By WexBUG committee member, Hazel Reid.
“This isn’t like going to school Mum, it’s like a holiday”.Saoirse Age 9
This was what my, then 8 now 9-year-old, daughter said the first time we cycled to school. We live 1.6 miles from the school and our cycle there is probably closer to two miles as we navigate and avoid roads that seem more dangerous or where our presence is more inconvenient. Most of the route I cycle on the road with the two kids on the footpath, they know that they are guests on the footpath and that they must dismount or yield safely to pedestrians. That was when the schools were open pre-March 13th.
Post March 13th this pandemic is not a ‘moment’, as was pointed out on Twitter, as ‘moment’ suggests that it is a fleeting almost inconsequential time, rather Covid-19 has brought utter change to our society and we are likely only at the beginning. Social distancing and staying close to home are maybe our pattern of living for some time.
Considering this I wrote to Wexford County Council to ask them to act swiftly to segregate more space for cycling and walking, my specific interest and hope is for cycling space useable by all ages, but baby steps.
Our culture is changing and our way of life is altered and may be visibly altered for some time to come and this is an opportunity for Wexford to follow leading towns and cities which have allocated more space for people via pop-up cycle lanes, contra-flows, one way streets and other creative plans.“Almost overnight, the cycling infrastructure that people have campaigned years for has appeared at next to no cost” notes Matthew Chandler from discerningcyclist.com and this is by the process of ‘tactical urbanism’ which is a means of creating often temporary changes to urban areas to improve neighbourhoods. Tactical urbanism such as segregated paths along the main roads could act as a case study for Wexford forfuture town planning. Milan, Paris and Berlin have rapidly implemented change in favour of pedestrians and cyclists.
This Summer we won’t be going to the places we had planned and many families who load up the bikes and head off to France will be staying at home and will want to capture some of the freedom of those French holidays here. For many that is simply the joy of cycling and noticing detail and being outdoors.
While our roads have been quieter cars seem to have gotten faster on them, if we do not act to implement more space for non-car travel then the car will dominate more as people fear for themselves in areas where they cannot social distance. With vision and investment Wexford could mirror cities which have had success in changing their culture towards more cycling and Águeda in Portugal has some similarities with Wexford where it is also a small hilly town and through commitment and vision they have increased the use of bicycles in the town. (https://www.eltis.org/discover/case-studies/cycling-europe-celebrating-success-starter-city-agueda-portugal).
Wexford people are creative and if the road they used to drive down is no longer an option then they will find another way!
My children have done much more cycling since we have been staying home and have enjoyed it, but I do fear for them and as for navigating pavements when walking as a family of two teenagers, two children a dog and my husband and I…. When I asked the girls would they write with me to the council they all added their own thoughts on what they would like to see to allow them to cycle more, all four of them said they would like to cycle more safely and one said “I would like to be able to cycle my bike more often to go places like the shops and guides”. The Green Schools initiative #andshecycles has motivated me to encourage the teenagers to up their cycle skills with a view to cycling to school. Here are two of the letters…..
We are showing great unity as a nation as we seek to protect our Health Service and societies’ vulnerable by abiding by the social distancing rules on our roads, and in our shops etc., however a weariness is creeping in and when we become weary we would benefit from effective infrastructure to support our desire to end the spectre of Covid-19. I hope that both our town planners and elected representatives will be visionary and bold tactical urbanisers at this time. There are very present risks to health by not providing this space and there are also considerable long-term attractive rewards both for health and commerce by changing how we move around our town.