Bike Life beside Dublin Bay: Build it and they’ll come

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: The Bike Hub — a new social enterprise focused on cycling which recently opened up along the Coastal Mobility Route in Dun Laoghaire — has quickly found that the route on its doorstep has pushed demand for cycling in groups that might be unexpected.

The Bike Life 2019 report, compiled by Sustrans for the National Transport Authority, is an eye opener for anyone who takes mobility and sustainability seriously. It shows the progression of cycling as a legitimate mode of transportation that is increasingly seen by most as part of the solution.

However, it also highlights some major challenges in perception and in actual numbers. Cycling is currently dominated by fully-abled middle-class young males.

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IMAGE: NTA/Sustrans Bike Life report.

The report also confirms that “people from socio-economic groups D and E are least likely to own a car, but also least likely to cycle”. Groups D and E are semi-skilled and unskilled manual occupations, homemakers and people not in employment.

Next, the report shows how cycling is dropped as an activity by people as they age, in spite of the well documented health benefits.

IMAGE: NTA/Sustrans Bike Life report.

While some aspects of The Bike Hub have been under development since almost two years before the report was published, the confirmation of the need for increased accessibility of cycling as an urban mode of transportation was very much confirmed.

Dun Laoghaire took the early lead last year as the most proactive council in the country, shortly after the current Government’s programme was published and they never looked back. Dun Laoghaire became the logical location for a non-profit social enterprise focused on positive social impact through cycling.

The Bike Hub refers to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in its own constitution (memorandum and articles of association in old money). Sustainable development, inclusion, quality of living, health promotion are all part of our aims. How we intend to help develop these objectives was initially based on some assumptions and ideas of how to remove or reduce barriers.

One of the measures of success for me will be when we get to host a “club of grannies” who meet every Tuesday evening at our social space for a cup of tea and to discuss the adventures of their cycling group.

We only opened the doors of our first base two weeks ago and we quickly identified further and unexpected needs that have to be addressed.

A significant proportion of the early approaches were from adults and retired people from the region who wanted to try cycling out now that there is a safe and attractive infrastructure locally, but either don’t know how to cycle or, in a few cases, are on very low incomes and can’t afford a bike.

IMAGE: A Peugeot classic bike being prepared for a new owner through The Bike Hub Upcyclers programme.

We have since added retired people on low incomes to the list of target groups for our Upcyclers project, involving the restoration and donation of bikes. Data in Sustran’s report did suggest a reduction of interest in cycling as people age, so we just didn’t expect such demand from these groups, so early.

We are taking this as clear evidence that “build it and they will come”.

Another strong indicator of appetite for cycling infrastructure and services for elderly people and people with disabilities is the strong demand for rides with the Cycling Without Age trishaws. Over twenty local volunteers were trained in the last few weeks and now seafront rides are available for free. Not only for older people, but for other groups that previously couldn’t enjoy the Coastal Mobility Route, including people with physical and mental disabilities.

In addition to the trishaw rides with trained volunteer pilots, The Bike Hub has bicycles available for loans and “test rides” include a handcycle, a tandem bike and an electric assisted tricycle. All of these services are available free of charge.

While all of this is exciting, there were more surprises in store that none of us anticipated. We are getting phone calls and visits from people that are planning or already taking cycling staycations in Dun Laoghaire to experience the seafront route. Let’s hope the places they’re staying at, or Bleeper, a bicycle share service, can provide the bikes they’ll be needing.

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