This blog deals with everyday cycling in Co. Wexford, as a transport mode.
In April 2009, the Government launched Ireland’s first National Cycle Policy Framework. Amongst its 19 specific objectives was the aim of developing a cycling culture aimed at ensuring that by 2020, 10% of all journeys would be by bicycle.
In this blog, I want to drill down in to where Co. Wexford is in relation to this aim, and in turn what that means.
Running in the background of this blog is this reminder from 2016.
According to National Travel Survey from 2016, 56.7% of all journeys made are of less than 8kms. This is a distance easily covered by bicycle.
Now I’m not saying that each of these journeys must be taken by bicycle or if indeed everyone might want to do that, but there’s certainly scope to create opportunities whereby some of them could be.
So how do we in Co. Wexford stack up?
Well not great it seems and we are certainly punching well below our weight in terms of the ambitions of the National Cycling Policy Framework.
According to Census 2016, the total amount of people who cycle to work, school or college in Co. Wexford, was 667. When we subtract those working and studying from home from our calculations, then cycling as a transport mode accounted for just 0.77% of total transport means in County Wexford in 2016.
When we drill down further in to these figures we find, a stark unequal gender participation which is greater than the national average.
For Co. Wexford, we are looking at 78.11% male and just 21.89% female.
Statewide the cycling mode was 2.77% made up of 73.2% male and 26.6% female.
The canary in the mine
Numbers for children cycling to school though are the real canary in the coal mine for Co. Wexford. For the whole of the county just 79 children cycled to primary school, dropping to a mere 34 pupils for secondary schools countywide.
Again we see the gender imbalance slightly higher than the country average.
Numbers for primary and secondary school are poor nationally at 1.34% and 2.08% respectively. Co. Wexford though is off the scale represented by a mere 0.43% and 0.29% respectively.
Incidentally, Co. Wexford came in second for the whole of the country in terms of secondary school pupils driving themselves to school, with just Ireland’s largest county, Cork ahead of us. In times when climate change and an obesity crisis weren’t upon us, this might have been seen as a positive, but looking at it now, it’s could be seen as a failed policy!
Triple A cycling infrastructure – All Ages & Abilities
In general, Ireland is a laggard in terms of providing proper segregated, connected and safe cycling infrastructure. Unfortunately Co. Wexford fits the Irish model and then some..
We simply don’t design these well and consequently what little we have in our county remain underused.
If cycling infrastructure is used only by the experienced brave and the bold, then is it really worthy of the title ‘cycling infrastructure?’
When we think about bike infrastructure as usable, we need to think ‘AAA’ of enticing for All Ages and Abilities.
If we take a look at the Netherlands, we see a figure of around 37% for primary school children cycling to school as opposed to Co. Wexford’s figure of 0.43%.
What this means in reality is that for every 10,000 primary school children in Co. Wexford, just 43 cycle to school. In the Netherlands that figure is roughly 3,700!
Why is this important?
Well according to the body Safefood, one in four Irish children is overweight or obese and an astonishing 80% of children in the Republic do not meet the guidelines of at least one hour of physical activity per day.
Cycling can play a key role in this with the added benefit of building up life skills and resilience along with the associated multitude of well known mental and physical health benefits.
Indeed cycling to school could become a key driver, but only if we create the conditions to make it so..
Remember our reference to The Netherlands, a country where decades of investment in bike routes has made cycling safer?
Well this is the key driver to bringing 37% of Dutch children to and from primary school by bike.
If we take a look at Denmark’s second city of Odense, which has over the decades built over 500kms of bike lanes, a claimed 81% of pupils go to school by bike.
The official advice there is that those aged six or over should be able to manage the ride alone.
What I’m not saying here is that Co. Wexford should create cycle superhighways on every back road in the county, but let’s have the conversation around a grand plan of creating networks as the Dutch and Danes have done. Because not having this conversation is failing our children..!!
Build it and they will come is as relevant to increasing cycling participation as it was in the movie, Field of Dreams!
Let’s put Wexford Town under the spotlight.
According to the 2016 census, just 24 pupils cycled to school; 16 primary school and just 8 to secondary in Wexford Town..
Looking closer at the primary school situation, this accounted for 0.79% of those travelling to school by all means. In total contrast, 66.5% were driven to school by car.
Harping back to our opening gambit of there being over 56% of trios that are of 8kms or less, then there’s certainly some scope for change in that particular demographic.
Imagine the potential if we were to have some grand plan for cycling infrastructure rather than the current practice of throwing a strip of paint on the road here and there in the guise of cycling infrastructure.
Imagine what the morning of a parent from Odense is like towards that of a Wexford town parent getting their child to school?
One involves watching Astrid or Eric wave you goodbye as they join their friends along the safe segregated bikeway. The other involves hurrying Jack or Emily in to the car for school where you join all the other parents doing likewise on worstening traffic choked chaotic roads.
Surely there’s a better way, but it requires Government funding, community buy-in and council engagement.
This is one of the reasons why I set up WexBUG but we’ve a big ship to turn in a small harbour.
Wexford Town is not without plans.
Sure we were even the Pfizer Healthy Town with its associated health and well-being events only last year.
The magic pill of cycling covers health and well-being in spades.
A report was released last year from the University of Glasgow based on long term research of over 250,000 people and it’s findings were a stark reality of the importance of cycling as an exercise. https://www.gla.ac.uk/news/archiveofnews/2017/may/headline_522765_en.html
It reported those who cycled had a 45% lower risk of developing cancer; a 46% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease; indeed a 41% lower risk of premature death from ANY cause.
Indeed it could be argued that if cycling were a Pfizer pill, it would easily supersede that company’s ubiquitous blue pill and be the ‘stand up’ winner of a Nobel prize!
But hey..Wexford Town is not without BIG plans…
The long forgotten Wexford Town grand cycling plan.
Remember this 2013 People Newspaper, Marie Pepper article?.
Did you know that Wexford Town had a grand cycling plan in 2013 with a bold ambition for completion in 2020?
That may have seemed like a nice length of time to kick a can down the road in 2013 but it’s now only next year, so no pressure Wexford Co. Co.
‘The draft strategy has been prepared with a view to obtaining funding for new cycle lanes and parking facilities under the Government’s ‘Smarter Travel’ scheme.
It included eight proposed new or upgraded cycling lanes that had been designed and costed to connect with the town’s existing cycling routes’
They included Maudlintown to Drinagh; Wexford Quays; Wexford Hospital to the Quays; Park sports fields to Clonard via Wexford Hospital, County Hall and Department of Environment; Wexford Hospital to proposed Loreto secondary school at Killeens; the Wexford Industrial Estate link road; from Clonard to Presentation secondary school via Wexford Park and the Wexford Campus of Carlow IT, and a long-term route to run along the N25 Oilgate to Rosslare Harbour Road.
Indeed the plan was heralded at the time to reflect the Council’s wish to promote cycling in a coherent way.
Funding sources and priorities
There is the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets which sets out a hierarchy for road users within towns that was to give first priority to cyclists and walkers. However, the hunt for funding via various schemes rather than via general roads funding seems to be the go to for cycling infrastructure in our county. This strategy is failing our children in particular.
It would appear the case that a failure to secure such funding leads to such grand plans being put out to pasture. And so this completes our dilemma of such few numbers of school children whose parents are content letting Jack or Emily cycle to school. Indeed a WexBUG survey tells us that that figure of worried parents for Co. Wexford could be as high as 95%!
It’s a concept called traffic inducing traffic..
On a positive note.
But I want to end this on a positive note.
I am truly heartened by communications that I’ve had with most of our local town councillors. Two of them, Leonard Kelly and Maura Bell, are new representatives and are on our WexBUG committee.
Three cycling proposals have passed at council in the month of September.
One from Leonard Kelly asking for decision makers to join WexBUG for a spin around town to experience first hand the challenges that people on bicycles face.
The other two from Tom Forde involving the creation of cycling infrastructure when road projects are taking place where possible. And Tom’s other one of putting up more bike stands. In particular I’m thinking of Inovate Wexford Park where there are none which is a shame for a county with a long tradition of men cycling to Crocker for match day.
Currently in WexBUG, we are discussing bringing a cycle bus to Wexford town.
This will involve creating a route with various stops at selected town estates where marshalls, parents & volunteers will assist primary school pupils cycle to selected schools.
Our aim would be to increase the number from the current 16 pupils in town.
This has been running successfully in Galway and Limerick with others planned around the country.
However I look forward to a day when we won’t have to do this…where primary school children will be afforded the opportunity to cycle and explore just like they do Odense and Utrecht and indeed I got to myself.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Beatles legend, John Lennon, who like me had opportunities of cycling on the roads and streets before they became truly cycling hostile.
“As a kid I had a dream – I wanted to own my own bicycle. When I got the bike I must have been the happiest boy in Liverpool, maybe the world. I lived for that bike. Most kids left their bike in the backyard at night. Not me. I insisted on taking mine indoors and the first night I even kept it in my bed.”John Lennon.