The Dutch Cycling Embassy took a bike tour through Wicklow on a recent trip to Ireland
The group were in Ireland to view the new cycling initiatives, including the Safe Routes to School Programme which was rolled out by the National Transport Authority last year at St Kevin’s National School.
Following a presentation by the NTA, which was also attended by Cllr Mark Barry, Cllr Derek Mitchell and Cllr Lourda Scott, together with the Dutch Ambassador to Ireland, Maaike van Koldam, the group took to the streets of Greystones to see first-hand how the cycling infrastructure compares with that of Holland, where cyclists are given far greater access as well rights of way.
Margot Daris, the spokesperson for the Dutch Cycling Embassy, said the Wicklow visit provided excellent insights into the situation facing local cyclists, including those who would like to commute using a combination of bicycle and train transport, as is common in the Netherlands.
“We have undertaken this study trip to learn more about all of the good work which is taking place in Ireland, and where possible to share our experiences with our partners in Ireland.
“Last month, the Wicklow County Council undertook a cycling study trip of their own to the Netherlands where they visited Ede, Bennekom and Utrecht, and we want to ensure that we continue to share knowledge in both directions in the future,” Margot said.
Margot described the route along the shoreline in Greystones as “an amazing feeling”, not because of the views, but because the infrastructure makes it safe for cyclists.
“It is good that they have the separated bike infrastructure with a directional bike lane,” she said. “In the Netherlands we always make broader bike lines, but this was really good. It was really our favourite part of the whole week, cycling there,” she added.
The trip then took the group to the residential areas of the town, past St Kevin’s NS and back through the main street, where they got to witness the trials that cyclists in the town have to endure on a daily basis.
“Things got a bit more complicated because there was traffic from both sides,” said Margot. “We were cycling with a pretty big group and we noticed that drivers got annoyed because we were holding them up.
“Then we went to the main street and it was really nice stopping at the Happy Pear and it’s a nice area where they have enlarged the space.
“However, with the space taken, I’m not sure where they’re going to build a cycle lane on the main street.
“We had some discussions about how to solve this because there is just not enough space. You have a row of parked cars and this terrace and then you have the cars, so there is really not enough space for cyclists at the moment.”
In terms of solutions, what Margot had to offer may not be facilitated in a town the size of Greystones, where cars and, let’s not forget, double decker buses, compete with cyclists.
“You should think about cycling from a network level,” said Margot. “And you can’t build a cycling network without a guard network. Sometimes, you need to redirect car traffic so you have one direction lanes, or you try and keep the cars away from the main street and create a ring road around a town centre.”
The recently installed pencil bollards at St Kevin’s NS were “cute” but Margot is well aware that such projects can often meet with strong resistance.
“It takes time to change behaviour. I can imagine in the beginning, people will be frustrated because they can’t park their cars near the school. There should be campaigns around behaviour change, which I know the NTA are already running. But safety is also in numbers. The more people take up cycling, the more behaviour and attitudes will change. Drivers get used to it.”
The Dutch Ambassador Maaike van Koldam said that she looked forward to further cooperation on cycling policy between the Netherlands and Ireland, and echoed the sentiment that changing attitudes takes time.
“While the Dutch people are certainly proud of developing over 35,000 km of dedicated cycling paths which has allowed so many people in the Netherlands to commute effectively and safely by bike, this did not happen overnight.
“It took many years, and nor is the process of improving and decarbonising our transportation system complete.
“By utilising the benefits of technology and by continuing with the sort of partnerships we see today in Wicklow and across Ireland, both countries can reap the rewards and advance our progress towards achieving Net Zero,” Ambassador van Koldam said
Cllr Mitchell, who accompanied the visitors around Greystones, acknowledged that the Dutch are “experts at designing cycling facilities and keen to persuade other countries to cycle more like the Dutch do”.
“I am keen to get more children cycling to school and also encourage safe storage for electric bikes at the station. Both of these would cut down car usage,” he said.