Cycle ‘superhighways’ must be part of decarbonising transport – committee hears

Comprehensive, integrated rail and bus networks also needed, transport expert says

If Ireland is to tackle heavy reliance on the car and to reduce its high emissions from transport it must embrace imaginative options especially in building cycle "superhighways" and integrating public transport, according to a leading UK transport expert.

"We need to design cycle networks as good as those in The Netherlands and Denmark, " Dr Lynn Sloman of Transport for Quality of Life told the Oireachtas Climate Action Committee.

“Growth in popularity of e-bikes means longer cycle trips are feasible, and so cycle superhighways radiating out from towns for 15km or more should be part of a decarbonisation strategy,” she recommended.

The committee has recommended a 51 per cent emissions reduction target for transport by 2030 be adopted by the Government, and is staging hearings on how this can be achieved in a sector accounting for 20 per cent of Ireland’s carbon emissions.


In addition to enhanced cycling networks, comprehensive, integrated rail and bus networks, as good as those in Switzerland and Germany, running from early in the morning till late at night, seven days a week, were required, Dr Sloman said. "We should recognise a universal basic right for everyone to be able to have a decent life without having to own or drive a car."

To achieve significant “mode shift” would require “very substantial investment – both capital and ongoing revenue”, she underlined.

A pay-per-mile “eco levy” on driving should be part of the package to shift travel behaviours, and income from it should be ring-fenced to provide an ongoing revenue stream for sustainable transport improvements – “We can think of it as a ‘benefits-and-charges’ package.”

Politically difficult

Road user charging was seen as politically difficult, she acknowledged, but evidence from London, Stockholm, Milan and elsewhere "is that it creates more winners than losers, and particularly benefits the young, older people, those on a low income and women. Places that have implemented a road user charge find that once residents see how it improves their town or city, there is net support".

Dr Sloman warned, however, “it is no good investing in cycleways and public transport and at the same time building more roads”.

In response to Deputy Jennifer Whitmore (Social Democrats), she said new road-building should be stopped as it was hard to reconcile with decarbonisation.

“Roughly one-third of the additional emissions are from construction [ of new roads] ;one-third from increases in vehicle speeds; and one-third from induced traffic. The UK Climate Change Committee has suggested the UK should prioritise broadband investment over road network expansion,” she added.

Deputy Richard Bruton (FG) said vehicle sharing appeared to be "very low hanging fruit" if it could be rolled out at scale, and noted it was being done in other countries through the private sector.


When he highlighted risks from pricing to change behaviours given what had happen with the gilets jaunes protests in France, Dr Sloman recommended a combination of pricing, incentives and improved services be rolled out at the same time.

The 51 per cent target was challenging, she said. Vehicle electrification would make the largest contribution to reducing emissions, but it will not be enough on its own. “With a ban on sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, the majority of cars on the road will probably still be powered by fossil fuels into the early 2030s. That is because the average car is used for 14 years before it is scrapped.”

The combination of mode "shift" to active travel (cycling and walking), sharing of vehicles and transport innovation could enable true transformation to happen, said Elisabeth Windisch of the International Transport Forum (ITF) at the OECD – a global transport policy think tank with over 62 member countries including Ireland.

ITF research for the Greater Dublin Area had shown its mobility could be delivered with only 2 per cent of the current number of private vehicles, she added. If only 20 per cent of private car trips were replaced with shared on-demand modes (ie shared mini buses), vehicle kilometres and emissions would fall by more than 20 per cent. “Estimated emissions reductions do not assume that shared vehicles may be electric – which, by now, would be a feasible option,” she added.

Another ITF study showed if 20 per cent of car users in the Dublin area were to shift to shared mobility services (including shared buses, vans, taxis, micromobility etc), “mobility demand would require 40 per cent less street space. This space could be used for active modes, green spaces or other, greatly enhancing the liveability of the city”, Ms Windisch said.

Shared mobility

A transport system based on shared mobility and moving away from the “ownership model” could help achieve decarbonisation goals while promoting improved equitable access, affordable transport, economic productivity and use of existing bus and rail networks, she underlined.

“Measures can include congestion charging, low emission zones, (dynamic) parking pricing, phase out of subsidised parking at the workplace... it must, however, be first ensured that adequate alternatives for travel exist that are accessible and affordable for all.”

Ms Windisch recommended encouraging uptake of full EVs, and avoiding long transition periods via hybrid alternatives that do not have the same environmental benefits. There was also a need to ensure resulting additional electricity demands were fully covered by renewable energy sources and to deploy EVs where they were most useful, and only where more sustainable alternatives do not exist – such as in public fleets and in non-urban areas.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times