Guerrilla greenways: The cycling initiatives opening up city streets
Bike projects in Galway and Dublin 8 aim to reclaim the streets for cyclists
“There’s good research that shows you have 10 to 15 per cent of the population who are willing and able to cycle,” says Kieran McGrath who set up the monthly Liffey Cycles in April 2017. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw
It’s a low bar for a city cycle when the hope is to arrive in one piece. What if urban cycling was a pleasure instead of a white knuckle brush with mortality? Could we guerrilla greenway a route to visit gardens and parks in the green-starved neighbourhood that is the Liberties in Dublin’s south inner city? Would it encourage people to dust down bikes barely used because their last trip on a red-painted cycle path was just too scary?
These were the ideas talked about on a dark January night looking at a map of Dublin with a group of strangers in the Digital Hub on Dublin’s Thomas Street. It was the first step in a “design sprint”, a technique used by The Ladder, a programme set up by technology consultant Colm Byrne to help community volunteers apply tech smarts to problems in the real world.
What’s wrong with this part of Dublin, our group asked, and how might we fix it?
Dublin is not the only city choked by traffic. And we are not the only people dreaming up solutions and putting them into action. Alan Curran and his five-year-old son were blown to school by a tail-wind from the Atlantic the morning we talked by phone. “My son loved it. He barely needed to touch the pedals at all,” Curran says.
Daily group cycle
The secondary school teacher put together Galway’s Cycling Bus last September when his son was starting school. He could have strapped him into his SUV and joined the crawl for the two 2km journey, but instead he spoke to a group of parents about setting up a daily group cycle with volunteer marshals to keep children safe. “The support we got in the first week was incredible,” he says.
Up to 25 primary school children a day now cycle to school, with nearly 100 people joining the bus on their monthly family days. One teacher who hadn’t cycled for 30 years is now an enthusiastic convert to the convenience of the bike.
“If there are cars behind us they generally give us space. Someone who does pass us is usually just up ahead sitting in traffic again,” Curran explains.
Curran is also part of the Galway Cycling Campaign, which wants to see local authority plans dusted off for an urban greenway from the city centre to Barna. The 6km stretch could be linked along the Claddagh and the canal to NUIG, where it could meet the Galway Clifden Greenway.
Conor Cahill of the Dublin Cycling Campaign came along to road-test our inner route, a 4km amble on quiet streets with space to let children and less experienced cyclists travel beside more experienced riders. Despite the squally rain, we enjoyed it.
The first Pedal8 Liberties Loop took place last Sunday with stops at Weaver Park to watch the skaters and do some seed bombing, tea in the geodesic dome in the Fatima community garden Flanagan’s Fields, a stop at Bridgefoot Street Community Garden, and winding up with cookies and a chat at Tailors’ Hall. Thanks to Bleeper Bikes, there were bikes for anyone who didn’t have their own. The hope is that Pedal8 will become a monthly event.
Over a post-cycle coffee on that first trial, Cahill explained how the Dublin Cycling Campaign wanted a mass cycle along part of the Dublin trail from Trinity to Kilmainham Gaol during Velo-City, an international cycling convention to be hosted by Dublin in June. It would have involved hundreds, maybe thousands, of bikes in the heart of Dublin, changing the sounds, air and pace of the city centre for a few short hours. But the idea was turned down.
Was it because of the need to close the streets? Cahill paused for a beat and smiled. “I call that an opening of the streets.” The Velo-City Cycling Parade will instead open the streets from the Convention Centre to St Anne’s Park on Wednesday, June 26th.
Fellow Dublin Cycling Campaign member and photographer Kieran McGrath was inspired by the mass courier cycles that have a “whiff of counterculture vibe” to set up the monthly Liffey Cycles in April 2017. On the first Sunday of each month, a large group of cyclists took over the Quays to allow a more diverse group of cyclists such as children and cargo bikes and less confident cyclists enjoy the Liffeyside cycle.
“Participants loved it. You could just enjoy cycling, chatting to the person cycling beside you.” Marshals at the back had a tougher cycle, dealing with the occasional driver who didn’t want the inconvenience of making their way down the Quays on a Sunday morning at cycling pace.
“There’s good research that shows you have 10 to 15 per cent of the population who are willing and able to cycle, the sort of brave pioneers,” McGrath says. “But it’s estimated that there’s another 50 to 60 per cent of people who would really like to cycle if it was safe to do so.” He believes the rural greenways have proved by “their massive success” that those reluctant cyclists are out there, just waiting for the chance to enjoy the ride for a change.