We love cycling in Kildare. We love to head off on a Sunday morning for a couple of hours, showing off our swanky new bikes and trying to beat each other over Boston Hill or the Hill of Allen.
We talk about it “being the new golf”, and if you were to partake in the 170km ‘Ring of Kerry’ cycle later in the summer, it’s entirely probable that you’ll meet half the county sweating up Molls Gap outside Kenmare.
We love to use it for exercise, but alas, not in the simple everyday functional sense of getting from a to b.
Despite the well publicised explosion in cycling as a sporting hobby, there appears to be very little uptake in cycling as a way of commuting in Kildare, and the county is unlikely to hit Government targets for bicycle use.
There are six cycling clubs and teams in the county, Team Bikeworx in Celbridge, Maynooth Students for Charity, Kilcullen Cycling Club,Naas Cycling Club, Newbridge Cycling Club, Donadea Wheelers and Athy Wheelers. There’s also the Kildare Mountain Bike Club.
All are thriving, and some are the biggest in the nation. There are several very popular one day cycles such as the Tour de Foothills, Leinster Loop and the Tour of Kildare, often as long as 100kms, with up to 800 participants - and than nine bicycle shops in the county, none with any shortage of business to keep them going.
But a report on the level of cycling participation has found that only 1.8% of all journeys are undertaken by bicycle, far short of the Government’s projected 10% by 2020.
The report’s authors in Kildare County Council’s Transportation Department say there is “little prospect of Kildare achieving the government target”. They point to evidence from other countries that obesity rates and cycling participation rates are linked.
And they contrast how investment in cycling infrastructure around the Danish city of Copenhagen have seen a reduction in the annual health bill of €40 million.
And Britain’s NHS has reported that if only 10% of all trips currently taken on public transport were taken by bicycle, it would save £140 million, such is the benefit of cycling to the general health of the population.
It is estimated that the cost of obesity in Kildare alone is €51.6 million, or €712 per household per year, the report points out.
“Lower levels of cycling are associated with higher levels of obesity and vice versa,” they note.
“Obviously the causes of obesity are complex and there is no simple causal relationship between level of cycling and obesity rates. Nevertheless, it is accepted that cycling helps to maintain a healthy weight - and an increase in active travel including cycling was identified in 2005 as one of the measures to combat increased obesity by the Report of the National Taskforce on Obesity,” the report says.
The Transportation Department in Kildare County Council, the author of the report, decided that the best way to gauge participation levels was by counting the number of bicycle’s parked at schools in the county.
They found that two Celbridge schools have a large percentage of students traveling to and from school by bicycle. However, according to the report, they are very much the exception. North Kildare Educate Together has 14.4% of its 223 students arriving on two wheels, while the Salesians have 139 out of 643, or almost 22%. Elsewhere, in the rural area of Timahoe, Scoil Cianog Naofa, has 19 out of 101 students cycling to school. However, the report reveals that the vast majority of schools throughout the county have single figure percentages. And zero is sadly, not uncommon.
One factor often cited is the safety aspect. “Although cycling has never been safer in Ireland, it is not the lack of objective safety but the lack of subjective safety (or perception of safety) which is the real barrier to increased cycling especially by young people,” the report states.
“Based on the evidence from the UK, it is likely that no amount of training will ever persuade a considerable proportion of the Irish population to share roads with motor traffic based on the current road environment. In contrast, a safe environment enables and encourages people to cycle wherever they want.”
The authors of the report point to the Government’s aspiration for 2020, but they note that there is no break-down for what that will look like in Kildare.
The Government’s strategy, they say, includes a budget of approximately €3 per person, although they point to £10 in the UK and as much as €25 to €30 in the Netherlands.
Cycling needs to be invested in, they say. High quality infrastructure which prioritises cycling is essential they say.
But they note that: “In the current financial environment, Kildare County Council is unable to provide dedicated funding from its own resources for the construction or maintenance of cycling infrastructure or for the promotion of cycling.”
The report’s conclusion are straight-forward and stark. “There is little prospect of Kildare achieving the government target of 10% cycling by 2020.
“Increasing obesity related illnesses will place additional demands on the Health Services in the county.”