This year cycling is an election issue in Cork. That’s because cycling is a barometer for politicians’ attitudes across many local and national policy issues, not just transport. And it affects everyone, not only people who cycle.
Catering properly for cycling in Cork — making it safe and attractive to more adults and children — would benefit everyone, not only those who ride their bikes. Everyone is affected by traffic congestion, by air quality, by road safety, and by parking demand. High rates of cycling improve all these issues. Cities with high levels of pedestrianized spaces and quality cycling facilities are attractive and liveable. Even London, a city with almost two centuries of world-leading public transportation, has prioritised high quality cycling corridors and “mini-Hollands”, pedestrian and cycle-friendly urban centres. These have been a huge success. Leading cities in Europe, the USA, and around the world are now investing seriously in cycling. For Cork to grow and compete successfully against other cities, it must move beyond last-century public transportation and invest in a high quality, useful cycle network.
Nor is cycling just a local issue. Active travel — walking and cycling for transport — is the most natural way of getting a little daily exercise. That counteracts a scourge of modern lifestyles: the epidemic of physical inactivity. Research from the UK shows that people who cycle to work have almost half the incidence of and mortality from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Motorised traffic is a major source of air pollution, which kills about 1,500 people in Ireland each year. Cycling displaces pollution from buses and cars.
The costs associated with being sick and dying early are astronomical. If 20% of Cork commuters cycled for 20 minutes a day, the annual economic benefit would be millions of euros. That’s a chunk of change that the government could otherwise spend on priorities like housing and health (or a children’s hospital, say). (Though there will be fewer people on trolleys if more people are cycling…)
And we haven’t even mentioned climate change yet! Can any politician seriously claim to care about climate change if they don’t support measures to promote a completely sustainable, extremely low carbon form of transport? And how could they claim to be acting responsibly for the future of today’s children?
Transport will be a major issue for Cork’s new city and county councils. The
release of the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy is imminent. A key message from politicians must be that public transport is not enough by itself. It will cost the public purse, but it won’t promote public health nor minimise congestion. Public transportation is not attractive for many trips – including short trips (quicker by bike!) and routes around the centre.
Cycling is a form of transport, not just a leisure activity. Make sure your politicians prioritise it this year.