Who are Ireland’s cycling campaigners and what motivates them? Week 13: Linda Meehan
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?
My name is Linda Meehan and I am involved with the Drogheda Cycling Group.
What was your earliest memory of cycling?
My dad was given an old Raleigh bike when I was about six years old. It was one of the large steel black ones with rod brakes and a leather Brooks saddle with huge springs under it. I decided to try it out so I climbed up and instantly fell down, bike and all, and suffered a few bruises and cuts. Of course, I hurt myself and got into trouble with my parents.
In spite of this, I was smitten and although my parents refused to get me a bike on safety grounds I saved all my pocket money for years until aged 12 I bought my first bike. It had twenty-inch wheels and no gears but it got me to school for years and through my first year in college after which I managed to buy a more adult bike.
After childhood, why did you start cycling yourself?
I always cycled, to school, to college, to work, to social events and just for leisure. I got my first car at age 33 when I had family commitments and a job too far away to cycle to. For a long time after that, I had few opportunities to take out the bike but now that my commitments have lessened I cycle most days both for business and leisure.
What motivates you as a cycling campaigner?
As a Drogheda person, I am mostly concerned with my home town. The expression “think globally, act locally” comes to mind.
Drogheda has suffered from bad planning from the 1970s onwards. A dual carriageway through the town was meant to reduce congestion but, as traffic has increased over the decades, the town is still congested. The M1 motorway was also meant to reduce congestion but the toll encourages huge volumes of motorists to come through the town, adding to the congestion.
We have recently got some limited cycle paths courtesy of Louth and Meath County Councils but they clearly have not been designed by cyclists. However, things are set to improve as the National Transport Authority has recently published the new Cycle Design Manual. It is an impressive document and it feels like the thinking has shifted in favour of pedestrians and cyclists. In addition, a lot of funding has been allocated for further projects.
Towns and cities all over Ireland are going to be transformed. Greenways are being developed all over the country. It’s a great time to be involved in advocating for active travel. As a member of Drogheda Cycling Group, I see my role as encouraging people in my locality of all ages and genders to get out and cycle. I want to grow our group and to encourage our members to get involved in the active travel consultation process. As the biggest town in the country, we should have an extensive network of safe cycle routes.
In the Drogheda area we have the potential to have the best greenway in the country with the beautiful Boyne River, Bru na Boinne (one of only two UNESCO sites in Ireland), the new National Park and finally Mornington where there are ten kilometres of sandy beaches to walk. Unfortunately, progress on this is slow. I hope to mobilise people to pressure local politicians to develop this amazing amenity both for local people and to encourage tourists to visit this overlooked part of the country.
How did you get involved in campaigning in the first place?
I discovered Drogheda Cycling Group about a year and a half ago so I am a new member of a fairly new group.
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What’s the most effective way you think that more people will hop on their bikes in Ireland?
We will soon be getting our segregated cycle paths so the next thing is to get better bikes for more people.
The Cycle to Work Scheme is very successful but favours the high-income earners. I would like to see an equally generous scheme that subsidises bikes for people on low incomes as well as those on social welfare and students. A lot of people don’t have bikes at all or have very poor-quality bikes that are not suited to everyday use.
And if people are looking to get involved, what should their first step be?
Find the local cycling group in your area and just turn up. You will be welcome.