The Dublin Cycling Campaign organised a public meeting on the future of cycling in Dublin last week, Nov 2, 2010. Dr. Peter Cox, sociologist at the University of Chester addressed the theme of “the future of urban cycling.” He gave a fascinating account of how cycling was embedded in the everyday life of British cities in the early twentieth century to the extent that it was viewed as a constituent part of urban transport networks. Motorisation and modernization in the post WWII gradually erased the cyclist from traffic and transport planning. A slump in cycling ensued not just in Britain but even in such cycling-friendly countries as the Netherlands and Denmark. The renaissance in cycling in more recent decades has much to do with a synergy between citizen and state action. In the Netherlands the renaissance of cycling was state-led, whereas in Denmark it was citizen-led though ultimately state facilitated. In contrast, Cox pointed out there has been no systematic, policy-driven state support for cycling in Britain over the same period.
Cycling is good for public space in the city. It acknowledges diversity, promotes interaction and encourages the everyday use of public space. Moreover, under Dutch law there is a hierarchy of care which contends that the least vulnerable (car users) are the most responsible in public space when interacting with cyclists and pedestrians. Such a principle would serve as a useful starting point for a debate on road etiquette in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland.
Cycling has been undergoing something of a renaissance in Ireland in the recent past although as one audience member observed the biggest push factor has probably been the recession rather than citizen or state endorsed cycling campaigns. Ciaran Fallon, Dublin City Council’s cycling officer noted that thinking about an alternative cycling future for the city is a political rather than a technical question. How the city of Dublin – and indeed other cities around Ireland – will evolve will be contingent on the core values and principles that underpin citizens’ vision for the city. Cycling will have to move from the margins to the mainstream if we are to make our cities more liveable, more legible and more sustainable into the future.
The national transport authority (www.nationaltransport.ie) is preparing a national cycling framework document which will include the promotion of peri-urban cycling, but if the British case is anything to go by, unless considerable resources are deflected from other elements of the transport system toward cycling initiatives, the numbers of users will not increase. According to Cox, the key to making cycling feasible and attractive to non-cyclists is the quality of what is put into public space to support it.