Tuesday 21 May 2019

Walking and cycling isn't just some green, hippy, sandal-wearing lifestyle

A cylist using the cycle path over the Matt Talbot Bridge in Dublin
A cylist using the cycle path over the Matt Talbot Bridge in Dublin
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

The fact that half of all journeys of 2km or less are taken by car should be a source of national concern.

That so many people are so exhausted they cannot muster up the energy to walk or cycle to nearby shops must be urgently addressed by Government. Clearly our citizens are so overworked that a tribunal of inquiry is required.

And the fact that cycling rates among second-level schoolchildren have plummeted by 41pc could also form part of the inquiry's deliberations.

After all, it wasn't that long ago that teenagers were ordered onto their bikes in all weathers to make the trip to school. A time when parents would sarcastically scoff at the notion they should drive their offspring.

A taxi driver recently explained that among their busiest period was the morning peak, when they drove children to school. Why? They didn't want to walk.

Parents will argue it's all very different now with more traffic on the roads and therefore more dangerous.

Well, not quite. True, there are more cars and trucks on our roads, but in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, more than 400 people a year were routinely killed on the roads. Last year, a 'bad' year, just under 200 died.

What is abundantly clear is that, despite sustained investment in public transport and repeated attempts to get people onto bus, train, tram, bikes and walking, commuters are by and large refusing to make the switch.

The slight increase in the number of people using the car could be dismissed as no cause for alarm. But that percentage increase represents millions of trips.

Among the reasons cited is the fact that public transport fares have risen, there's a lack of services and buses are too slow.

But in many cases it's cheaper and more convenient, and there have been general improvements across the network. It's the cars on the road which are causing the congestion, and resulting in slower journeys.

Perhaps we need to rethink our transport strategy. The ultimate sanction is a congestion charge, but no politicians seems so inclined. Better planning could be employed to discourage driving, such as closing roads, introducing one-way systems and allowing cyclists priority on scarce road space.

Some countries only allow car parking on the periphery of housing developments to encourage walking, which has yielded results.

This analysis is a valuable piece of work. As Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe says, while we are making strides in the right direction, continued use of the car becomes even less sustainable as traffic volumes increase, the roads get busier and the congestion and environmental impacts are realised.

It's clear we have a choice. Retain the status quo, and return to congested cities, bad air quality and a world of climate change. Or make best use out of a public transport system already paid for, and more than capable of adapting and expanding.

That could result in a world where children cycle to schools and where obesity is less endemic, where strolling to the shops, and bumping into friends and neighbours is routine, and not considered the adaptation of some green, hippy, bearded, sandal-wearing lifestyle choice.

Irish Independent

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