How to get more people cycling? It needs to be ‘fun’

Expert indicates potential positive outcome for Dublin to look at developing low-stress cycling network

Making cycling a more pleasurable experience is likely to get more people on their bike than warning them about climate change, according to an American researcher in transport policy speaking in Dublin at the weekend.

The most important reason people ride bicycles is that they enjoy it, said Prof Susan Handy from the department of environmental science and policy at the University of Davis in California.

“Having fun and being relaxed are the strongest things people associate with cycling. Doing something that’s good for the environment comes last.”

Prof Handy said focusing on the “fun factor” — what people like about cycling — is more important than putting in the right sort of bike lanes. She also said research has found that low-stress bikeway networks through quieter streets were found to be the preferred routes for cyclists even without designated cycle lanes on these routes.


Her talk at Trinity College Dublin was optimistically entitled, Bicycles Will Save The World. The reference is taken from a study at the University of Davis which calculated that if people made 23 per cent of journeys by bicycle, this would reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically and significantly curb air pollution.

About 10 per cent of people cycle regularly in Dublin, according to the latest available figures from the Central Statistics Office.

Brian Caulfield, associate professor and head of transport research at the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at TCD who invited Prof Handy to speak, told The Irish Times that it would be useful for Dublin to look at developing a low-stress cycling network.

“The problem in Dublin is that cycling infrastructure is built from an engineering perspective rather than from the person’s perspective,” said Dr Caulfield.

Bike-sharing schemes

Speaking about research into electric bikes, Prof Handy said that studies have shown that people using bike-sharing schemes for a distance of one to 1½ miles (2-3km) replace walking with cycling but those using bike-sharing schemes for more than 1½ miles are cycling instead of taking a car or a taxi.

“We need to think about these longer trips to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and this has implications for where we put in bike-sharing schemes,” she said. Another study in which companies loaned e-bikes to their employees found that those who borrowed the e-bikes cycled to work about two days more per week and there was a corresponding decline in the number of single occupancy trips made by car.

“A lot of good research is being done on how to increase the use of bicycles but not enough on how to discourage driving cars. We also need to put homes close to work and schools,” said Prof Handy.

Dr Caulfield, who is researching the use of e-bikes by suburban commuters in Dublin as part of an ESB pilot electric bicycle scheme said there was also a need for Government subsidies for buying electric bicycles and electric cargo bicycles. At present subsidies are only available for electric cars.

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment