Reducing cars is like smoking ban, people won’t want the traffic back, cycling expert tells Irish politicians

IMAGE: An image of a flagship project planned in Manchester.

— “Technological change” not enough to meet climate goals, committee told.

International cycling experts last week told the Joint Committee on Climate Action that Ireland needs not just cleaner cars, but fewer cars and to be “brave” when providing cycling infrastructure.

“Car-dominated environments particularly dissuade women from cycling, as well as other under-represented groups and people travelling with children. That is something that may also affect gender balance,” said Dr Rachel Aldred, transport researcher at the University of Westminster.

Dr Aldred — a renowned researcher in transport issues relating to cycling — was part of a small delegation who spoke to the parliamentary Joint Committee on Climate Action while Dublin hosted the Velo-city conference last week.

Dr Aldred said safe cycle infrastructure can be viewed as part of the public sector’s duty to equality and human rights. She said: “That is because if we do not have environments that enable cycling then women, children and older people are disproportionately put off from cycling.”

She said motor traffic was the “fundamental barrier” to cycling and that there is now a consensus of evidence on the need for segregated cycle paths on main roads. Dr Aldred added: “Minor roads are only really cycle-friendly if there are low speed levels and low volumes of motor traffic. A residential road is not necessarily somewhere people will let their children cycle if many cars are cutting through the area.”

“There’s a need for change. When we think about emission reductions, technological change is not going to be enough to meet policy goals over the short time frames necessary. We need that technological change, but we also need substantial behaviour change — cleaner [motor] vehicle but also fewer vehicles.”

Brian Deegan, a street design engineer known for improving cycle route design in the UK, said that he was telling his personal story to stress that the way we design streets has a strong effect on people’s lives.

Deegan said: “I was raised in the Moss Side area of Manchester, which is a quite rough inner-city area. When I was young, I used to play football on the cobbled streets. I see nodding faces around the room. I am sure we all had similar childhoods that involved playing outside. Asphalt was put down on the streets one day in the name of progress. We wondered what was this new stuff that had arrived on our streets. It suddenly became quite difficult to play football because we could not get out of the way of the cars in time.”

He continued: “We did not have enough space. The streets ceased to be places in which we could play. My friend Stephen got run over by a car. He was not killed but it made it difficult for him to concentrate and he slipped out of school and suffered from social problems. Parents started to wonder what they were doing letting their kids play outside when so many cars were speeding around. They began bringing their children back into their houses. I am sure we all recognise this pattern. The only kids who were left outside were bad kids like me. All of this was in the late 1970s.”

He said that by the 1980s young people on the streets “meant they were up to no good”.

On cycling projects, Deegan later explained: “I have learned a great deal in the past 20 years, having faced several judicial reviews. At one stage I did not think I was doing my job properly unless I ended up in court. One of the things to bear in mind is that it will be a problem.”

Deegan, who is advising the Greater Manchester government on cycling, said: “Part of my talk was going to be about change and how reluctant people were to change. In Manchester sometimes we have to fight that battle. We will, for example, have a core corridor, one main route, into town. It will be for the greater good and I will both battle and defend. One has to ask what level of consultation is really needed. One also knows that it needs to happen as part of the overall aims of society. One has to show some strength and make it happen.”

“In having core corridors it is a question of being strong and bold and sticking with it. I ask politicians in London to say they will do it and ask how we can have the least worse solution for everybody. If the approach is to ask, ‘Should we do this?’, there will be overwhelming opposition. While people will say they quite like the idea and that they understand this and that, it is a question of saying ‘we will do it’ and asking how can we ensure it will not adversely affect a person’s business and enable him or her to keep doing the things he or she is doing as part of his or her workplace activity. Sometimes one has to be strong, while at other times one has to be as collaborative as possible.”

He said that rather than funding being an issue “the problem is getting people to spend it because there is so much drama involved” with planning cycle routes “and it is easy not to bother.”

He added: “It is getting people into the habit of doing it, doing that first good thing that, afterwards, people ask for more of. Do something good and then an amazing thing happens: people like the schemes. It might not seem like that on the way but the people in Waltham Forest would not go back to letting all those cars through after the trial that Dr Aldred described. People will never go back. We will never go back to smoking in pubs again. It is that sort of thing. It is a cultural thing and behavioural change over time.”

VIDEO — Starts at 26mins:

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.

1 Comment

  1. Brian Deegan is a true inspiration. A realistic look at how change is possible and why. Can’t wait to cycle Manchester and bring home his ideas to use them here.

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