KILDARE CYCLING COLUMN: Bikes are one part of urban renewal

Conor McHugh gives his views

Conor McHugh


Conor McHugh


KILDARE CYCLING COLUMN: Bikes are one part of urban renewal

File photo

One thing that is always lost in the public relations battle over cycling in our towns and cities is not that it is about promoting the idea of bike riding for the sake of bike riding, but that it is, like a number of other measures, something that will make our towns and cities simply nicer places to live.

And in that regard, it’s not, as Lance Armstrong would have said, all about the bike, it’s actually all about the car.

It’s not even the car either, per se. I love cars, I love nothing more than the freedom it gives me to hit the road on a Saturday morning and end anywhere from Killbegs to Killarney and much else besides.

It’s about the fact that we have given away our urban spaces to cars.

We have decided that having the ‘freedom’ to go wherever we like by car takes precedence over any other form of transport, notwithstanding the fact that if it’s all about transport, a car is the least effective way of getting people around.

Our city streets have been widened to allow for cars, narrowing the space that should be available to people engaging in a wide variety of activities, in safety and free from noise and pollution.

It’s no wonder people don’t want to live in town centres anymore. They’re fleeing to the suburbs or into the country, the worst crime of all, according to some.

Planning experts will tell you that allowing people to build their houses in the countryside kills towns and villages, by depriving them of the kind of population density needed to justify investment in services.

They have it arseways. Instead of decrying those who move to the country, they should be asking themselves what drove them there?

My strong suspicion is that, to many, urban living has become that thing you do in between sitting in traffic jams.

The big jump in thought process is not to think only in terms of getting us all to buy bicycles, but in terms of either ending the supremacy of the car in urban areas, or, in some cases, banning them completely.

If we do that, we allow all the best elements of urban living to flourish.

People will feel free of noise and pollution, they will want to go to public spaces, to sit in a restaurant outside, to engage with each other.

Foliage will be free to return to the urban space, a sign that it is, quite simply, a much nicer place to live, inviting those who have fled to the countryside to return.

And if people need to move around, they will walk or they will cycle, but crucially, they will get around far quicker than before and won’t live in fear of getting killed by a motorist.

If you for a moment consider the thoughts that go through your mind when you contemplate driving through your local town at rush hour.

The very thought of it leads to a clenching of the gut and thoughts of going down numerous side streets and backroads to try to avoid the traffic jam.

This is especially crazy when you consider that, most of our towns are, from end to end, no more than two kilometres long.

That translates as a 12 minute cycle for the most dedicated of dawdlers, four minutes for those lads who wear lycra, and somewhere between six and eight minutes for most of the rest of us.

Now imagine how long it would take you in your car? How much petrol or diesel it would have cost, how many grey hairs, how much pollution it would have caused and how much noise it made.

Then consider how much it cost the local authority to build that road, and more to the point, how much it costs them to maintain it on an annual basis.

All for a trip that could have taken as little as seven minutes on a bike.

There are numerous other reasons to buy a bike and start cycling, and quite a few of them are very compelling.

For instance, it is extremely healthy; enough studies have been carried out to prove this beyond all doubt.

But the most compelling reason is that it can be part of the solution to why our urban centres are dying.

An article I came across during the week that warmed the cockles of my cold heart.

The owner of a hardware shop in Newcastle (England) had objected vociferously to cycling lanes, attended meetings, made placards and generally gave out stink.

“We do not mind change to bring the area into the 21st century, but we don’t want to lose any of our parking spaces,” he told the local newspaper at the time.

“If that happened it would be devastating for businesses and put a big strain on shops. If people can’t park it will put people off – simple as that.”

The local council rightly ignored him and installed good cycling lanes.

He now reports that “Acorn Road has become more vibrant with the increase in pedestrians and cyclists. Now with more bike racks we get more cyclists coming into the store.”

“The street is more people-friendly now,” he says.

A study for the UK Department of Transport found that “cycle parking allows five times more retail spend than the same space for car parking and that “cycle friendly neighbourhoods have greater retail spend” and they quote a benefit-to-cost ratio for cycling infrastructure of up to 35 to 1.

Sure maybe if the businesses in Kildare’s towns see this it might change things.

It’s a wonder County Kildare Chamber and ISME aren’t calling for cycling lanes everywhere!