“There’s no magic bullet but when we have a critical mass of safe cycling infrastructure… people will feel safe and they will cycle”

Who are Ireland’s cycling campaigners and what motivates them? Week 12: Noel Hogan

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?
My name is Noel, I’m a husband (to one) and dad (to two). I am the current chairperson of the Drogheda Cycling Group.

What was your earliest memory of cycling?
I remember as a child bombing off to visit my friends down the road on my new BMX 2000 (all the rage in the 80s). It gave me a sense of freedom and independence that hasn’t left me. Even today as someone in their mid 40s I still feel that sense of enjoyment when travelling by bike.

After childhood, why did you start cycling yourself?
I was always minded to explore, even as a child I would often be brought home by neighbours a few miles down the road as I had decided to go off and see what’s around the next bend (and end up miles away to the consternation of my parents).

When I returned to Clare after college I was lucky that the Burren wasn’t too far away – having a bike allowed me to explore this magical landscape on my own in my free time. From there I gradually became more and more committed to the bicycle as a mode of transportation, not just as a sport.

What motivates you as a cycling campaigner?
I want to see my children and their peers given the same freedom that I had to cycle to school and around the neighbourhood. I have seen the space given to children gradually shrink over the past few decades as road congestion has meant children are now being ferried by car to wherever they need to go.

As a teacher I am aware of the challenges facing young people in many areas, cycling is one way to improve health and wellbeing – we need to allow our children to grow into responsible adults and that means creating a safe environment for them to be active and responsible for their own actions. Living in Drogheda I see the consequences of traffic congestion every day – it’s time to create a safer environment for everyone and that’s the beauty of campaigning for better cycling infrastructure – it has the knock-on benefits of making our roads safer for EVERYONE.

How did you get involved in campaigning in the first place?
I was elected President of Maynooth Students Union in 2000 and from there I began campaigning on student issues – college fees, grants, accommodation and the like. I was subsequently Deputy President and Campaigns Officer of the Union of Students in Ireland and in that capacity, I was one of the leaders of the Campaign to prevent the return of fees for third-level students (Noel Dempsey was the Minister for Education at the time and had decided that fees had to return).

One thing I remember from this period is the importance of coalition building (we made links with parent associations, trade unions and other stakeholders for a common cause). Another was the willingness to have as many tactics as possible – in a large organisation like the USI many people are pulling in different directions – the solution was to devise a campaign that involved lobbying of politicians, direct action (such as occupations and marches) and online campaigning (we created an e-campaign which allowed students and others to email politicians).

The campaign was eventually successful in persuading the Progressive Democrats (remember them?) to come out against the return of fees. As they were one of the coalition partners at the time it meant the Minister had to stop with his plans. I still have the front page of one of our protests on the living room wall at home.

What’s the most effective way you think that more people will hop on their bikes in Ireland?
I think there’s no one magic bullet but when we have a critical mass of safe infrastructure then it will make a huge impact. If people feel safe they will cycle. At present we’re not quite there – but we’ll be there soon.

In the meantime, it’s up to all of us to encourage people to try cycling via the infrastructure that is there. Maybe someone is too nervous to cycle to work – but trying out one of our greenways is one way to build confidence.

And if people are looking to get involved, what should their first step be?
Get involved with your local cycling group – cyclist.ie is a good place to start. This is a major project to change infrastructure, behaviour and attitudes towards safety at all levels on our roads. A wide array of skill sets are required to make that change – and everyone can make a difference.

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