Who are Ireland’s cycling campaigners and what motivates them? Week 4: Joan Swift

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?

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I’m Joan Swift and I live in Sligo town and am the chairperson of the Sligo Cycling Campaign.

What was your earliest memory of cycling?

I didn’t learn to cycle until I was 11. When I did learn to cycle my memory is of falling off into a patch of nettles!

After childhood, why did you start cycling yourself?

When I went to college in Dublin, I bought a second-hand bike to get around. I cycled a bit in my 20s and 30s hardly at all in middle age and then I got the idea I wanted to celebrate a big round birthday by going on a cycling holiday with my daughters, so I bought a bike again and here I am!

What motivates you as a cycling campaigner?

To me, cycling means freedom and autonomy. When I cycle to town to shop or attend an appointment, I get a real kick out of getting there under my own steam. When I lock the bike, I feel happy I’m not driving around stressed looking for a parking space. When I cycle back home, I get a sense of childish satisfaction from having made it to the top of the hill! I’m a campaigner because I think everyone deserves to experience the joy of cycling! Sure, I’m conscious of the benefits for society in reduced emissions, noise and congestion but people don’t change their behaviour for the benefit of society. There has to be a personal reward too. 

How did you get involved in campaigning in the first place?

I inherited it from my children! But I was open to the idea having seen the kind of cycling infrastructure they had in Austria and Germany as far back as 1997. 

What’s the most effective way you think that more people will hop on their bikes in Ireland?

We need to change the culture but to do that we have to change conditions on the ground.  We need a cycling network not stop-start cycle lanes and we need a 30km default speed limit in built-up areas and around schools. Allocating only “left-over” or “spare” space to cycling isn’t working. But announcing you’re putting in X or Y scheme isn’t working either especially if the announcement is only online on the Local Authority’s website.  People immediately see what they stand to lose and object accordingly. Our Active Travel Teams need a much wider skill set than engineering important though that is. The potential of cycling to bring about transformation for both urban and rural areas is not communicated or understood.

And if people are looking to get involved, what should their first step be?

We can be contacted via our website 

 or email sligocycles@gmail.com and we are on Facebook and X and intend to revive our Instagram account. We would love to hear from as diverse a range of Sligo residents as possible but access to bikes and bike storage is an issue for some communities.

At the moment we are having monthly cycles to support a campaign for a Sligo Coastal Mobility Route from Strandhill around the coast via Sigo to Rosses Point.  So far, we have had 2 ride-outs and we are thrilled new people have joined us each time. 

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