It might not be for everyone, but for those that had been toying with the idea of hopping on the bike for commuting to work or to hop to the shops, or to visit friends and family, increasing the capacity and cycle access could be a win-win-win situation in planning how to get people in and out of the city as safely as possible. A win for public health, communities, and businesses.
One of the big questions is how to get the volume of workers into the city and all urban centres safely, and how to do this in a way that avoids a rise in car traffic congestion, air pollution and any knock-on decline in overall user-friendliness of our urban spaces. Traffic congestion is bad news for everyone.
The World Health Organisation has already answered the first part of this question on how best to do this from a public health perspective. It has recommended active mobility through cycling and walking as the safest option to combat the transmission of Covid-19.
The next question is how do we do this? But maybe also why this is so important, and how can we come back better and stronger.
The How? Agreeing to fast-track elements of the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy. This strategy was published earlier this year and includes an investment strategy worth €3.5bn to 2040.
While this was pre-Covid, all going relatively to plan we should see sections of this coming forward in the years ahead. The strategy covers walking, cycling, bus, suburban rail and light rail and while we need to secure the funding for these projects, now is the opportunity to prioritise funding to bring forward the elements of the strategy to see us through this difficult time. The key parts of this, for now, are the walking and cycling sections.
It’s up to all of us: businesses, communities, the National Transport Authority and Council to work together and find a way to bring people into the city without bringing it to a standstill. Otherwise, we may face a scenario where the city centre effectively becomes a car park. By increasing the number of those accessing the city via a sustainable mode, there is the opportunity to increase the footfall and for businesses, the commercial spend and recovery in the city.
The time to adapt is now - through implementing tactical urbanism solutions from pop-up temporary cycle lanes, wider footpaths, and park and cycle locations, to outdoor dining spaces to increase the accessibility and function of the city centre.
The announcements last week here in Cork around pedestrianising streets, increasing cycle parking and looking to decrease street clutter, easing congestion at pedestrian crossings, and growing the potential for outdoor trading are all very positive and a solid starting point.
Recovery of the city centre and all urban centres will be based on the ability to attract people in, to create a safe healthy space for people to visit, shop, work, dine and enjoy.
On the Why? One reason is cyclists and pedestrians spend more. Research by the National Transport Authority found that public transport users spend more than twice as much as car users in Dublin. The same research found that those cities that rely on public transport users and pedestrians deliver the strongest cash injection to a city’s economy as a whole. International studies show cycling infrastructure is connected with higher retail sales.
There are also climate and health benefits – not least in the context of Covid-19 where new studies are showing that high levels of air pollution may be one of the most important contributors to higher rates of fatality in cases.
In the year ahead, we need to see the expansion and upgrading of our public bike scheme, and explore the options of e-bikes through public bike schemes.
The support from the National Transport Authority will be key, supporting Cork City Council in implementing new solutions and funding measures to keep Cork moving, supporting businesses through the smarter travel work programmes and supporting a change in commuting patterns.
Michelle O'Sullivan is senior public affairs executive with Cork Chamber