Increasing cycling could reaphuge economic benefitsthrough improved health, reduced congestion and a wider, diversified tourism market.
CTC Campaigns Director Roger Geffen and CTC Council member for Northern Ireland Barry Flood were joined by Roy White from the Northern Ireland Cycling Initiative (NICI), to outline the case for substantially increased investment cycling. The inquiry comes as the NI Department for Regional Development’s newly formed cycling team begins to develop policies to replace the Northern Ireland Cycling Strategy, adopted in 2000.
The Assembly’s Regional Development Committee inquiry into the economic benefits of cycling was originally called for by Tom McClelland, CTC’s lead campaigner in Northern Ireland, had pressed for the inquiry prior to his death in March. Noting that CTC’s written evidence submission had been dedicated to Tom’s memory, the Committee chair Jimmy Spratt MLA opened the session with a tribute to Tom’s inspirational campaigning. Roger Geffen responded by saying he hoped the outcome of the inquiry would now provide a fitting epitaph to Tom’s memory.
Introducing CTC’s evidence, Roger Geffen said that cycling was currently providing benefits to the UK economy of nearly £3 billion. A significant part of this is the reduction in the annual costs of healthcare for cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity, not to mention deaths and ill health due to pollution and road traffic injuries. The wider costs to society, including personal losses and the costs to businesses of absenteeism, are significantly greater.
However cycling also tackles congestion, boosts retail sales and the value of business and residential property, while reducing our economic dependence on increasingly insecure oil sources. Recreational cycling and mountain biking also provide significant economic benefits, particularly for rural communities.
Yet cycling accounts for less than 2% of journeys to work in Northern Ireland. Increasing cycle use to continental levels could therefore yield benefits worth hundreds of millions of pounds for Northern Ireland alone.
Maximising the benefits of cycling involves creating ‘space for cycling’. This can include a combination of protected space on faster and busier main roads, by limiting traffic in town centres and residential streets, and by lowering speed limits to 20mph on most urban streets and 40mph or less on networks of rural lanes.
Action is also needed to tackle the actual and perceived risks of cycling, particularly at junctions, where 75% of cyclists’ injuries occur. Roger Geffen urged a combination of driver awareness campaigns backed up by strengthened traffic law and enforcement for all road users.
A third element of a national cycling strategy is positive promotion of cycling, through public awareness campaigns and targeted opportunities to try out cycling, in schools and workplaces, for women, for health patients and people from disadvantaged groups.
Asked about integrating cycling and public transport, Barry Flood commended Translink boss Mal McGreevy, himself a keen cyclist, for providing 8 cycle spaces on the company’s newly purchased trains fleet – the company’s older trains had just 4 spaces. Roger Geffen added that providing cycle racks on longer-distance buses could provide substantial benefits, both for individuals seeking an alternative to car travel and for rural economies.
The Northern Ireland Assembly’s inquiry into the Economic Benefits of Cycling will report later in the year.