Bikeweek was 13-20 June so it seems timely to report on, and celebrate, the use of bicycles for leisure or to get to school, work or wherever one wants to go. Most of us likely rode bicycles when we were young and there is the cliché about learning and retaining skills: “It’s just like riding a bike. You never forget how.” If the skill hasn’t left us, what happened to the motivation? Here we’ll address bikes as sustainable, carbon-free transport, not as means of touring the island of Ireland.
In the UK, Sustrans indicates that there are 386 million bikes trips a year on the National Cycling Network, more than one million trips a day. Of those using their bikes on the Network, 35% do so instead of using a car, 23% do so for commuting, and 17% use the Network to bike to school or play. Sustrans also reports a gender difference with 75% of bike trips taken by males, apparently largely because of perceived safety issues for women.
Ireland currently does not have a National Cycle Network but Fáilte Ireland produced in 2007 a Strategy for the Development of Irish Cycle Tourism, including a network running along the coast. While this network is planned to serve cycling tourists it is also a resource for recreational cyclists. Anything that helps develop resources, and opportunities, is welcome since in the RoI, the numbers using the bike for commuting fell from 7% in 1986, to 4.2% in 1996 and to 2% in 2006. Even more discouraging, in 1986 a total of 23,635 primary level pupils cycled to school whereas in 2006, only 4,087 did (a decline of 83%). Of the primary school bike riders in 2006, only 25% were girls, reflecting the gender imbalance found in the Sustrans work.
An encouraging project is Dublin City Council’s shared bike program with 40 stations across the inner city. One can join the program by paying €10 annually, or €2 for a 3-day membership, and then pay nothing for the first 30 minutes, 50 cents for 30-60 minutes, €1 for 1-2 hours, €2 for 2-3 hours, and €3 for 3-4 hours. Bikes can be picked up at any station and returned to any other station.
A number of studies on sustainable transportation on the island of Ireland discuss the advantages of traveling by bike. Cycling is fueled by leg power not by the kind of fossils fuels currently pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.
Not only do you get healthier by riding a bike —everywhere you can, and demanding more places and routes where you can safely travel by bike — but you contribute to a carbon-less planet. One of the intractable issues for addressing climate change is convincing people that they need to change lifestyles, and reduce their carbon footprint, if we are to avoid the worst consequences of global climate change. Getting people on bikes is an effective start to that lifestyle change. The UK Department of Transport states that 21% of UK carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are from transport, and 58% of these emissions are from passenger cars, many taking short trips of less than five miles. The 386 million bike trips on the National Cycling Network represents a savings of 490,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, the equivalent of taking 218,000 cars out of circulation or making a city the size of Bristol car-free for a year.
Intuitively, the carbon footprint for a bike trip is substantially less than for a car trip, including the carbon costs for manufacturing each. One website, for University College Dublin graduate studies, estimates that if a person uses a bike to travel three miles to go to work for five days, two carbon footprints are created whereas the same trip by car creates 1448 footprints. Of course if you’re really serious about reducing your carbon footprint, you might want to explore bamboo bikes because they have a much smaller footprint that bikes made with steel, aluminum or titanium frames.
Sustrans claims that cyclists live two years longer than non-cyclists, but it is not clear just how much cycling one has to do to qualify for the extra two years. Common sense tells us that exercise, and cycling is indeed exercise, contributes to a health lifestyle. With obesity a growing health problem throughout the world, including the RoI, NI and UK, any effort to gets kids in particular to ride bikes instead of being driven by parents is to be encouraged. Sustrans’ Bike It program for bicycling to school has been successful and recently was extended to Northern Ireland.
If you drive a car or take a bus to school/work each day, you likely are spending several £s/€s each day just for fare or gas, possibly plus parking for the car. Bicyclists are not subjected to those expenses, or to car or road taxes. Insurance, always expensive, also is not an issue for bikes. Maintenance of bikes has been estimated at £75/year versus £273 for a car. And of course the cost of a bike is minimal when compared to a car, even a used clunker.
The amount of time to take a trip by bike to work, or elsewhere, is more predictable than a trip by car or bus because of traffic congestion. One can weave in and out of congestion, being always cautious, and when you arrive you can often get a place to park your bike very near your destination. The European Commission reported that bicycling is the quickest mode of transport in an urban environment for trips up to 5-6km and for longer trips at peak hours.
You can also request that your school, employer or city provide more bike parking facilities since they are much cheaper than car parks.
Biking in the rain, a not unexpected occasion in this climate, is certainly one reason why some are reluctant to bike to work. With many offices accepting informal dress wear, this is becoming less of a problem. Otherwise, try taking a change of clothes to the office. Or use an umbrella while you bike. If you’re skeptical of this last option, check out the video “Cycling in the rain in the Netherlands,” in the “YouTube” section of irish environment. As the Dutch say, “You are not made of sugar, you won’t melt in the rain.”
If we do not forget how to ride a bike, then we suggest that the next time you visit with someone who has a bike, get on it and see how it feels and imagine yourself biking around the area for exercise, biking to the store for exercise and to save gas and wear and tear on your car, and to avoid more GHG emissions, and biking to school or work for all the above, and to save money. Or if you’re in Dublin, register for the shared bike program and make use of those bikes.
RoI Department of Transport, Smarter Travel – A Sustainable Transport Future, A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020 at www.transport.ie/transport/Sustainable/index.asp?lang=ENG&loc=1913 and www.smartertravel.ie/
RoI Department of Transport, National Cycle Policy Framework at www.smartertravel.ie/national-cycle-policy-framework
European Commission (1999). Cycling – The way ahead for towns and cities. EC DG XI – Environment, Nuclear Safety and Civil Protection
Sustrans [Sustainable Transport], Why cycle? Be admired for the car you don’t drive (March 2008)
Sustrans Annual Review 2009 at www.sustrans.org.uk [Sustainable Transport]
Dublin Cycling Campaign at dublincycling.com/whycycle
Cycling Ireland at www.cyclingireland.ie
Cycling Ulster at www.cyclingulster.com/
Cycling in Northern Ireland at www.cycleni.com/
Women’s Cycling Ireland at womenscycling.ie/
Irish Environmental Network (IEN) see www.ien.ie/news/if-you-missed-the-cycling-lecture-by-dave-horton/ and www.ecocity.co.cc/2010/05/building-cycling-culture-dave-horton.html
Comparison of carbon footprint for car and bicycle, at www.technologystudent.com/enerflsh/foot1.html
Carbon-less bamboo bikes at www.bikebamboo.com/bamboo_eco.php