Who are Ireland’s cycling campaigners and what motivates them? Week 7:
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?
I’m Neasa Bheilbigh and I’m Chairperson of Cyclist.ie – The Irish Cycling Advocacy Network. I’m also a member of the Galway Cycling Campaign and the Galway Cycle Bus Initiative.
What was your earliest memory of cycling?
The excitement of learning to cycle my little blue bicycle (without stabilisers) in the car park of Renmore church.
After childhood, why did you start cycling yourself?
We were living in Canada and my now husband came home with a big heavy Raleigh bike he’d picked up at a car boot sale. I was perplexed as to what I was supposed to do with the thing! But before too long I found myself rediscovering the joy and freedom of cycling all over again.
I started commuting to work by bike and I loved the feeling of arriving energised, while the cycle home gave me time and space to decompress. Soon cycling to the shops, gym, sports events, and just to visit friends became the easy and obvious choice.
What motivates you as a cycling campaigner?
My grandmother cycled to mass, to do her weekly shopping, to collect her pension in rural Galway – well into her 80s. I want my own parents to be able to do the same without me worrying about them.
Working as a teacher over the past 15 years, I’ve learned about and witnessed the positive impact walking, scooting or cycling to school has on children’s focus, mood and stamina throughout the day. This is especially the case with children who are neurodivergent. Building good habits from an early age just makes sense.
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But my primary motivation as a campaigner comes from being a mother of two young children. I’ve become acutely aware of the negative impact our overdependence on cars has on our safety, climate, the environment and the way we use the space where we live, work and play. I want them to grow up in a healthier, safer, more sustainable country.
How did you get involved in campaigning in the first place?
When I had my own children, I realised the clock was ticking to the day they would want to cycle independently. I was involved in setting up the Galway Cycle Bus Initiative and gradually became more involved in campaigning for safer, more liveable streets for all ages and abilities.
What’s the most effective way you think that more people will hop on their bikes in Ireland?
People need to feel safe and respected by other road users to make cycling a more attractive option for everyone. Infrastructure and reallocation of road space to people cycling is a big part of that, but we also need a change in the culture of how drivers behave on both our rural and urban roads.
The vast majority of people know this already but we require leadership across local and national government to make it happen.
And if people are looking to get involved, what should their first step be?
New people joining a campaign energises everyone within the campaign so you will be welcomed with open arms at cycling advocacy groups and chances are you’ll meet some fantastic people too.
Cyclist.ie has member groups all around the country, in rural and urban locations, who would be delighted to have more volunteers — cyclistie.vool.ie/map.
We very much depend on volunteer support to organise events, make submissions and work with national bodies to effect change. If people wish to set up their own local advocacy group, Cyclist.ie is here to support you.`You can also support the work Cyclist.ie does by contributing at cyclist./donate.