Since Census 2016 published the report on commuting in June, there has been much hype and spin in the media about increases in cycling. However, the emphasis on a much lauded increase of 42% in cycling to work puts a false gloss on the results. Percentage changes are meaningless unless related to a time span and a starting point so the Department of Transport’s spin doctor should stop combining multi year results and instead report the results in terms of annual increases. In this case the time span is five years from the previous census and the 2016 level of cycling nationally is an overall low of 2.68%. As this was approximately the level of cycling in the year 2000, cycling nationally has essentially flatlined since then.
|Bus, minibus or coach||323,914||337,788||369,586||341,299||326,949||288,562||313,097|
|Train, DART or LUAS||22,690||30,214||34,101||45,976||71,658||70,976||82,627|
|Motor cycle or scooter||16,680||13,756||13,164||20,250||14,338||9,312||8,565|
|Motor car: Driver||405,180||446,228||606,417||909,822||1,118,312||1,127,396||1,202,441|
|Motor car: Passenger||264,125||292,503||360,953||427,962||459,497||508,338||570,254|
|Other means (incl. Lorry or van)||36,239||50,188||59,291||118,800||149,928||134,115||140,227|
|Work mainly at or from home||196,982||234,101||172,893||110,821||119,918||89,729||96,057|
|Total Workers /Students (Rows 1-10)*||2,026,881||2,083,385||2,236,335||2,501,635||2,794,225||2,794,133||3,058,607|
|Total Commuters (Rows 1-8)||1,721,320||1,754,997||1,979,461||2,345,434||2,627,752||2,614,814||2,825,555|
|%Commuting by Car (Rows 6-8)||40.99%||44.95%||51.87%||62.10%||65.75%||67.69%||67.70%|
|%Cyclists wrt Total Commuters||7.25%||6.25%||4.43%||2.31%||1.93%||2.19%||2.68%|
Source: Census 2016
Table 1: Means of Travel to Work, School and College (Nationally) 1986-2016
The increase in cycling from 2.19% in 2011 to 2.68% in 2016 is an increase of 22.6% for all people working and in education rather than the headline figure of 42% which only refers to people working. This increase equates to a more modest increase of 4.15% per annum. This would be good for a country with a high level of cycling but bad for a country like Ireland which is starting from a very low base. The increase in cycling by working people offsets a more modest increase in cycling by students to secondary school who are arguably a more important sector of the population as they are an indicator of future levels of cycling rather than ‘middle aged’ men in lycra who rediscover cycling. In this context, the greater number of female students driving to secondary school rather than cycling is a continuing cause of concern. By way of contrast, Vancouver reports annual increases of more than 30% per annum and Transport for London (TfL) report that bicycle use increased by 70% in six months on part of the high quality London Superhighways.
While the level of cycling in Dublin and other Irish cities is higher than the national level of 2.68%, Vancouver achieved 10% cycling to work from a low base in 1997 and Seville has increased its modal share for cycling from less than 0.5% in 2006 to around 7%. The National Cycling Policy Framework includes a target of 10% commuting by bike by 2020. At the rate of progress of the last five years in Ireland, the 2020 target will not be achieved nationally until 2047. This is the key statistic which comes out of the Census results and with the hype and spin stripped away, the lack of commitment and lack of progress is obvious. The implications for urban areas – more congestion, more air and noise pollution, decreased levels of activity by the general population and increased demands on the health services – are all too obvious. The failure to meet European targets on climate change will almost certainly result in a greater financial burden on the country.
Irish politicians have been “supporting” pro-bicycle policies for some twenty years but their continuing ineffectiveness is clear. When politicians in the Netherlands decided to design for bicycles rather than cars in the 1970s, the change was apparent within a year with the BBC sending a camera team overseas to record the radical developments. For similar change to happen in this country, the government must
(1) Significantly increase funding for cycling from its current levels of €12 Million per annum to €145 Million per annum, and
(2) Appoint a National Cycling Co-coordinator to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in accordance with the 2009 National Cycling Policy Framework.
A budget of €145 Million for cycling would amount to 10% of the 2017 transport budget and would be in line with WHO recommendations. This funding is already available under the normal budgetary process and is entirely separate from the Mid-Term Review of the Capital Budget but to date there has been no commitment at a political level to prioritise the funding of walking and cycling. The emphasis on rural greenways may seem attractive to politicians but unless hard political decisions are taken to curb private cars and to prioritise cycling in urban areas, mass cycling will remain like the draining of the Shannon – a political aspiration. In the short term, the lack of political reaction to increasing cyclist fatalities and the postponement of decisions on safe cycling infrastructure in Dublin City do not augur well.