While there’s much to be done in making Cork a safer place for cyclists, Bike Week aims to show people of all ages the benefits of pedal-power, writes
Let’s kick off with the concluding line from Mark Twain’s essay on Taming the Bicycle:
“Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.”
He may have had some vision of children heading off to school through laneways bumper-to-bumper with two-tonne vehicles or maybe he was thinking of commuters dwarfed by articulated trucks on city streets. But his words ring truer now than ever.
Cyclists know that cycling is great. In fact, the 2016 Census notes that the number of people cycling to work increased by 43% on the 2011 census. Add this to all the people cycling for fun, sport or to activities or school and you have a fairly significant cohort.
And now it seems that city planners and policymakers are recognising that cycling is fun, environmentally-friendly, alleviates traffic congestion and promotes fitness.
We’re at the beginning of National Bike Week which is chock-full of practical and quirky cycling activities aimed at boosting the numbers of people cycling. Cork Bike Week is part of this initiative which runs until Sunday (June 17) — it’s organised by a multi-agency group involving Cork City and County Councils, Cork Sports Partnership, HSE, Cork Cycling Campaign, Cork Environmental Forum, UCC and An Taisce.
A Cork Bike Week spokeswoman said that while they are keen to see people of all ages cycling, it’s particularly encouraging to see children and families on their bikes. With this in mind, there are family fun cycles organised for the city centre, suburbs and West Cork as well as ongoing school cycle safety initiatives and family cycle training programs.
The Cork Cycle Right programme provides subsidised cycle training to schools in Cork city and county over an eight-session programme. During this, children learn road safety and cycling safety skills. This genuinely sounds great, but what happens if your four-stone child is the most safety conscious road user on the way to school? All the high-vis jackets and bells in the world won’t protect them from a driver who lurches up to park on a footpath or comes a bit too close when overtaking.
“Well, we try to encourage ‘park and ride’. Maybe parents don’t have to drive right to the school gates. If they park a few hundred metres back from the school and then cycle or walk the last part then that could help promote safety and encourage children and their parents,” the spokeswoman pointed out.
While we’re nowhere near the cycling levels of Copenhagen or Amsterdam, things are going to get better here for cyclists, she promises.
“Cycling is more popular and isn’t just seen as the ‘poor relation’ any more. Cars took precedence in the past but we are working towards a more equitable use of road space.”
There are more cycle lanes in the city than in previous years — though sudden merges with traffic or vans using them as parking bays can take the gloss off this achievement.
“Cork is an old, medieval city so it would not be possible to accommodate separate cycle lanes on all streets but promoting a great awareness of cyclists and pedestrians is important too,” the spokeswoman says.
She credits Coca-Cola Zero Bikes for playing a part in boosting cycling too: “It’s great to see someone on their own bike cycling along with someone on one of these shared bikes — you think that maybe someone who hasn’t cycled before or for a long time is being encouraged to give it a go by someone who regularly cycles.”
There are 330 bicycles across 31 stations in Cork city. These are available to anyone over the age of 14 either by subscribing for €10 per year or on a one-off basis of just €3 for 30 minutes.
“The number of trips and the number of users on these has surpassed expectations,” says the spokeswoman, noting that there have been requests to extend the bike docking stands to other locations in the suburbs. The majority of the bases are on the city’s central island with one at Kent Station and at University College Cork. “At the moment they go as far as Fitzgerald Park, which is very popular, or UCC and extending is something that can be looked at.”
The popularity of the former Mahon/Blackrock railway line as a cycling and walking trail is something to be proud of, she highlights: “You have people commuting, cycling for leisure and children on balance bikes on this facility.”
Recent improvements to this route include a ramp for workers and shoppers at Mahon Point, as well as signposts urging cyclists to “Buail do Chloigín” (ring your bell) when passing pedestrians and slower-moving cyclists. And there are also plans to widen the path.
So, any chance of public lockers for cyclists who don’t want to bring wet-weather gear or helmet into a restaurant or around the shops with them?
Unfortunately, officials say the funding isn’t there for now but all these things can be looked at.
More immediately, we should see more safe spots in which to lock bicycles. Cork City Council is also looking to enforce planning rules on developments which have bicycle stands included as part of their planning permission, the spokeswoman points out.
And the planned Harley Street bridge between Merchants Quay and St Patrick’s Quay will be dedicated for pedestrians and cyclists.
I opened with a quotation so I’m gonna wrap up with one: “Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realise fishing is stupid and boring.” This is widely attributed to Archbishop Desmond Tutu who describes using a bike to get out of the ghetto and go fishing with his father.