“As soon as I began cycling to work, I was completely hooked and began using the bike for almost all my journeys around Dublin”

Who are Ireland’s cycling campaigners and what motivates them? Week 15: Siobhán McNamara

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 our ongoing 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 Siobhán McNamara and I’m vice-chair of the Dublin Cycling Campaign. I’m also on the Executive Committee of Cyclist.ie (the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network) and I’ve recently started volunteering as a marshal with the D12 Bike Bus.

What was your earliest memory of cycling?

It’s difficult to pin down my earliest memory of cycling; my brothers and I always had bikes at home, and our Dad cycled to work every day. We were very lucky to live in a quiet area where there was no through traffic, so it was pretty safe to play outside and cycle locally. The Christmases when Santa brought new bikes were always especially exciting, and I still love spotting proud new bike owners out and about on Christmas morning. 

After childhood, why did you start cycling yourself?

I became a student of Trinity College in 1999, and I thought that the bike would be handy for my daily 5km commute. But I was very quickly put off by the traffic and absence of infrastructure in Dublin city centre and started taking the bus instead.

It wasn’t until years later that I took up cycling again, when a move to a new house meant that it would be the fastest and most reliable way of getting to work every morning. As soon as I began cycling to work, I was completely hooked and began using the bike for almost all my journeys around Dublin. Travel times were predictable, and I had more flexibility in my day when I wasn’t bound by bus routes and timetables. The city now felt smaller because I could get around independently on two wheels. 


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What motivates you as a cycling campaigner?

Having experienced so many benefits from daily cycle commuting, I wish it was more accessible to more people as a transport option. It can help your physical and mental health, save you money, and give you more time in your day. Enabling more people to cycle can help with traffic congestion, road safety, air and noise pollution, and public health.

And there’s the mobility justice aspect of it too; so many people do not have the option of driving, for whatever reason, and I think it’s only fair that they should feel safe and respected while getting around on foot, by bike, or on public transport.

For a long time, I was too nervous to cycle because of safety concerns, and even though I am now more confident on the road, I can completely understand why many people don’t feel safe making journeys on foot or by bike. Progress is being made on enabling more people to use active travel, but it is slow, and often met by vocal opposition. I think it’s important to have a strong voice for the many people who are in favour of making active travel safer and therefore accessible to a wider range of ages and abilities. 

Meeting campaigners from all around the country is also a motivating factor, as it is energising and inspiring to see people’s passion and commitment to the cause. 

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

I came across the Dublin Cycling Campaign website when looking for advice about cycling in Dublin, and found it a useful source of information. I signed up as a member and volunteered at a few events, the highlight being the St Patrick’s Day Parade. It was reassuring to meet other people who were interested in making our roads safer for people on bikes.

When the Campaign was looking for new committee members in 2020 I put my name forward, and since then it has been a whirlwind of meetings, events, slack messages, newsletters, and more meetings. Thanks to cycle campaigning I’ve made friends on neighbouring roads and at other ends of the country, built on my IT and event organisation skills, and discovered a whole network of passionate, skilled, and energetic volunteers who work tirelessly for safer roads, cleaner air, and less reliance on fossil fuels to get us from A to B.  

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

When cycling is made a safer and more attractive transport option. When more road space is allocated to public transport and active travel. When secure bike parking is more widespread, and people of all ages and abilities can be seen on the roads using bikes or trikes to get around.

I can see this shift beginning to happen already in my neighbourhood and it is fantastic. Parents transport children in cargo bikes or on longtail bikes; people with mobility difficulties use a range of bikes and trikes to get from A to B independently; and people decades older than me use bikes and e-bikes for their daily journeys. This is all in an area with almost no segregated infrastructure. Imagine how many more people might cycle if they weren’t sharing lanes with vehicles that are much larger and faster than them. 

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

If there is a group local to you, join up and ideally attend an in-person event. A map of all the Cyclist.ie member groups can be found here: Cyclist.ie/map/. If there’s no group near you, why not try to start one? 

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