As cycling and investment in cycling infrastructure I

As more and more cities around the world begin to
lean towards large-scale promotion of cycling and investment in cycling
infrastructure I believe it’s important for us to take a closer look at why
they are doing so, what are the benefits of a having a population on two wheels
instead of four and how cities around the world and here in Ireland can follow
in the footsteps of pacesetting countries like the Netherlands and Denmark in
successfully fostering a pervasive and positive culture of cycling within our
communities.

 

The benefits of promoting cycling as an alternative
to car travel are as numerous as they are substantial. A more active and
healthy population will help reduce some of the inevitable future strain on
healthcare services in a world where sedentary lifestyles are otherwise
becoming worryingly more commonplace. Around the world obesity rates among both
adults and children alike have never been higher. Increased reliance on
electronics for entertainment and communication alongside fat and sugar-rich
diets has to lead to a world where over 1.9 billion adults and over 380 million
children are considered either overweight or obese (World Health Organisation). When it is now clearer than ever before
that being overweight or obese can be a major contributory factor to developing
cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer, it is
truly inexcusable to not be doing everything in our power to promote healthier
lifestyles and more active forms of transport because, as is stated simply in Cycling Futures “Activities such as walking or cycling (rather than driving)
to destinations of interest have the potential to support people in achieving
recommended levels of physical activity”. (Rissel,
Cycling Futures, 2015)

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It is not only our physical health, however, that
stands to benefit from increased adoption of cycling, as using a bike instead
of driving to work or school every day has been proven to have a positive
effect on our mental health. This is primarily because of two factors, the
first is that people attest to experiencing joy and pleasure from cycling daily
which also serves to motivate people to continue to cycle. Additionally, by
commuting by bike instead of car people gain greater control over the own
commute avoiding “several dimensions of the commuting situation, such as
impedance (caused, for example, by traffic congestion), along with control
over, and predictability of, commuting, which can influence perceived
stress”. (Rissel, Cycling Futures, 2015)

 

The second benefit of an increased cycling mobility
in cities and towns that I will address is the humanist value in reclaiming the
streets for the individual and for the public. Bikes, travelling slower and
being much lighter than cars are much less dangerous to pedestrian and by their
nature have a much smaller space per person occupancy than cars with two or

fewer passengers so are much less physically
intrusive on the urban environment. By therefore replacing drivers with
cyclists, city streets will feel a lot more pedestrian friendly and safer than
streets with that either have fast moving traffic or very congested traffic
that does nothing but act as a metal barrier cutting one side of the street off
from the other. As Jane Jacobs suggests in The
Death and Life of Great American Cities “the way people are forever
sneaking across streets at forbidden places if they can get away with it–even
at risk ¬to their lives-and coupled with the palpable impatience people so
often exhibit at crossings, lead me to believe that the main virtue of
pedestrian streets is not that they completely lack cars, but rather that they
are not overwhelmed and dominated by floods of cars. and that they are easy to
cross” (Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life
of Great American Cities, 1961), people seem to crave the freedom to freely
navigate the streets of a city, by increasing the number of bicycles in line
with decreasing the number of cars, a city would be doing just that, freeing
the urban space up for the individual to occupy at will.

 

Not only are the spatial qualities of cities
adversely affected by cars and other large vehicles, but the atmospheric
conditions can become quite hostile to pedestrians. With exhaust emissions and
noise pollution considered by many to be some of the largest obstacles to a
high quality of life in cities around the world if steps are not taking to
limit the number of cars and motorised vehicles on the streets then this is
only going to increase as an issue as populations and car numbers grow. By
therefore promoting alternative means of transportation cities can quite
effectively improve their spatial and atmospheric qualities and positively
affect the lives of their inhabitants.

 

The final and potentially most important benefit
I’ll mention is that of the environmental friendliness of cycling compared to
driving. With no carbon emissions involved in their use bikes are a green and
sustainable alternative to fossil fuel hungry cars and buses. In this era where
global warming is so heavy in the minds of the public consciousness an
individual’s ability to reduce their carbon footprint in a substantial way by
choosing a different method of transport is not something to be disregarded
easily. With transportation contributing over 20% of the total carbon emissions
of many countries around the world, t is also in the interests of governments to
promote cycling as a green alternative as any significant successes in doing so
will likewise result in substantial reductions in a country’s carbon footprint.

 

Considering these benefits many cities around the
world are adopting measures to encourage people to both cycle more as well as
to drive less, particularly for short to medium length journeys. When they do
this, there are a number of cities with existing schemes and urban planning
solutions that are proven to have been very successful in aiding the growth of
a culture of cycling in their populations and so naturally, we see some of the
measures and design decisions that work in these schemes begin to be adopted
worldwide.

 

Two of the cities that have been probably been the
most successful in terms of encouraging cycling mobility and forward planning
with regards to the urban environment are Copenhagen in Denmark and Amsterdam
in the Netherlands. With 50% of trips being made by bicycle in Copenhagen and
up to 60% in Amsterdam, these cities lead the way in encouraging and promoting
cycling as a viable transportation option. Although these cities have been
aided by their topography, both being very flat cities providing an easy
cycling environment the cities themselves have also been systematically designed
to ensure that cycling is always a feasible option regardless of the length of
journey or destination. When you look at some of the things that Copenhagen and
Amsterdam as well as the wider Netherlands have done to create a safe and
consistent cycling network you can see clear examples of successful practices
that have been lifted from these cities and adapted to both various case
studies around the world as well as our own Irish cities and the new planning
proposals and schemes that are being putting into action here.

 

One very clear example of a design element found in
these cities that has been adapted to various other environments is the
“Copenhagen style” bike paths where the bike lane itself is found on the inside
of the cars parked along the roadside which not only creates a safer cycle
path, segregated from the potentially heavy traffic of the road but also limits
the potential obstruction of the bike path by cars either parking or parked in
such a way as to physically impede into the space. This system can now be found
being utilised in cities all around the world, from Melbourne and Glasgow and
even in smaller scale implementation in Irish cities such as Cork and Dublin.
Alongside the urban design models that are being adopted globally, there has
also been an emphasis placed upon raising awareness of the positive benefits of
cycling as well as making cycling as accessible and affordable for as many
people as possible. It is with this intention in mind that bike-sharing schemes
have become as much of a global phenomenon as they have, with such schemes now
present in 700 cities in 50 countries, and having experienced a growth of 50%
in just three years it is clear that the global attitudes towards cycling are
rapidly changing, and with studies showing that “positive attitudes towards
cycling are combined with a high percentage of cyclists”(Tolley, Sustainable Transport, 2003), the positive regard in which
it is beginning to be held is likely to only increase.

 

Outside of some of the positive benefits that I
have mentioned it’s important to look at why an increased focus on the
development of high-quality cycling facilities and a comprehensive
infrastructure network is relevant in modern Ireland. In 2017 15 cyclists were
killed on Irish roads, which is the highest number in ten years since 2007 and
far above the 20 year average of just 9 deaths (irishcycle.com). This is a worrying number to consider as it
suggests that alongside the increase in cyclists that we have seen on our
streets, the infrastructure in place to accommodate and support cycling in
cities and towns has not grown at a sufficient speed. We can see this clearly
when in 2017 only 2% of the road traffic in the country was comprised of
cyclists but cyclists still made up around 8% of all road casualties. Primarily
the cause of this was that up until quite recently cycling in Ireland had ever
been considered an afterthought by both the public and urban planning
authorities around the country. Road developments would be made, and then much
later bike paths would be added haphazardly across the city where space was
conveniently available with little consideration of an overall cohesive
network. On the other hand, a forward-thinking design approach could have
incorporated embedded, segregated bike paths into the design of our roads and
thoroughfares which would have had profound effects on the way Irish people use
our cities and our roads today.

 

However, in the past two decades and specifically
in the past few years planning, authorities have begun to adapt the way they
think about urban spatial design and infrastructural planning. Efforts are
being made to understand how best to limit the number of cars in cities and
towns around the country and make them more pedestrian and people-friendly
environments. Primarily planners are approaching this by looking at promoting
alternative means of transportation into and around cities.  In 2009 the government published The Smarter Travel, A New Transport Plan for
Ireland 2009-2020 initiative which is a plan developed to act as a guide
for other transport initiatives throughout the country. It aimed primarily to
promote both cycling and walking as genuine and viable alternatives to car
travel. Within the plan, it recommends growing the percentage road share of
cyclists to 10% of the total in Ireland and reducing the share of private car
commuters to 45% with the aim of fostering a more sustainable culture of both
walking and cycling in the country. Unfortunately, as it stands it seems highly
unlikely that these targets will be met with the national modal share at 3% and
Cork City at 1.7%, currently far below that target.

 

Although potentially that target was overly
optimistic, in recent years there has been a definitive shift in the
willingness of Irish planning authorities to improve or supplement existing
cycle networks in Ireland, specifically in the larger cities. Following a
number of initiatives like The Smarter Travel plan and the release of the
National Cycle Manual by the National Transport Authority, a document which
provides guidelines and standards for local authorities to apply to their
schemes and planning proposals to create a cohesive and logical national
network, there have been a number of very comprehensive Cycling Network Plans
produced for cities that outline their proposed developments to the local
cycling networks.

 

One of the things that the National Cycle Manual
introduced was a standardised grading system for Irish cycling facilities, with
the goal of enabling authorities to easily evaluate the quality of their cycle
networks and determine any necessary upgrades or improvements to existing cycle
paths or lanes. This grading is evaluated through the QoS or Quality of Service
system in which cycling facilities are graded on a scale from A+ to D with A+ being
a route designed to the highest possible standard. This QoS study involves the
evaluation of several different criteria including, pavement quality, width,
number of conflicts or interruptions of a cycle route per 100m, junction time
delay and level of comfort to provide a comprehensive study of the various
elements that have to be considered to generate an attractive and safe network
of cycling routes.

 

Although smaller scale schemes are being undertaken
in cities and towns around the country I’m going to primarily look at two
cities, Cork City and Dublin City with regards to their proposals to improve
the attractiveness of cycling in those cities and increase the number of people
choosing to use bikes instead of cars for everyday use.

 

Cycling
uptake in Cork City is currently low relative to the national level and that
can in part be put down to the topographical makeup of the city. Situated along
the River Lee the city centre is essentially at the bottom of a valley between
a very steep incline to the north and a generally lower but not insignificant
incline to the south. The simple geographic position of Cork is itself an
obstacle and inhibiter to cycling that other cities that are more consistent
elevation or are generally flatter do not have. Despite this, however, the area
south of the city centre would be well served by an improvement of the cycling
infrastructure as once over the initial hill coming out of the city the land is
relatively flat and with a number of dense urban centres ideal for an expanded cycle
path network.

 

The Cork Cycle Network Plan which was updated in
January of 2017 represents the results of an increased level of focus and
interest in the improvement of cycling infrastructure in the city as well as
continued community feedback and consultation. The 168-page document
extensively outlines the proposed developments of the cycle network in the city
and the surrounding areas. One of the primary focuses of the plan is to link
the various segments of cycling paths and lanes that have been developed at
various times but ultimately never linked and combine them into a much more
cohesive and connected network. This will enable cyclists to undertake journeys
both more safety by limiting the necessity to share road space with cars as
well as more confidently in the knowledge that there will a complete and
coherent route that they can follow to their destination without the need to
manoeuvre between separated segments, “the
attractiveness of cycling infrastructure and its cohesion (meaning the
relationship between each component of infrastructure) is of critical
importance in enabling people to take up cycling”(Bell, Ferretti, Cycling Futures, 2015).
As well as the general linking of existing routes and the increased
pedestrianisation of the city centre, the plan proposes to develop new routes
and upgrade existing ones between 10 metropolitan towns surrounding the city in
the aim of encouraging people to consider cycling as a viable option for
commuting between these locations and the city centre itself.

 

Although considered to generally have better
coverage for bikes than Cork, Dublin City has developed a plan like that of the
Cork Cycle Network Plan. The Greater Dublin Area Cycle Network Plan was
developed in 2013 with the aim of greater connectivity and coherence between
cycling routes in the city and increasing the ease with which cyclists can
safely navigate the city. One of the primary issues that Dublin has
historically faced any hopes of the creation of a cycling network has been the
huge demand for space in the streets of the city, with necessity dictating that
substantial amounts of space remain available on which vehicles can travel into
the city. In recent years, however, there has been a push to reclaim certain
blocks and streets in the city from traffic and make them either fully
pedestrianised or shared use with cycle access, this has already gone a long
way towards opening the city up to both cycling and pedestrian use and the
expansion of such spaces will have a very beneficial
effect on the attractiveness of cycling in the city.­­

 

The wider city itself already has an existing
network of cycling facilities which links several key areas although the routes
are primarily comprised of street-level bike lanes and bus lanes which aren’t considered
to be of the greatest quality, generally evaluated with a C or D grade with
regards to the QoS system. However, there are still significant gaps in the
network where historically car traffic and buses have been afforded priority,
the linkage of which as in Cork’s plan is of great importance. There are also
proposals to develop a number of high-quality radial routes between dense
suburban neighbourhoods around the city and the city centre. Additionally, to
provide greater range and coverage in the cycle network a number of greenways
are proposed “several of which are of strategic value in terms of their
length as an amenity, as a means of providing access to major recreational
areas in the mountains, on the coast or in significant public parks,”(GDA Cycle Network Plan, 2013) the aim of
developing these routes is to encourage people to take up cycling at the very
least recreationally.

 

Alongside these government pushed programs to
improve cycling facilities and increase the capacity and safety of existing
routes there are also many focused community groups in cities and towns that
aim to spread awareness and promote the health and environmental benefits of
cycling such as the Cork Cycling Campaign and the Dublin Cycling Campaign, both
of which have strong online presences outlining the conditions of cycling in
their cities and act as a resource for people who are considering taking up
cycling or who are simply unfamiliar with the local area.

 

Although the steps being taken by local authorities
to enhance the quality and reach of cycling networks are positive ones, there
needs to be a concurrent push to promote cycling as a viable alternative
particularly in my opinion in schools and sports clubs around the country to
promote cycling as a valid option for children. Not only would this go a long
way to providing exercise and fresh air to a demographic that is increasingly
in need of it, it would, if successful, plant the seed in the next generation
that could very importantly develop into a genuine culture where walking and
cycling are as much a facet of transportation and travel within our cities as
cars and other forms of public transport. With some projections predicting
Ireland’s population could grow to be almost 7 million by 2050 it is essential
that steps are taken as soon as possible to limit the dependency upon cars that
we seem to have embraced in our public consciousness and in the infrastructural
design of our urban centres before the issues that plague our cities and
suburbs are exacerbated by an ever-larger population.

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