Learning approach is key to changing our streets, Cork Cycling Symposium told

Change is awkward and complicated but it can be done even in Cork with Patrick’s Hill, attendees at the Socio-Cycle Cycling Symposium were told today.

The event was opened by deputy mayor Cllr Colette Finn, who said that she hoped the event would be the first of many.

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Dr Meredith Glaser, executive director of the Urban Cycling Institute, University of Amsterdam, gave the keynote address for the Socio-Cycle Cycling Symposium this afternoon.

She said walking around Cork she could see that streets have already been changed.

Glaser said when she moved from the United States to Amsterdam that she wasn’t even she was aware she had moved into a street with a school until the noise of children at school at 8.30am for the first time after the school holidays. The car-free street with children mingling was starkly different to where she had come from, but she learned that it had previously been a one-way street lined with car parking on both sides.

“The bicycle isn’t talked about” in the Netherlands. It is like “a household appliance”, but when you look further it is culturally engrained, she said, using the example of Dutch politicians cycling to try to show themselves as more like the common person.

Glaser said that idea of change can be better looked at with a learning approach.

“The bicycle is purely a means to achieve larger goals… but I know what you might say, we are not Amsterdam, we are Cork, with Patrick’s Hill,” she said. “Change is awkward.”

She used the example of Paris which had the knowledge of multidisciplinary teams and study visits to the Netherlands, the mobilisation effect from the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and the relationship context of Covid.

She said that there are “gatekeepers” in cities and these tend not to be in cycling campaigns or in council offices, but rather in communities. She said she sees “gatekeepers” as “individuals or groups of individuals who have a great understanding of their areas” and “local dynamics”. These people could be classed as “interested but concerned” in terms of cycling.

“Change is challenging in the field of traffic engineering and transport planning,” Glaser said, and that change to that can cause fears. Sometimes the professionals in the transport field aren’t even aware of how complex it is.

She said when Covid mobility measures were made the scale of these had to be large and bold to be impactful. When the change happened at first in Amsterdam towards cycling and liveability there was no masterplan and no one group making the changes.

Glaser said: “We’re not just trying to get people on bikes — it’s much bigger than that, it’s about communities and protecting the vulnerable.”

Asked by the former lord mayor, Cllr Kieran McCarth (independent), what would she do to kickstart change in a city if she became the mayor of it, Glaser said she would implement a mass street space reallocation in a city or an area of a city and monitor it as a “stage for learning”.

Conn Donavan, chairperson of the Cork Cycling Campaign, said that when he joined the campaign in 2018 that they were working with 8-9 people at pub meetings and now they have around 50 people making submissions and other campaign work.

“There was a time that you’d see a cargo bike parked up and you’d known the name of the person using it, now you don’t. That’s a sign of how things have changed,” he said. 

Bernie Connolly of the Cork Environmental Forum said the problems of getting people cycling are not just about infrastructure but can include other factors such as the weight of school bags.

Frank Fitzgerald, sustainable travel and road safety office at Cork City Council, said that the pandemic has led to a change in the volume of people cycling, the number of interventions the council has made in terms of cycling and the council has also taken action in pedestrianisation of 17 streets since.

He said the council has launched programmes such as the ‘We-Cycle’ campaign promoting the concept of local electric bicycle ambassadors who are described as “ordinary Cork people from all walks of life who use electric bicycles in their daily commutes.”

Fitzgerald said the council has worked also worked on making routes more suitable for adapted cycles and worked with Cork Cycling Campaign to develop a cycling map for the city.

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