— 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.”
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.