National Bike Week – “Vive le Vélo!”
National Bike Week, an annual event which involves a diverse range of cycling activities all over Ireland, is almost upon us and now is an excellent time to take stock and consider recent progress in encouraging more people to cycle.
Cycling Mode Share
Cycling mode share has increased in recent years, however from a very low base, and after many years of decline. Latest census data indicates a 9.6% increase in the number of commuters cycling nationally between 2006 and 2011 (to 39,803), although it is important to note that cyclists accounted for only 2.4% of overall commuter trips in 2011
Smarter Travel Policy
Smarter Travel, A Sustainable Transport Future: A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020, was developed by the Department of Transport as a response to unsustainable population and economic growth patterns prevalent in Ireland at the end of the 20th and start of 21st century. The policy document sets out a large number of actions needed to achieve a sustainable transport network in Ireland up to 2020. Underpinning the policy is a target of 160,000 people cycling (9-10%) for their daily commute by 2020, up from 36,306 (2.1%) in 2006.
But is this target too ambitious? Do we need to revise it to something more realistic? Instinctively, it does feel very ambitious but then again, 2006 was a low point for cycle use in Ireland – by comparison, 7.2% of commuters cycled to work in 1986.
Significant improvements in cycle infrastructure and promotion have taken place since 2006:
- Cycle lane improvements, including schemes following NTA’s revised design guidance, set out within the National Cycle Manual, published in 2011; and
- Smarter Travel Initiatives, a National Transport Authority programme, with inter-related workplace, schools and campus travel planning strands, supporting commuters in choosing more sustainable transport options.
In addition to the above, Dublin Bikes, launched in 2009 has been a major success. Due to demand, the phased expansion of the scheme is already underway, following JCDecaux’s 2013 contract with Dublin City Council to expand the scheme to 1,500 bicycles, up from 450 originally at launch. More recently (March 2014), it was announced that the scheme would be expanded to 5,000 bicycles by 2018.
Improved cycle facilities and Dublin Bikes aren’t the only reason for recent increases in cycle use, however both are indicative of a latent demand for cycling in the city. Other factors include economic malaise, and associated reductions in disposable income; and cultural factors such as heightened health awareness and cycling attaining a ‘trendy’ image. Following its success in Dublin, similar public bike schemes are now planned for Cork, Limerick and Galway, and are expected to be operational by the autumn of this year.
We are mid-way through the 2009-2020 plan but are we mid-way to achieving target increases in cycle use? Reaching a level of 160,000 people commuting represents roughly a 350% increase from the 35,000 cyclist commuters in 2006. At the half-way point for Smarter Travel, A Sustainable Transport Future, are we half-way towards achieving its targets? Although not indicative of national trends, the 2013 Canal Cordon Count shows that the number of inbound cyclists crossing the canal cordon between 07:00 and 10:00 hrs (i.e. commuters) had increased from 4,839 in 2006 to 9,061 in 2013 – an increase of 187%. Excellent news!
National targets for cycle growth remain ambitious, however these increases indicate the scope for significant further growth in Dublin and the regional cities (Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford), with measures such as better cycle lanes, public cycle hire facilities and nationally led cycle promotion initiatives already having a significant impact.
Low Carbon Roadmap / Climate Change
A Low Carbon Roadmap for the Transport Sector is under development by the Department of Transport Tourism and Sport (DTTAS) and seeks to assist in meeting Ireland’s obligations under EU law. Under climate change targets, Ireland is legally bound to reduce overall emissions, however a recent EPA report has identified achieving reductions in agriculture and transport as particularly challenging, with emissions from the latter sector expected to increase by 9% by 2020. Ensuring our legal carbon reduction obligations underpin transport policy is essential if transport is to contribute to national reductions in CO2 emissions. With the help of renewed smarter travel policy initiatives, we can as a sector contribute to meeting these targets – “vive le vélo!”