There's never been a better time to get on a bike
OPINION:Looking for increased State investment in cycling right now might seem a lost cause, but there are many good reasons why it should happen, writes CIAN GINTY
MAKING ANY IRISH town or city cycling-friendly is not an issue for cyclists alone. While there are broader issues involved, in terms of the costs involved in cycling, the justification for spending millions on existing cyclists in the current economic climate is arguably weak.
That may sound strange coming from someone who has just produced a one-off newspaper called Cycling in Dublin (and is facing the slightly daunting task of distributing the bulk of 10,000 copies).
While there might be justification for improving safety and infrastructure for those already cycling, investment in cycling has to be seen in terms of getting more people involved.
Many of the cyclists I spoke with while writing articles for Cycling in Dublin said the best thing about cycling was its speed and, more importantly, its predictability.
As RTÉ news presenter Bryan Dobson puts it: “It’s the quickest way to get around. I suppose the advantage besides speed is predictability – I know if I head off now I’ll be there in 20 minutes, or whatever, and you’re not going to be stuck in traffic or waiting for a bus.”
The health benefit of cycling was the important factor for many. Caroline Peppard, a senior HSE health-promotion officer, says in Cycling in Dublin that commuting to work by bike is the easiest way to build your recommended activity requirements into your daily routine.
“Your risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and some cancers is greatly reduced, and regular physical activity has been proven to promote positive mental health,” she writes. She also highlights the value of cycling in weight management, and its importance to the immune system, skin, joints and muscles. It also reduces the risk of type-two diabetes.
Cycling also saves money on transport and is enjoyable. It gives you independence and, furthermore, you’re doing your bit for the environment.
While the above reasons are important in themselves, there is also the key cost factor. If the promotion of cycling was taken seriously, there would be enormous knock-on benefits in terms of cost reductions for the State in the health service.
The main health reason to push cycling is that prevention is better than cure. Cycling is better for people and would reduce our spending on health, which takes up a major proportion of our national budget.
More than 1.3 million people live in Co Dublin and around 65 per cent have commutes of under 10km, and 40 per cent under 4km.
Everybody can’t cycle and cycling can’t cure all of our ills, but it can go a long way to reducing some problems.
In Dublin, one of the main reasons to push cycling is that our transport system is inefficient and traffic is still a problem. Dublin’s traffic engineers say the city isso close to capacity for cars. Eoghan Madden, a senior engineer with Dublin City Council, says you can fit “around three times as many people by bike in the same space as cars”. Dublin cannot handle private cars as a major mode of transport in the future. There isn’t the space.
Congestion is not just inconvenient to motorists and bus users, it also has real costs due to loss of productivity and health effects, and lowers the attractiveness of a city to investment and tourism. In 2010, IBM estimated that traffic congestion in Dublin cost the economy 4 per cent of GDP, which is billions of euro.
Investing in cycling may not make congestion vanish, but the more people there are on bikes, the less congestion becomes less of a problem for those on bikes and those who have a real need to drive.
While cycling is not free of costs, it’s cheaper to provide for cycling than for cars or public transport. Dutch and Danish engineers say this is why their countries began to take cycling seriously towards the end of the last century: they were cheapskates.
We look at the Dutch as having a good public transport system; cycling is complementary to this. Around 40 per cent of train commuters in the Netherlands use bicycles to connect to their stations.
You can fit about 10 bikes in the same space as one car parking space and double that number for stacked-bike parking – and, of course, bikes can fit in spaces that cars cannot. The question is, can Ireland make the move to cycling?