Thursday 18 July 2019

Perception that cycling says you 'can't afford car'

Negative image: cycle tracks
Negative image: cycle tracks
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Getting commuters out of their cars and onto their bikes isn't as simple as building cycle lanes.

A new study finds that despite a €21.2m investment in 'smarter' travel, the shift towards cycling in three towns has been 'disappointing', in part due to a perception that if you walk or cycle it means you cannot afford a car.

Consultants employed to assess the Department of Transport's Smarter Travel Areas scheme also found there were "low levels of cycling confidence" among the general public, suggesting there was a need for training.

There were also concerns about the weather and the sense that cycling was a leisure activity, and not suited as a mode of transport to get to work.

In 2012, the department announced that funding would be directed at three demonstration towns where facilities ranging from cycle lanes, additional bike parking, showering facilities and lockers would be provided, along with public education sessions to encourage behavioural change.

The towns were Dungarvan in Waterford, which received €7.2m of which 67pc had been spent by the time the study was completed, Westport in Mayo (€5m, 86pc) and Limerick city (€9m, 38pc).

An interim report finds that progress to the end of 2014 had been mixed. Across all trips, there were "moderate" increases in walking and cycling and a drop in use of the car, but progress varied. There was a need to focus on helping people to change their behaviour, it said.

It finds:

Walking increased from an average of 20.4pc of all trips to 24.2pc, with the sharpest rise in Westport.

There was a very slight rise in cycling trips, up 0.4pc to 2.7pc, with Limerick the best performing area.

Car trips fell by 3pc, with the sharpest drop in Limerick. There was also an increase in trips by foot by parents taking their children to school, up more than 5pc to 18pc.

Trips by bike or foot to work also increased, but were only marginal for bikes.

"While the level of modal shift within the smarter travel areas has been relatively low, it is still higher than the control (national average)," the study says. "However, modal shift to cycling has been disappointing considering the resources which have been allocated to this."

A key concern is that segregated cycling or walking infrastructure forms a "secondary layer" of the transport network, and cannot be seen from main roads and does not have entry points from town centres.

There was "limited evidence" that the work improved the image of cycling, including around safety issues, which led to a "relatively small" increase in cycling numbers. Using the bicycle also had a negative image.

"Walking and cycling for commuting purposes is still associated with negative imagery, as commuting by car is closely related to socio-economic status and travelling to work on foot or by bike is stigmatised.

"In addition, there is an alternative image of cycling as an activity which requires a specific 'look' or 'gear' which can alienate people," the report added.

Irish Independent

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