COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Why now? Why Rural Ireland? The last two years have seen a sea-change in how we live. Amidst the heartbreaking effects of the pandemic, the loss of life, jobs, income, time with family and friends, some unexpected positive outcomes emerged.
Working from home, restrictions on how far we could travel, home-schooling all led to a temporary but dramatic reduction in traffic and suddenly and thrillingly, people who wanted to walk or cycle found they had the freedom of the roads.
As one person said: It didn’t last, but the memory did.
It was such bliss during the lockdown to be able to cycle everywhere with fewer cars on the road and it would be fabulous to have safe cycle paths to build on the enthusiasm and momentum for cycling that developed in my family during that time.
That sentiment must have been reciprocated nationwide. From being mainly city-based at the start of 2020, Cyclist.ie member groups can now be found from Wexford to Westport, Skibbereen to Sligo, Kinsale to Kilkenny and beyond. The membership now comprises 30 groups in total.
These groups make up the Rural Collective who have put together the Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland. They can be found here on our map of local cycle campaigning groups.
The second change that engenders hope that cycling can become a reality everywhere is the unprecedented funding now available for active travel. A spend of €1m per day has been promised for the lifetime of this government and beyond to 2030.
The Rural Cycling manifesto, launched in September 2020, identifies eight priorities that focus on bringing about an equitable transition to a cycle-friendly society. They include creating an environment where people cycling are respected and respected, creating useful connected cycle routes, implementing best practice design and lowering speed limits.
The manifesto was launched in September 2020 and was initially sent to the chief executives and directors of services for Transport of all county councils. Last week every elected member of these councils received a leaflet in the post reiterating the Vision for cycling and suggesting actions councillors can take to progress each of the 8 priorities. Campaign groups will be following up with councillors.
Readers may wonder if we need a separate focus on cycling outside of the cities. “Are the issues not the same everywhere?” they may ask. It’s true that none of our cities could be described as a cycling nirvana. However, for a variety of reasons councils outside the cities are playing catch-up.
As mentioned earlier, up to recently cycling advocacy groups have been mainly city -based. So the cities had a head start in terms of raising awareness of the value of everyday cycling and of having local cycle-friendly policies adopted and implemented to varying degrees.
Furthermore, also up to recently, the National Transport Authority had a specific remit to advise local authorities in the Greater Dublin Area and the four cities regarding active travel. That remit has now been extended to all local authorities but they don’t yet have expertise or experience or awareness of the need for or benefits of enabling cycling for all ages and abilities.
Cycling is seen as a leisure activity only, instead of being for leisure while also being a viable transport option.
Different road environments also require different solutions. Lightly trafficked rural roads for example have the potential to provide a significant part of a rural network provided changes are made to how they are used.
The need to reduce carbon emissions, the renewed focus on outdoor activity, the availability of funding, the increased congestion in towns and villages, all point to the time being exactly right to persuade local authority members all over Ireland to work to implement the 8 priorities of the Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland:
- Create an environment in our cities, towns, villages and rural roads where CYCLISTS ARE EXPECTED AND RESPECTED
- Create and map a network of useful, CONNECTED CYCLE ROUTES throughout Local Authority Areas
- Implement BEST PRACTICE DESIGN to ensure routes are safe and comfortable for cyclists of all ages and abilities
- Prioritise SAFE CYCLE ROUTES TO SCHOOLS and car free zones at school gates
- LOWER SPEED LIMITS to make our roads and streets safer and more accessible for everyone
- Ensure clear and timely
ACCESS TO FUNDING, by improving capacity at all levels of local and national government
- COLLABORATE WITH ALL STAKEHOLDERS – including cycling and community groups – at all stages of planning and design
- Provide CYCLE TRAINING for all ages, especially children
Joan lives in Sligo. She is Chairperson of Sligo Cycling Campaign and a member of the Cyclist.ie Rural Collective.