The following text is a speech I gave at the Travel & Transport Strategic Policy Committee meeting, in support of a motion I had raised that 10% of the transport budget in Limerick should go towards cycling. The motion passed unanimously and goes forward now to full Council in November.
This motion is not simply about providing infrastructure for cyclists. That would be to misunderstand the issue. This is about enabling the effective movement of people. It is impossible for a city, or indeed a town, to grow unless it tackles and solves the mobility challenge. We saw this in Utrecht at the weekend. Netherlands fastest growing city is growing, in large part, because it has enabled cycling. That is to say that it would not be growing at this rate if it had not taken the decision to invest heavily in cycling infrastructure. It is a key point. Cycling and economic development go hand in hand because cycling enables the free and easy movement of people over short to medium distances, much more than cars or even busses do. And it does so at low cost to the individual and also to the State, notwithstanding multiple other benefits. Indeed, a 2014 report commissioned by the UK Department for Transport assessed cost benefit evidence for walking and cycling interventions. Almost all of the studies identified demonstrated ‘highly significant’ economic benefits, while the mean cost benefit ratio for the schemes identified was 6.28:13. In general investment in cycling projects provide the highest rate of return of all transport projects.
[Researchers who analysed the cost-benefit frameworks currently used to assess bicycle infrastructure projects in Copenhagen reported that the cost to society of 1km of car driving is more than six times higher (Euro 0.50/km) than cycling (Euro 0.08/km), when collisions, climate change, health and travel time are considered. And this does not include the cost of urban sprawl and dispersed settlement, which is a feature of investment in car infrastructure.]
Referring back to Utrecht, it is a city of 300,000 people with a similar climate to ours. Councillor O’Donovan and myself can attest to that. My shoes are still drying out! In Utrecht 70% of all local journeys are made by bicycle. In Limerick, a city one third the size in population and similar in area, 70% of all journeys under 3km are made by private car. It is a staggering contrast. And this is not because the people of Limerick will not cycle. It’s quite simply because we have not provided sufficient infrastructure to enable them to do so. Would you let your children cycle to school these days? Few parents will, and who could blame them. There has in fact been a total collapse in Ireland in the number of children cycling to school since the 1980’s. It’s currently about 1 in 200 girls and about 1 in 50 boys. According to the last census more girls are driving themselves to school than cycling. Think about that. Even though only the 17 and 18 year old girls are legally permitted to drive by themselves there is still a greater number doing so than the combined total of girls aged 4 to 18 who are cycling.
Acknowledging the reality of funding mechanisms, this motion is not about berating the Council for lack of action, but rather about imploring it to increase its efforts and getting Limerick quickly to where it needs to be. It is also about seeking the support of my esteemed colleagues across all political persuasions. I would acknowledge the Council’s efforts and it is true that progress has been made. Go on to the Park Canal any morning before 9am and the number of cyclists heading to and from Castletroy will amaze you. A brave decision was taken by the last Council and it has paid off. A simple, well deisgned path through a beautiful amenity is fundamentally changing the relationship between the city and the university, after decades of disconnection. The path is so successful that we should probably be talking about widening it.
In 2015 the Council commissioned the Limerick Cycle Network Study. It is a good document and it lays the blueprint for developing an excellent cycling city in a short timeframe. We really do not need to wait for the Transport Strategy to make good decisions and good progress. We have excellent people in our Council and they can achieve this ambition. This Council must mandate them to do so.
We are currently at 1.4% of Capital spending on cycling specific infrastructure.
Make Limerick Ireland’s Cycling City, Ireland’s Utrecht, in 10 years. If we do this we solve the mobility challenge and we make ourselves well placed to also be Ireland’s fastest growing city and the best place to live, work and visit. Let’s make every town and village in County Limerick a place where parents let their children cycle to school, confident that they will not be injured. We have a great opportunity, let’s seize it. I beg you to support the motion.