“I grew up in the 70s and 80s when owning a car was the aspiration. Yet, that childhood cycling glee never left me”

Who are Ireland’s cycling campaigners and what motivates them? Week 8: Mary Sinnott

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.

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Who are you and what group are you involved with?

I am Mary Sinnott. I am a member of the Waterford Bicycle Users Group (WBUG). We have been focused on making submissions to local projects and participating in the local Public Participation Network. More recently, we have been organising community cycles and now critical mass cycles in Waterford city. I am also a member of the national group Cyclist.ie

What was your earliest memory of cycling?

At home we always had bikes. My first cycle was a blue and white tricycle, I have no idea who the manufacturer was. It had solid rubber wheels and gave us all endless hours of pleasure in the yard where we played. It made a jingly musical sound in the wheels as they turned, which was a soundtrack to the endless hours of pedalling pleasure, which possibly cast a spell on us and added to its charm.

At about five or six years of age, my eldest sister introduced me to the Raleigh Chipper, encouraging me to cycle on two wheels only, on a nice, tarmacked road, holding onto the bar behind the seat, and eventually letting go.

I went around in a circle and slowly fell when she let go. I was quite annoyed with her. Unhurt, I realised that I had maintained balance for a while. I didn’t fall again. Her amusement was doubtless previously earned. She had set me up for a lifetime of joy, for which I am eternally grateful. The Raleigh Chipper relationship was an enduring one, until I was much too big for it. Thankfully there was a Raleigh Chopper to move on to.

After childhood, why did you start cycling yourself?

I grew up in the 70s and 80s when owning a car was the aspiration. Yet, that childhood cycling glee never left me. My parents were very enthusiastic about it, which trickled down. As an adult, I continued with it, as it allows a lot of flexibility for time and accessibility.

I cycled to sports, visited friends and relations, and socialised. It was a mechanical horse, a chauffeur and with it was the quickest way to get around. When I went to college, and later work, I persisted, even in Dublin and Liverpool in the 90s. Those were not cycle-friendly cycling cities. But the flexibility it gave was wonderful.

I later lived in Switzerland for over 13 years, which is a very cycling-friendly country. That reinforced the love of cycling and how good planning can allow urban spaces to live in ways we have lost due to the space taken over by cars.

What motivates you as a cycling campaigner?

I drive also. Increased traffic volumes over the years and the absence of safe space for vulnerable road users have regrettably meant a decreasing trend in active travel since I was a child, at least.

In Waterford City, cycling is the most efficient way to get around to avoid traffic and to park next to or near the destination. It also is a very social way to travel. We can stop and chat easily, and greet others, much more than we can in the car.

I cycled beside a school friend last year when I met her jogging. You just don’t get that experience in a car. I have a cargo bike and sometimes take the dog out. He loves it and it’s quite amusing to see people’s reactions to him. I get quite a kick out of it.

I advocate for cycling because it spreads joy. I want people to have the choice to experience that. Safely.

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

In 2005 I wrote a letter to the local paper about the safety for cyclists at Rice Bridge and outside Plunkett Station in Waterford. I slowly realised that nothing would change quickly. I made submissions and contacted Local Authority officials, but I heard that they were not interested in what individuals had to say.

So, I heard about WBUG, talked to one of the members and joined. The group was formed from the previous Waterford Pedestrian and Cyclist Network, and has been active in making submissions and participating in the Community Partnership for the past 20 years. We now additionally organise community cycle events, including critical mass, to celebrate cycling and promote our aims.

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

More than anything, all road traffic needs to share the road space. We need slower motorised traffic and dedicated space for vulnerable road users on our roads. We need strong leadership from our politicians and officials, and effective policing for that to be realised.

In the meantime, the growing numbers of cyclists are raising awareness. So, I would say to anyone, just get up on your cycle, bring your rain jacket and go for it.

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

Join the Waterford Bicycle Users Group on a community cycle or critical mass event — It is great to meet new people. We’re also on Facebook (Waterford Bicycle Users Group) and Twitter (@bikewaterford) and you can sign up for email notifications here

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