Data and evidence rarely backs objectors to change who dislike cycling taking space from cars

— Arguments about cycling still loaded with buzz words and objectors to change try to make out that cycling is nice but not for us. 

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: In today’s Sunday Independent Conor Skehan wrote a load of words jumbled together to try to claim that cycling is a “fads of the few” and prefacing his arguments with random things newspaper columnists like to give out about. It’s the usual nonsense from people who say cycling nice but cannot play a large part in transport in our towns and cities.

There’s a lot of objectiveness in such articles and we could focus on the over-the-top phrasing Skehan uses, but the data does not back up many of his claims — in other words, he is putting across misinformation.

First of all, it highly flawed to use national figures to say what’s possable or not at a local level, but Skehan still manages to get his claims on a national level horribly wrong. He talks about reality but the data does not support him.

Per capita isn’t what’s measured here to compare different countries, it’s modal share. Car trips in the Netherlands accounts for 47% of trips, while in Ireland car trips are 71% of trips (A note for the the pedantic: It’s hard to be sure when comparing  country-level figures if the figures are exactly comparable, but the below shows the general difference at a national level).

The top left pie chart image is from the Netherlands and the bottom image is from Ireland.

Skehan also writes that commuting trips are not the majority of trips in our cities — the top right chart reflects that this is also true for cycling in the Netherlands. People cycle for all difference reasons and more people will cycle to different places when the infrastructure is put in place.

The Netherlands actually has higher car ownership than Ireland per capita, but the Dutch have lower percentages of car use nationally.

Skehan also talks about transport choices — the changes needed in our towns and cities is to give choice. At the moment most people in Ireland don’t see cycling a choice mainly because of the lack of safe infrastructure on our streets and roads.

The Dutch on the other hand made cycling safe because it makes sense to make cycling attractive and safe, and encourage people switch a lot of trips in towns and cities to cycling. That doesn’t mean that everybody will have to cycle these trips or nor does it mean anybody will be expected to cycle for hours across the country.

Locally, cycling in cities such as Amsterdam and Utrecht in the Netherlands and Copenhagen in Denmark has surpassed 50% of commuter trips — to be clear: This is data for those cities as a whole, not just city centre travel. And even in Amsterdam and Copenhagen where rail-based public transport is more advanced, cycling still counts for the majority of trips.

Commuter trips percentages is what we normally look at in Ireland, but we can also look at all trips. Utrecht has heavily investment in cycling in the last decade and was starting to show in the modal share of all trips for across the city in the 2015/2016 data released by the city. The city has only improved cycling since then — if you build it, they will come.

KEY: Fiets = bicycle, lopen = walk, auto = car, openbaar vervoer = public transport, overig = other.

Skehan then goes on about the current demographics of people who cycle with no cop on for the fact that many people will not cycle until there is a network of safe and attractive routes.

In the Netherlands, woman cycling account for 55% of all cycling trips, and people of all ages cycle. Children and retired people on bicycles is a normal thing in the Netherlands where cycling was made safe.

Maybe this website has a bias towards the proven benefits cycling can bring to towns and cities, such as more effective use of space, more mobility options for more people, healthier people from being more active, a healthier city from less air and noise pollution, and a reduction in emissions.

It would be nice to just dismiss the likes of Skehan as a cranks who talks rubbish and who — without any substance to back such claims — implies business and commerce will die in a cycling city (the fact is cycling is good for business and a growing number of Dublin businesses back cycling). But countering cranks is sadly needed to avoid those in the middle to buying into their nonsense.

This is all the more so when Skehan is not just a columnist but also a lecturer at TU Dublin Environment & Planning.

Living with COVID-19 is exactly when you need to offer more choice to people given that it’s better to avoid public transport and the city cannot handle more cars if fewer people are using public transport. The fact Skehan cannot see this is telling.


  1. I confess to not reading the whole thing as that would require a subscription to the obnoxious rag the article is printed in. However, it is telling that Skehan kicks off his article with a number of culture war references that are red-meat to a certain type of angry middle-aged contrarian as well as, I suspect, many a Sindo reader, perhaps an often overlapping constituency.

    Accusations of elitism, cancel-culture activism and moralizing before he has written a word of rational analysis tells you all you need to know about where this article is coming from. The accusations of elitism are particularly hilarious coming from a Trinity lecturer writing in the newspaper of wealthy and powerful conservatives (you could almost say an elite), but this is the world we live in.

    Skehan is an intensely arrogant man with a hugely over-inflated opinion of himself and his abilities. Any credibility he ever had on planning matters was squandered a few years back. He is best ignored.


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