We often hear people talk about cycling campaigners abstractly, despite all of them being volunteers, they are regularly called “cycling lobbyists”. But who are these people and what motivates them? In a new series, each week a cycling campaigner from somewhere around Ireland tells us a bit about themselves and why they campaign for safer and more attractive streets and roads.
Who are you and what group are you involved with?
Hi, I’m Helen Guinan and I’m the Chairperson of the Cork Cycling Campaign. We are a voice for everyday cyclists.
What was your earliest memory of cycling?
My earliest memory is of pedalling (with stabilisers) down the footpath of our street early on Christmas Day when I was six years old. I wanted to surprise my father coming home from church and show him the bike that Santa brought.
After childhood, why did you start cycling yourself?
It was the accepted way of getting around. I cycled all the time I was in college in Galway. I’ve been cycling in Cork since I was a young teacher working in the northside of the city. Having previously cycled in Offaly, Galway and Dublin, the hills of Cork were quite a shock. I had a 12-speed crossbar racing bike which was my pride and joy, but I chewed through gears in no time getting myself around the northside of Cork. Still, I was sporty and loved the challenge. Out of eventual respect for my joints, I’m an e-bike convert now!
What motivates you as a cycling campaigner?
I’d like to communicate the joy, efficiency and health benefits of cycling to others. I especially want to see more women and children cycling, so safe cycling infrastructure is crucial. I want to see people getting out of their cars for short and medium journeys around our cities in particular. Many people genuinely want to reduce their carbon footprint and cycling is a wonderful way to do this.
How did you get involved in campaigning in the first place?
My husband sells electric bikes and he met some guys from the Cork Cycling Campaign who wanted help with advancing the idea of the Lee to Sea Greenway. I went along to the meeting out of curiosity, but I was the one who ended up totally involved in campaigning. I found their enthusiasm and expertise inspiring and the Cork Cycling Campaign is built around the fun of cycling as well as the pursuit of the more serious issues.
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What’s the most effective way you think that more people will hop on their bikes in Ireland?
Safe cycling infrastructure, 30km/h speed limits in cities, but also more education at a national level for people who drive regarding positive and safe attitudes towards people who cycle. The RSA’s safe passing distance campaign, on TV and with the road signage, made a noticeable difference. How to treat people who cycle needs to be a very strong part of the theory and exam process for learner drivers. I see many Novice drivers being quite impatient and aggressive and that really worries me.
And if people are looking to get involved, what should their first step be?
Visit Cork Cycling Campaign’s website corkcyclingcampaign.com and click on ‘Join Us’. By giving us your email we will contact you and draw you into our very friendly and dynamic organisation!