Our latest BUG meeting was not for the lilly livered. The heavens opened at 8:00 am as forecasted and the wind picked up to a fresh south westerly. By the time we all met at Ferrybank at 8:30 the squall was in full spate. That stopped none of us from a having a great experiential bike ride accompanied by Cllr Garry Laffin and Cllr Leonard Kelly. Cllr Maura Bell was gracious and energetic in her support as always as she waved the eight of us off from Ferrybank.
This morning’s cycle was part of Wexford Bicycle Users Group (WexBUG) series of initiatives to engage local politicians, county council officials and media in raising awareness around cycling infrastructure and safety in Wexford town and across the county. Many of those invited sent apologies and expressed support for the WexBUG initiatives. The main objective of our cycle was to help those who are in positions of influence to appreciate the benefits that cycling can bring to our community, to understand the safety concerns as seen from a cyclists point of view and to help those working with the challenges of transport infrastructure to realisethe potential payback in terms of physical health, mental health, social capitol and provide an improved and more liveable public space in our villages and towns. Along with reduced vehicular traffic across Wexford’s urban areas.
Our toupe was led by Phil Skelton, Chair of WexBUG and carrying a lot of clout and currency at the moment with among other recent accolades a cycle safety law enacted due to his Stayin’Alive at 1.5 National Campaign and the recent award of South East Radio’s Cyclist Of the Year. Also present were Hazel Reid, Ruth O’Connor, Cormac McGearilt, James O’Connor and myself, Kevin Cronin. In fact it has been a very exciting week for WexBUG with the news that Minister Michael Darcy TD has sought €1M funding to complete a survey to examine the feasibility of developing a ‘Greyway’ along the old N11.
Phil gave a short overview of our morning by pointing out that many of the challenges, dangers and impediments that cyclists meet on the road are of no consequence to motor vehicles. Small pot holes, manholes, railway tracks, pinch points with vehicles and poorly planned and maintained cycle lanes would be just a few of the obstacles we would meet as we cycled the few short kilometers from Ferrybank to the Loreto Secondary School at the other end of town.
As we merged into the traffic on Wexford Bridge on an unusually quiet Tuesday morning Phil gave us this statistic to mull over. Sixteen primary school children cycle to school in Wexford Town and eight secondary school students. This at a time when 4 out of 5 Irish children do not meet the Government Physical Activity Guidelines (The recommended amount of physical activity for school aged children is at least 60 minutes per day), when a whole 33% of the Junior Cycle curriculum is devoted to ‘Wellness” and when one child out of every four is obese.(Safefood 2019) Leonard also pointed out that this morning’s news had led with the results of a survey that the number of teenagers reporting severe anxiety had doubled since 2012. It is now, today, 22% in adolescents and 26% in young adults. (UCD School Of Psychology). These figures do not make for easy reading. Cycling however can play a key role in addressing these issues with the added benefit of building up life skills, a real social network, physical and mental resilience for people. Cycling could play a key role but we need to create the conditions to allow it to happen.
Conditions were calm on the bridge and drivers respectful and careful as we aimed for our first stop near the Tourist Office in the Crescent. Wexford Bridge however can be quite another animal altogether when both lanes are busy with cars and trucks and vehicles have to pull in tight to the kerb. This creates multiple pinch points for drivers and cyclists but today was ok.
We gathered up in the lee of the Tourist Office and discussed the possibilities of a proposal to the Council under the guidance of the counsellors present. The discussion was brief, to the point and very useful. (We were, it must be said, all standing up, wet, cold and not overly comfortable!!). There was consensus among all that a very worthy and achievable project has been identified, which Cllr Laffan and Cllr Kelly have agreed to bring to the Council Executives. Updates in relation to this will be provided in the weeks ahead.
Following on from this discussion, we cycled on from the Tourist Office and turned up King Street and into Distillery Road. Into wet and flooded Bishopswater negotiating potholes, narrow roads and heavy and difficult traffic we climbed past St Joseph’s towards Clonard, all of us looking forward to getting to the segregated cycle lane above Richmond Park. This proved somewhat of a disappointment, not in that it is a segregated structure but in accessing this cycle lane a cyclist has to lift their bike off the road onto the cycle lane, thereafter the cycle lane is confusing in its markings and its flow as it crosses the new roundabout and heads for Killeens. We stopped here and discussed the merits of this lane and the quality of road we had just cycled.
We parted ways, grateful to Gary and Leonard for giving us their time and wealth of knowledge and for coming out in such an uninviting morning. Much had been discussed, decisions had been reached and nobody felt that this had been a waste of time and energy. The seed of a plan has been planted, which when it implants and grows will, we believe have a lasting positive impact on the people of Wexford.
Many thanks to piece writer, Kevin Cronin.