cyclist’s Federation, tried to explain: “On the weather conditions, I have lots of colleagues from the Mediterranean area and they complain all the time about the bad weather in Brussels, where it always rains. However, the weather in Brussels is similar to the weather in the Netherlands, and there it does not put people off cycling. It is a matter of clothing and attitude.”

But Senator Lombard was not for turning. He said: “…With the deepest respect to Belgium and Brussels, it is slightly different here: anyone who was here last Sunday will know what rain is.”

A quick Google search for Dutch average rainfall shows an average of 182 days which were wet in Amsterdam — data on met.ie shows the average number of “wet days” (with over 1mm of rain) at the Dublin Airport weather station was just 129 days. Iamexpat.nl, aimed at expats in the Netherlands, explains: “Precipitation, such as rain, is common throughout the year, which means there is no dry season.”

I live in the west of Ireland, yet, the worst rain I’ve cycled in was in the Dutch city of Eindhoven and two of the three times I’ve visited Amsterdam it has rained heavily.

Despite rainfall in Dublin being lower than the rainfall in both Amsterdam and Copenhagen it also doesn’t stop a Dublin-based Senator from spending time talking about myths when they had limited time taking to three international cycling experts.

“I want to go back to the weather as well,” said Senator Máire Devine. “The weather in this country is miserable most of the time, and I do not want to cycle in the rain. We need to think about what happens when I and thousands of others stop cycling and decide to use public transport. How are public transport systems coping with that? Do they make adjustments regarding the weather on a day-to-day basis because it is very unpredictable?”

Amsterdam’s public transport system might be more resilient than Dublin’s but there isn’t a mass transfer from cycling to other modes when it rains. Some people might not cycle in rain, but most will take a rain coat, or even an umbrella. Other evidence indicates that when cycling is given protected space that the fall off of people cycling in worse weather is far lower.

The Galway Cycle Bus has help school children in rainy Galway cycle across the winter, with only a few days of it not running due to storm warnings. If Galway’s traffic problems only related to stormy days, few would complain.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was the only politician in the room to challenge the myths. Deputy Ryan said: “I want to address a misconception. Dublin is drier than Amsterdam, a lot warmer than Copenhagen and not as sweltering as Rome. It is a bloody great place in which to cycle, and we will be like the Danes and the Dutch in 20 or 30 years. If the Government spends 10% per annum over the next ten to 20 years, it will transform life in this city and this country. That is where we are going to go.”

We also got the distance myth.

Senator Lombard said: “We need to be proactive and have a debate regarding cyclists and how to promote cycling but, because of our dispersed population, Ireland is different from areas such as London and Manchester. Populations densities are very low in my part of the world, which is very rural and in which the population is very dispersed. How should the strategy address rural areas?”

He added: “The dispersed nature of the Irish population is an issue. What are the implications for rural areas? How can the strategy be improved to ensure that rural people have the option to cycle and experience the benefits of the strategy?”

Shockingly his comments were made after Dr Rachel Aldred, transport researcher at the University of Westminster, started her evidence to the committee by outlining the actual data.

“Sometimes people think there’s no scope to shift to walking and cycling because trips are too long but I think it’s worth pointing out that 57% of trips made in Ireland are under 8km,” said Dr Aldred. “Even if we exclude Dublin residents, who’s trips tend to be shorter, 50% of trips of people living in Ireland are under 8km.”

She said that with 3/4 of all trips made by car and walking modal share at just 15% and cycling nationally at 2% that there is a lot of scope for change. Added to that electric bicycle and the combination of bicycle and public transport can extend the traditional used range of cycling beyond 8km.

Just to be clear here: Nobody is saying cycling suits everybody or all trips. It’s clear the expert witnesses did not say this and no cycling campaigner that I know of is saying it. Most people promoting cycling are looking for a transport system with cycling playing a far greater roll.

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

7 Comments

  1. Connecting public transport and cycling is not made easy in ireland. We were promised that the luas trams would take bicycles but it does not. There is space on intercity trains for only two cycles and no room for tandems, boxbikes or recumbents etc.Long distance buses also no go. If this problem was tackled it would make a big difference.Marketing Ireland as a cycling destination is difficult when a group arrive in Dublin to for instance cycle the western greenway and cannot use a train to get to mayo if there are more than two of them.

  2. Fair play Cian, this drives me nuts too. Dublin, and Ireland in general, has the ideal climate for cycling. The weather is pretty temperate all year round. Yes it does rain here, but in showers. We get very few days where it rains constantly. Showers are easy to avoid, just wait 10 mins, or put on your jacket.

    We also have great terraine. Not too hilly, enough to make the ride interesting. I honestly believe, when we get the infrastructure right, Ireland will be the leading cycling nation in Europe. There is greater potential here than in Denmark or the Netherlands.

  3. Really, Cycling strategies are not about encouraging people to come to Ireland to have a cycling holiday Bigx. It is about getting the indigenous population out of the car and onto the bike. Investment in cycling infrastructure initially has to be focused on the bigger cities to achieve success here. I’d rather 1000 more people cycling to work in Dublin taking those cars off the road, than 100 tourists spending money in Ireland. That can only be achieved by introducing safer cycling lanes in cities to encourage people that they are safe to cycle. It appears though, getting our politicians onboard to see the benefits of more people cycling is a strategy in itself.

  4. The crap spouted about the weather here is really annoying. As pointed out above, Dublin has a great climate for cycling. It doesn’t get hot in the summer, and it doesn’t really get cold in the winter. There are only 1 or 2 snow days a year. And as for the rain, it really doesn’t rain that much. I’ve lived in a number of countries, the USA, Canada, Scotland, England, Netherlands, NZ. The only place with a more favorable climate in all those places was Palmerston North in New Zealand. All of the other places had more inclement weather at some point in the year than Dublin.

    In NL where there are oodles of people cycling, it was far far far colder in the winter and it was hotter in the summer, and it rained more also. The only difference was that the Dutch enable people to cycle with a network of safe segregated cycle lanes.

    And the crap about distances is also a pain in the ass. People will travel quite a long way on a bike if they can do so with fairly direct routes on a safe network. The figure given above of 50% of rural trips being less than 8km is shocking given the almost complete lack of people cycling in the countryside. 8km is easily doable on a bike. Easily doable from an 8-year old to an 80-year old. And the reason sane people don’t cycle rural roads is because they’re fecking lethal due to cars.

  5. Tourism is seen by the powers that be as a sustainable industry which brings much needed money into the country, I believe that many of the greenways in Ireland would not have been built if it was not for the potential benefit to the tourist trade. Im not too worried from what pot the money to improve cycling infrastructure comes as long as we all benefit from improved facilities. You can have 100 tourists spending money in the country and at the same time have 1000 car drivers start using the improved cycleways partly paid for by tourism. They are not exclusive. That 100 tourists you are willing to turn away might just be continental cyclists who by their feedback could wake our minister Ross from his indifference to cyclists. He did promise to lend his support to cycling improvements during vc19 but may have already taken it back.

  6. Natalie Grieve July 5, 2019 at 6:31 am

    The Netherlands gets really high winds, something we don’t get too often fortunately. Doesn’t put people off cycling; they even have a Dutch headwind cycling championships.

  7. If you’re in a car, a little rain dribbling down the windscreen looks like it’s pouring outside. And if you get out of your heated car with its bottom-warmers and armchairs, and step out into a mild misty mizzle, you feel like you’ve been attacked.
    Rain when you’re on the bike is just a different experience – most rain is very minor in Ireland.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: