AS the number of cars on our roads fell drastically during Covid-19 lockdowns, cities across Europe and the world began introducing more cycle infrastructure in preparation for the return to normality.
While other cities moved quickly to introduce new cycle lanes, segregate and resurface old ones and promote increased cycling, Cork city took its time, according to councillors and stakeholders, but got there eventually.
“The initial speed of the roll out of Covid-19 cycling infrastructure in Cork was frustrating for many people, I know,” said City Councillor Oliver Moran (Greens).
“A very different tack was taken in Cork compared to other cities, where we held a lot of public consultations.
“Other local authorities seemed to move much quicker, particularly Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown,” he added, explaining there are benefits to the consultation route.
“We got everyone on board even if that took more time.
“Ironically, while people here were looking to Dublin for how to get things done, in Dublin people were looking to us.
“They were looking at the push back in Dublin against using executive powers, and they were admiring the approach here in Cork.”
Cllr Moran explained that, in recent years, he has turned to cycling to travel to work, to the city and to run errands.
He has cycled to each meeting of Cork City Council since being elected.
“The importance of cycle infrastructure isn’t for people like me, it’s not about middle-aged men,” he said.
“My son sees the new cycle infrastructure going in and his response is that if these were everywhere then children could cycle too.
“It’s the same for women and girls and older people who don’t feel safe sharing the road with cars,” he added.
“That diversity in cycling is something that’s going to become more important as more people cycle.”
For cycling advocate Sam McCormack, cycling is his main mode of transport.
The Cork man cycles multiple times during the day as he makes his way to work, college, and home.
“Covid has significantly changed the way we live and how we get to work, school and home has changed too as a result,” explained Sam.
“With the reduced capacity on public transport services, encouraging more to cycle wherever possible is incredibly important.
“The benefits are endless, particularly in a time where climate change is more important than ever, not to mention the numerous health benefits,” he added.
“It was great to hear of the announcements to improve cycling infrastructure in Cork during the summer, and it’s fantastic to see many of the city’s cycle lanes now protected from the massive issue that was illegal parking.
“Cork City Council should be applauded for their efforts with this, along with the numerous campaign groups and individuals who campaigned for improvements over the last number of years.”
Sam admitted that there is still room for improvement, which he is hopeful will come about in the near future.
“It would be fantastic to see more improvements to cycling infrastructure in Cork and in the suburbs, particularly in the Northside, where cycling infrastructure of any kind is few and far between,” he said.
“A Blackpool to city centre cycle route is one such connection I would love to see in the near future.
“It’s an easy cycle in terms of distance but unfortunately, the current road network and lack of infrastructure makes it very dangerous for cyclists, particularly those who may not have much experience on a bike, to access,” he added.
“Creating a safe cycle route here has the potential to take hundreds, even thousands of vehicles, off the road in the usual rush hour mornings and evenings.”
The same goes for the wider Cork area, Sam explained.
“While we have numerous cycle lanes dotted around the city, much of these are not connected up to each other, creating hazardous ‘blackspots’ for those on bikes to get from A to B comfortably,” he said.
“It would be great to see Cork City Council look at the overall cycle map of Cork and connect the dots in these areas where infrastructure is lacking.”
Sam also welcomed the recent suggestion at a City Council meeting to employ a Cycling Officer for the city.
“Let’s hope 2021 brings many more improvements to encourage more to cycle safely in our wonderful city.”
Like Sam, everyday cyclist Harry Murphy was also keen to highlight the need for joining the dots in terms of cycling infrastructure in Cork city.
Earlier this year, Harry was struck by a car while out cycling after the car swerved to avoid a van parked in the cycle lane.
Speaking to The Echo, the Cork native highlighted the need for joined-up thinking when it comes to planning safe infrastructure.
Harry also called for greater ambition from the executive of Cork City Council with regards to cycling infrastructure and enforcement of parking laws in the city.
He explained that City Hall must remain strong in the face of complaints from some businesses, taxi drivers and others who are hitting back at cycle lane protection measures.
“We’re finally seeing some momentum but while it all seems great and rosy on the outside, it needs to be backed up by the will from City Hall execs to ensure it’s a viable option to navigate around the city, and not just more box-ticking,” said Harry.
On a positive note, Harry said he has never seen so many people cycling around Cork in his 40 years.
“From young people to people much older than me, neighbours of mine who hadn’t touched a bike since their teens are now going on cycling spins to The Marina or local coffee shops of a weekend; students going to UCC; students going to local primary and secondary schools,” he said.
Harry also praised the boots on the ground from both City Hall and stakeholder groups, for installing bollards, cleaning cycle lanes, cutting hedges and more.
“There is momentum there and backing from a majority of businesses to move towards a friendlier city but the council needs to be rapid in the pick-up to provide the infrastructure to back up the will of those who want to cycle if it were safe.
“We’re shifting towards it gradually but ultimately the mould doesn’t get broken without upsetting a few people and those are mostly the private motorists,” he added.
“Covid has shown the benefits of a people-based city.
“That can only be achieved by putting people first, not cars.
“With a safe cycle network, backed up by safe walking routes and then public transport it will ultimately draw more people away from their car and into active or public transport,” said Harry.
“I think The Marina is the perfect example of ‘build it and they will come’ — just more of Cork needs to follow, and follow soon."