Cycle of recovery - A small but welcome revolution

IN the grand plan of things the Cycle to Work Scheme can hardly be described as world changing but in its own small, quiet, effective way it has been revolutionary and eye-opening.

It has shown, again, that people, if given the right opportunity and encouragement, are prepared to embrace positive change.

The Irish Bicycle Business Association reported yesterday that 90,000 bicycles were bought under the scheme during the last two years.

The association also suggested that many parents who bought bicycles for themselves returned later to buy bicycles for their children, so the benefits of the scheme are already trans-generational and, because of it, thousands of children are taking exercise and building a healthy lifestyle. This may not have been anticipated when the scheme was set up but at a time when our society is struggling to hold the line against so many self-inflicted illnesses — diabetes and obesity especially — it should be recognised and celebrated.

When the Greens left government at the start of the year they listed the scheme as one of their 10 achievements in office and these figures suggest, even if 90,000 people don’t cycle to work each and every day, it is more than a step in the right direction.

This represents a reasonable proportion of the Irish workforce which hovers around the 2.1 million mark. If you allow for age, distance from work, those who work from home or those who must carry goods or tools to work — or those of us too lazy to change our ways — then this is a very good opening figure.

Imagine what it might be if the roads and streets in our towns and cities were more bicycle friendly? Surely the success of this small scheme must encourage planners to recognise and better satisfy the needs of cyclists? It is inevitable for all sorts of reasons, environment, cost and health being the primary ones, that more and more urban commuters will use bicycles to get to work or school.

What a change it would make if we, like so many European societies encouraged more children to cycle to school? Surely the time has come to be more proactive on this by planning safer road networks around our schools? It would make for children healthier and far more independent than those ferried door-to-door by harassed parents. And it would take thousands of cars off our roads and help alleviate rush-hour stress.

Dublin — just like London, Melbourne, Tel Aviv and Hangzhou, which has overtaken Paris as the world’s largest — already has a bicycle sharing scheme. This public-private partnership model is proving its worth all around the world. So much so that in Paris subscriptions have jumped from around 160,000 just a year ago to 200,000 today. The idea is gaining the kind of momentum that seems to guarantee success.

This scheme won’t save the euro or create thousands of jobs but it will improve the health and hopefully the lives of those who participate in it. Because it is low-key — and beautifully low-tech — it succeeded without any great bluster but it has delivered the goods.

It suggests too the path to recovery is a mosaic of many small things rather than grand schemes so dependent on vast funding, manpower and innovation.

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