Why cycling matters and why Greenways are not the only answer

As a former transport planner I know cycling matters. Cycling in cities as an alternative to driving is the answer to so many of our transport related problems – traffic congestion, ever increasing journey times, parking space requirements and poor air quality.

But cycling in rural Ireland is a different beast. In rural Ireland we don’t generally have the same problems – there is little, if any, congestion, parking spaces are not such a premium and air quality is not as poor.

But in both city and country, driving a car remains a significant contributor to our carbon emissions. And using a bike, as an alternative, has an impact on our physical and mental health, wherever we are. Cycling in rural Ireland still matters. And cycling should be seen as a real alternative.

However since moving back home to Ireland I was disappointed to see the shift to a national cycling strategy that focuses almost entirely on Greenways. Greenways are wonderful. And the ones I’ve cycled on have been designed beautifully. But in rural Ireland, Greenways are not the only answer.

We don’t need to wait for Greenways before we can get out on a bike or even before we let our kids out on a bike. The Greenways, as wonderful as they may be, contribute to this idea – that the only safe place to cycle is on traffic free paths.

Yet here in rural Ireland we have an enviable dense network of smaller roads ripe for cycling. These are lightly trafficked, generally have good surfaces and they already go virtually everywhere. What we need is for these smaller roads (‘Rothar Roads’) to be reclaimed as roads where bicycles are expected and respected. What we need is for the people who use them to travel at a speed that would allow them to react to a cyclist around any corner.

Improved infrastructure is of course welcome but huge gains can be made by simple improvements such as lower speed limits, better signs and more training for everyone (cyclists and drivers) so that they have the skills and confidence to interact with all road users. These small changes could lay the ground work for a real shift in the way people travel.

I started Leitrim Cycling Festival to celebrate bicycles and to showcase what we already have to offer here in Leitrim – inspiring local communities all connected by miles and miles of roads almost perfect for cycling. Roads that take you from village to town, roads that take you to the shops, to work, to school, to the hills and hidden beauty spots. Roads where you can often cycle for miles without meeting another soul.

Of course there will always be journeys for which the bicycle is not the answer and there are people for which cycling may not be an option but there are many, many journeys being made every day by car which could be made by bike (and even more so by electric bike), using infrastructure that already exists.

Cycling matters. And we may already have the means to make it matter more.
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Leitrim Cycling Festival runs from 21 st -23 rd June 2019 in the village of Drumsna, Co. Leitrim.

http://www.leitrimcyclingfestival.com
https://www.facebook.com/leitrimcyclingfestival
leitrimcyclingfestival@gmail.com
Jo Sachs-Eldridge jsachseldridge@gmail.com / 085-8161653

Jo Sachs-Eldridge was a member of the Welsh Government national advisory group for the development of the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 Delivery Guidance and a member of the team that authored the accompanying Design Guidance.

Rothar Road

Leitrim Cycling Festival 2018

Leitrim’s second leisurely hiking and cycling festival enjoyed fabulous weather over the solstice weekend. Hosted by the villages of Manorhamilton and Dromahair the festival attracted visitors from near and far with touring cyclists visiting from Argentina, New Zealand and  America, with more local visitors cycling from Kiltoghtert, Boihy and Rossinver.

There was something for everyone at this festival, kicking off on Friday evening with well attended talks by William Bennet and Mary Russell in the Glens Centre.  William Bennett entertaining the audience with tales of adventure, and photographs, from his three year round the world cycle. Travel writer Mary Russell spoke about her travels in Syria before the war.

Some of the festival cyclists camped in Manorhamilton that night after the talks.  Manorhamilton’s Community Cafe, the Castle Cafe, opened it’s doors and grounds to the visitors on Saturday morning, the garden was a beautiful intimate setting where festival goers congregated. Events on Saturday morning included a touring bicycle display and a printing workshop run by Manorhamilton print group.  For the energetic there was a morning cycle run in the hills surrounding Manorhamilton, the cyclists commented on the beauty of the area and the steepness of the hills. By mid morning Paddy Bloomer’s “Scary go Round” , like a scene from a funny children’s story book, was in full swing, accompanied by music by the ‘Knotted Cords’ from Waterford.  Margaret Connolly led a fascinating historical tour of the village. There was a family cycle to Lurganboy where the Woods provided a beautiful environment for a picnic.

Mid-afternoon cyclists mounted their bikes again and, once more, took on the challenge of the Leitrim Hills, heading for Dromahair.  The route, chosen for quiet roads and scenery, went via Lurganboy, Shanvas Cross, on to Parkes Castle and along the lake to Dromahair, showcasing the unique beauty of North Leitrim in the afternoon sun.  After setting up camp in DARC, Dromahair visitors explored the village, stopping in local shops, restaurants and pubs for sustenance.

Later that evening with 15 tents pitched, most of the cyclists hit off for a bit of dancing and craic at the crossroads being St. John’s night, where there was music, singing, eating, chatting and dancing with a few talented cyclists joining in the entertaining.

The cycle back was magical, we were like a caravan of cyclists in a tribe, pedaling back in the dark to the village in terrific spirits full of the joys that infects the spirit by being on a bike!!

Up and about early as the sun shone warm on the tents and enjoyed a tasty freshly cooked barbecue Irish breakfast to set everybody up for the day ahead on the greenway where circus themed costumes entered one in a fancy dress competition. Bikes got decorated as well as helmets and babies before assembling at the ‘Demo Stretch’ at 2pm for some theatre by the Rabbit’s Riot about a grown woman who cannot cycle but has grown a steely determination to do so by June 2019, so watch this space!

This was followed by a ‘parade of cycles’, bicycles, tandems, unicycles, folding bikes, black nellies, tricycles were wheeled past the judges who had the challenging task of choosing the best dressed cycle and cyclist.

There was a trombone player beating out a tune from the lofty heights of the ‘Twisted’ beech tree as the slow bicycle race course was measured out and ribbons put in place underneath. Around the corner at Edergole Cottage the Old Market Street Swing Band entertained the crowd gathered who enjoyed home made scones and tea served in the marquee.

The next treat in store for the crowd was the launch of ‘Gluais Linn’, Dromahair’s very own trishaw which was cycled over the adjacent stony bridge with 2 distinguished passengers enjoying the experience of gliding through the beautiful countryside in the sun.

The Cycling Festival came to a close as the cyclists took off to the band’s aptly chosen ‘King of the Road’.

The Leisurely Hike and Bike Festival Leitrim 2017

The first year of the festival took place in Battlebridge. Here are some photos of the 2017 festival:

Why this festival?

I can fix a puncture but only have a rudimentary understanding of the mechanics of a bicycle.

My beautiful leather hiking boots rarely come out of the cupboard.

But I love walking and cycling.

For the last 2 years I’ve been living in a small town where I walk miles every day, usually with dog and buggy/sling/small hand in tow.

But before this I spent the previous 15 or so years living in Cardiff where I cycled everywhere. I cycled to work, I cycled to the shops, I cycled to meetings, I cycled to friends’ houses, I cycled to the pub, I cycled to the park ….I even cycled on my holidays with tents and friends. Sometimes we cycled just for the pure love of getting out on our bikes.

Amazingly I got a job with Cardiff Council managing the cycling programme for the city. This meant I was allowed to work on strategic plans to make the city better for cycling, applying for funding to make it happen and then making sure it happened. I got to be part of an exciting change in the city and saw it start to reach its ambition to be one of the top cycling cities in the UK.

I was also part of the team that worked on another exciting change – the Welsh Government Active Travel Act – which means every local authority now has a duty to plan, create and maintain walking and cycling networks in their towns and cities. Imagine what this could mean for the country if and when it starts to be realised.

Now I’m living in South Leitrim where it’s not so easy to cycle many places – especially with a baby on board. And it’s difficult to meet people who would like to be able to do more leisurely, utility cycling and want to help make it easier for more people to cycle more often.

So what better way than a leisurely hiking and cycling festival that brings such people together to share info, share routes, share ideas, build a community and hopefully have some fun.

If that sounds like your cup of tea come join us for our first ever

Leisurely Hike + Bike Festival Leitrim