Traffic congestion: The more people on bikes, the more congestion becomes less and less of a problem. Congestion is not just an inconvenience to motorists and bus users it has real costs due to loss of productivity, health impacts and lowering the attractiveness of a city to investment and tourism. In 2010, IBM estimated that traffic congestion in Dublin cost the economy 4% of GDP – in other words, billions of euro.
Some routes in Dublin remain congested even in the downturn. On other routes the perception is that roads are half as busy as they used to be, but traffic levels overall have not dropped as much as it seems.
Traffic engineers in the city council put this down to Dublin being so close to capacity for cars. When you’re so close to gridlock a little bit less or extra traffic can make a massive
difference. With the population growth already recorded in the census, Dublin just can’t handle private cars as a major mode of transport. There isn’t the space.
Speed and reliability: Distances are often overestimated by car and public transport users, even moderate cycling is faster than many people think it is. For many journeys around Dublin or down to the shop it is the fastest method.
Almost all short journeys are faster by bike, and some longer journeys are faster due to traffic, or other reasons such as the need to wait for a bus or train.
Cycling is one of the most reliable forms of transport because congestion has a tiny affect on cycling compared to how much it impacts on motorists and even buses. If you cycle you usually go door-to-door on a bicycle, so there’s no walking to or from a bus stop or train station and no waiting around for late buses or trains, and no spending ages looking for parking.
Because cycling is not affected by congestion, it’s surprisingly fast compared to taking the car. The department of transport says: “Data from the 2006 Census reveals that, for journeys within the Dublin Canal Ring, cyclists reached an average speed of 12km/h compared to just 15km/h for cars. For trips within the M50, the 2006 Census reveals an average speed for cyclists of 14km/h compared to 18km/h for cars.”
Enjoyably: Subjective? Yes and no. Many people we interviewed for this paper talked of a ‘buzz’ from cycling or feeling fresher and more relaxed – this isn’t thrill seekers getting a buzz from going fast on the roads, the mental health effects of even moderate cycling – as well as other exercise – is well documented (see the next page).
Cycling also offers freedom: Freedom from bus or train timetables, freedom from the fear of making needless trips when the cost of filling the family car is so high, freedom from congestion, and freedom from searching for parking.
Distances: There’s a lot of hype about the amount of people commuting long distances, but the census shows there are now nearly 1.3m people living in Co Dublin and over 0.5m alone living in the city council’s area. In Co Dublin, 65% of people live under 10km from their place of work or study – that includes just under 40% who commute between 1-4km, and another 25% are within the 5-9km range.
City people have even shorter commutes. Over 76% of commuters travel less than 10km – 50% of trips are between 1-4km and the other 26% of trips are between 5-9km. The population numbers are based on 2011 figures, and while the distance figures are based on 2006 data, it’s not likely that the greater numbers of people living in Dublin are travelling . much further.
The actual figures for “the low hanging fruit” – those making very short trips by car, many of which could be cycled – are even starker. From the 2006 census, the department of transport said that almost 100,000 people drive 4km or less to work in Dublin and, of those, over 45,000 people drive 2km or less.
Taking the above mentioned average speed of cyclists of 14km/h, a 4km cycle should take around 17mins and a 7km cycle should take around a half hour. This isn’t rocket science: While cycling may not suit every single person, it’s clear that a huge amount of trips can be cycled.
“The Irish weather”: The weather in Dublin is generally comparable to Copenhagen and Amsterdam, both seen as cycling cities with cycling accounting for 40% of commuters. Average weather conditions from BBC.co.uk shows both Copenhagen and Amsterdam have more ‘wet days’ (+0.25 mm) than Dublin. Amsterdam and Dublin have comparable rain fall, while Copenhagen has extremely cold weather and snow in the winter is the norm. Dublin is sometimes noted as being windy, but so is Copenhagen.
Cost: For individuals, a good commuting bicycle can be picked up between €350 to €500, or a second hand bike can be bought for less. For commuters, the cost of a bicycle can be recouped in a matter of months, saving on fuel or public transport ticket costs. After that, the savings continue. Cycling is cheaper than public transport or driving. Parking is free and ongoing costs are a fraction of the maintenance and running costs of cars.
But the costs for individuals are a minor consideration compared to the costs to the state. One of the main reasons the Dutch and Danes invested in cycling is simply because it costs less than providing public transport or providing for private cars.
Our road and public transport systems are subsidised. Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and Luas are all heavily subsidised. While the Luas system had until recently been covering its operational costs, its construction and tram costs are heading towards €1.5 billion – that’s not to say Luas in general was not worth the investment, but that high quality cycling infrastructure costs a fraction of that to put in place and to maintain.
Health: Regular exercise has physical and mental health benefits. Moderate exercise reduces levels of depression and stress – cycling is great for this as it can be done as part of your daily commute. Cycling also reduces the chances of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and the most common form of diabetes. It will increase fitness, and help with weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight. Cycling is not only good for people’s health; the knock-on effect of having a healthier population lowers health care costs. Also see: The many health benefits of cycling.
More cyclists, less deaths: It may seem strange, but researchers keep finding that when more people cycle it leads to an increase in safety. Deaths and injuries do not increase – the amount of collisions decline. Because of this researchers conclude: “Policies that increase the numbers of people walking and bicycling appear to be an effective route to improving the safety of people walking and bicycling.”
It seems this ‘safety in numbers’ effect has worked in Dublin in recent years. Counts by the city council show a 45% increase in the amount of cyclists entering Dublin city centre in the last five years and, around city centre, Dublin Bikes are a common sight on streets, but the amount of deaths and injuries have decreased in the same time.
Good For Business: Employers gain as cyclists arrive to work more refreshed and research shows that cyclists take less sick days compared to non-cyclists. Cycling is good for retail businesses too. “Even in the Netherlands, there are some misconceptions: cyclists don’t contribute much to the till, so accessibility by car is very important for shopkeepers,” says the ‘Cycling in the Netherlands’ report by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment. It added: “However, this is not the case. Cyclists spend less per visit, but they do come more often.” It goes on to say that people cycling from the city area means that scarce parking spaces are freed up for the cars of regional visitors. In Dublin, not only does more people cycling free up parking but – more importantly – it also frees up road space for those who have little choice but to drive.
Energy use and emissions: Cycling is the most efficient form of transport, bar none. It is more efficient than walking – less energy is required to cycle 1km than it is to walk it. Bicycles emit no air pollution, and almost no noise pollution. While there are emissions in the construction and delivery of bicycles, this is tiny compared to the construction and running of cars and public transport vehicles. More cycling also reduces dependency on energy imports so it makes the economy less affected by oil shocks or the general increasing price of oil.