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Awaiting the Giro effect – latest figures show overwhelming preference for car journeys in Northern Ireland

Cycle commuters don’t even warrant a mention in the latest transport figures

The Northern Ireland Transport Statistics bulletin for 2013/14 depicts what environmental campaigners are calling a ‘car-first’ transport policy. Not only does Northern Ireland have more cars on the roads than ever before, but cycling commuter numbers are so insignificant that they aren’t even given

Northern Ireland was promised ‘a cycling revolution’ earlier this year. It was hoped that hosting the opening stages of the Giro d’Italia in May might encourage more locals to start cycling, but recent figures indicate that the bike has an awful lot of ground to make up on the car.

The Northern Ireland Transport Statistics bulletin for 2013/14, which is produced by the Department of Regional Development, reveals that there are now 25 per cent more cars and vans on the roads than there were 10 years ago. While this is perhaps unsurprising, the rise compares unfavourably with other areas. Scotland has seen a 16 per cent rise in the same period, Wales 15 per cent and England just 11 per cent.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Declan Allison from Friends of the Earth commented:

"Northern Ireland remains locked into a car-first transport policy. If it is to be a sustainable, low-carbon society, we have to move out of our cars for public transport, walking and cycling instead.

"That won't happen until buses are affordable, reliable and frequent, and walking and cycling is safe. Much could be achieved if the balance of the transport budget was shifted from an emphasis on private cars to focusing on sustainable transport options."

The report also looks at people’s methods of travel to work. Although car, van and minibus use has dropped from 86.2 per cent in 2009, these vehicles still account for 81.2 per cent of all commutes. This compares to a figure of just 68.8 per cent for the UK as a whole.

The second most common means of commuting is by foot at 10.6 per cent, then bus or coach at 3.8 per cent and train at 1.3 per cent. While ‘bicycle’ is listed in the table, it warrants only an asterisk to indicate fewer than 8,000 cases and so no percentage is given.

Perhaps one reason for the relative lack of popularity of cycling is the accident rate on Northern Ireland’s roads. The report compared the number of injuries per 100,000 of population for each of the four UK regions. Northern Ireland sees 318, England 230, Wales 191 and Scotland 169. Furthermore, from 2012 to 2013 the number of reported road casualties in Northern Ireland rose by two per cent from 9,010 to 9,187.

While only a proportion of these incidents involve cyclists, separate research found that cyclist injuries had doubled in the last ten years. This encouraged the Department of the Environment to create a cycle safety advert which ran from late April until after the Giro.

Speaking at the time, Transport Minister, Danny Kennedy said:

“It is clear that cycling is growing in popularity in Northern Ireland and my aim is to create a safe and accessible cycling infrastructure for everyone in Northern Ireland.”

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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s_lim | 9 years ago

If you want to get a flavour for commuting around Belfast, follow the excellent @nigreenways on Twitter. His latest campaign is to stop the 4000+ private hire taxis from getting access to bus lanes, often the only safe area for cycling into central Belfast.

However, as stated above, cycling has never been as popular over here. Every race event and sportive has had a large upturn in attendees, and new clubs are forming all the time. Cycling is very much a popular reacreational pastime in NI.

I class myself as both a commuter and recreational cyclist, both are very different realities.

PRINCIPIA PHIL | 9 years ago

Using cycling commuter statics is a poor barometer of cycling popularity, cycling is really popular over here with many new clubs forming and a lot of clubs benefiting from the resurgence in cycling.
So many people new to cycling are to be found on cycle paths during the weekend and i'd hazard a guess that they wouldn't be commuting to work - so does their cycling activity not count?
Similarily, i cycle about 4k miles per year but commute by bike occasionally which would also discount myself.
Sounds like there needs to be a new more relevant poll.

Scoob_84 | 9 years ago

I visited NI for the first time earlier this summer. The weather was bloody awful on the Sunday, but that didn't stop me coming across 100's of cyclist out braving the wind and rain on our drive back to the airport. Chapeau to the lot of them!

Beatnik69 | 9 years ago

There is quite a large number of people who commute in Belfast itself but as Otis said there are a large number of people who live outside the main towns and cities so cycling isn't always practical. That said, there are an increasing number who are driving part of the way and cycling the rest. Part of the problem is the lack of cycling infrastructure in Belfast (and outlying areas). I haven't noticed as much antagonism when riding to work as many people on here would report but that's because there are so few bikes on the road, so in general people are fairly happy to put up with a slight delay, however if the numbers were to grow significantly I could foresee problems.

MartyMcCann | 9 years ago

One unmentioned reason why cycle commuting is so low is the still largely rural nature of NI. Outside of Belfast it is difficult to commute to work due to the distances many people have to travel (in ironically the smallest part of what comes under UK jurisdiction)- for example I have a 52 mile round trip to work. I would even take a pay cut if I could get a job closer to home that would allow me to ride my bike to it.
Obviously driver attitudes leave a lot to be desired as well making the roads, both urban and rural, less attractive to cycle on and there is a car first mentality, but a lot of that grows out of my initial point-due to the rural nature of the region, the first priority of 17 year olds is to pass their driving test so that they can actually get to the nearest towns. That means the bike is not automatically thought of as a means of transport and once the R plates go up then the bike is left in the back of the shed.

Plus I quoted here before in another thread the local blogger who made a good point- the Belfast Marathon doesn't inspire more people to walk to the shops so why would the Giro inspire more people to take up cycling as a transport option as opposed to a sporting activity?

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