What does good cycling infrastructure even look like?

At the latest Velo City conference, the annual international summit of the European Cyclists’ Federation that was held in Dublin this year, Dutch blogger and cycling enthusiast, Mark Wagenbuur, was quoted in the Irish papers on Dublin’s cycling infrastructure;

I couldn’t remember when I last felt afraid on my bicycle. Not just anxious, but genuinely fearing for my life. I do now, after I cycled in Dublin last week.

He went on to write, “Cycling infrastructure in Dublin is planned and built at the expense of pedestrians and trees. The city really needs to do something about the free reign of motordom in the city centre.” You can read his entire article here.

When I first read Mark’s comments, my initial feeling was that he was exaggerating. As a regular cyclist in Dublin over the past five years, I have never had an incident and frequently advise others that cycling in Dublin is “really not that bad, I promise”. It prompted me to reconsider my position and research what good cycling infrastructure really looks like. I quickly came to realise that my previously held belief that cycling in Dublin wasn’t “that bad”, was because I didn’t know what good cycling infrastructure looked like.

After doing some research, I’d like to share with you just some of the impressive and innovative ideas and plans I found cities have put forth to prioritise cyclists and their safety. In turn these changes have helped their citizens to reduce their personal emissions, improve their health and reduce traffic congestion.

Denmark’s Cycle Superhighways

In Denmark 9/10 people are said to own a bicycle, with cycling representing a strong element of Danish history and a symbol of freedom for the Danes. In the 1970s, Denmark introduced car free days during the Mideast oil crisis, with large parts of the city closed off to vehicles allowing pedestrians and cyclists to have a not too oft, joyous free reign of the city.

In order to facilitate the large numbers of cyclists, town planners had to look at ways they could widen cycle paths and increase cyclist safety. Hence the cycle ‘superhighways’.

These highways are designed to provide cyclists with wider pathways that have fewer stops and better connections in their city. This encourages residents to leave their cars at home, reduces the risks of obesity, increases positive mental health, lessens traffic congestion and improves air quality. The Dane’s unique perspective on the economical benefits of improved cycling infrastructure has helped politicians and town planners to develop this kind of infrastructure for their citizens.

France’s Reconquest of the River Seine in Paris

Two years ago, the left wing parties won a controversial vote to close off 3.3km of riverside road running along the river Seine. Car drivers met the decision with shock and anger, saying it would not decrease traffic congestion or pollution and would simply move it elsewhere.

The deputy Mayor and member of the Ecology Green Party, Christophe Najdovski, disagreed, “Behaviour will change. Habits will change. And our objective, to reduce traffic and thus pollution, will be achieved.”

The plan was launched in 2016, and in 2018 the courts ruled that Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s ambitious plan to remove cars from the once congested stretch would remain car free.

Norway’s Cycling Lift in Trondheim

The Trondheim bicycle lift aka Trampe bicycle lift, was invented and installed by Jarle Wanwik in 1993. To someone viewing the lift for the first time it appears strange, but as any cyclist will contest, it also looks undeniably useful. It is supposedly the first and only bicycle lift in the world.

I know many people who bought a bicycle for their daily commute and ended up selling it because what seemed to them an insurmountably steep hill. Would the Trondheim Lift prevent such resales? I think yes.

Daejeon-Sejong Solar Cycling Pathway in Seoul

One of the few solar panelled roadways in the world and stretching 20 km from Daejeon to Sejong, the solar panelled bike lane generates electricity while also protecting cyclists from harsh sunlight.

Critics claim cyclists are exposed to traffic fumes. However, without these new and innovative designs being piloted, cars will continue to command our city spaces and win out as first-choice for commuters.

Morlan’s Tunnel in San Sebastián, Spain

Once the thoroughfare for a railway train, Morlan’s tunnel was created in 2009 to connect the neighbourhoods of Amara and Ibaeta in San Sebastián. The tunnel itself is 840m long and runs on a 2km cycling path stretch. It’s a perfect example of how currently obsolete infrastructure can be reimagined spaces for the benefit of all. It’s model is not unlike the Waterford Greenway, a 46km cycling path from Waterford to Dungarvan in Ireland, also previously a railway track.

Holland’s Bicycle Carparks

If you’ve ever parked your bicycle in a “bad” neighbourhood, you know that feeling of relief when it’s still there when you get back. To make bicycling parking that bit easier, Holland has introduced multi-storey cycling carparks, with Utrecht boasting one of the biggest in the world.

An impressive 12,500 spaces are available in the parking lot, and the interior design leaves enough space for cyclists to cycle inside in order to quickly find the nearest parking space. These cycling spaces are separated from the walkways to prevent accidents between pedestrians and cyclists.

The Hovenring “Cycling Roundabout” in North Brabant, Holland

If I was going to mention any country twice in this list, it had to be Holland, and the Hovenring is such a cool bit of architectural engineering that it’s hard to leave it out of this list. This entirely suspended cycling path is the first of it’s kind in the world and was designed to increase the flow of traffic, while also improving the safety and infrastructure of cyclists.

Roundabouts can be tricky to manoeuvre as a cyclist, with studies suggesting cyclists’ safety decreases when intersections are converted to roundabouts. The Hovenring however takes that out of the equation; 72 metres in diameter, the steel structure is suspended from a single 70 metre pylon and 24 steel cables.

My list ends here, but these are just a few of the fantastic inventions and changes forward thinking developers, engineers, architects, politicians and citizens have welcomed into their cities. It’s good to keep in mind that there are other tried and tested models out there and that Dublin and Irish cyclists should not settle for anything less than improved infrastructure that keeps them safe, improves congestion and prioritises the planet.

Sustainable Tourism: How can we make a little, go a long way.

Venice is sinking and Lapland has no snow. Locals increasingly face extreme rainfall, drought and heatwaves. The damage to our climate has impacted our ecosystems, economies and human health, and worryingly, projections show that these extremes will only increase and worsen over many European regions.

Even if we were to reduce our carbon emissions to zero, the emissions that have already been and continue to be sent into the atmosphere will have an impact for centuries to come.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC), fifth assessment report states that we can expect shorter winter seasons, sea level rises, ocean acidification, civil and social unrest in many poorer countries, risk to food, electricity and water due to large scales storms, and affects on tourist perceptions of many destinations.

The tourism sector seems to be in denial about the impact and no country has a specific climate change tourism strategy. It’s unacceptable to place all the responsibility on the tourist, but in the meantime, what can we do to be responsible tourists, and lead the way for responsible action?

Stay Grounded

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Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

The aviation industry accounts for 2% of carbon emissions (some studies say more) and is one of the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions in the world. Technology is being developed to produce more sustainable airplanes, that are powered by battery or biomass fuel rather than kerosene, but for the time being, it’s expected it could take decades before this technology will be available to us. In the mean time, high altitude planes produce contrails (trails of water vapour condensation) which are highly damaging to the earth, and whose effects double at night time, according to Dr. Piers Forster from the University of Leeds.

Shifting all UK night flights to the daytime would save the equivalent of 2.5% of the UK’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, he said.

So we can’t hang  around for the aviation industry to fix this problem overnight, and without public pressure the industry won’t have the real motivation to make the changes, nor will governments feel they need to regulate it. Just look at Finnair, recently caught out for providing misleading information about it’s carbon emissions reduction. So how do we do better?

Trains and Buses

Public transport in the form of trains and buses, are infinitely better than airplanes, and many are government owned. It’s always good to support a government funded service, as ideally that feeds back into government funded sources and amenities.

Cars

It’s also becoming easier for tourists to hire fully electric cars in many destinations around Europe, with Enterprise adding electric cars to their fleets from as early as 2011. But what if you need to cross the water?

Ferries

Ferries are more complex and it can be difficult to define their benefits in relation to airplanes as there are many factors in play. Cruise liners for example contribute high emissions because of the electricity needed to power onboard services. More modern boats and ships are made with lighter metals, such as aluminium, so they require less fuel to be powered. They are also painted with non-pollutive paint, which helps prevent water pollution. The Passenger Shipping Association’s (PSA) carried out an independent study and found that ferries contribute CO2 emissions of 0.12 kg CO2 per passenger kilometre. For airplanes it has been figured at 0.35 kg CO2 per passenger kilometre. However, it all comes down to the boat or plane model, passengers on board, distance travelled, time of day scheduled, and definitely more factors, my puny brain can’t emotionally deal with right now.

Walking and Biking

However, if you are considering a biking holiday or a walking pilgrimage, you are courting with the possibility of enjoying a potential near zero emissions holiday. The less time we spend in the sky and the sea at the moment, the better, and opting for public transport or leg powered transport carves your way to a much more environmentally empathic holiday.

Support Local

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Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash

Use your next holiday as an opportunity to support local businesses and local initiatives. Drink the local beer. Visit a restaurant that prides itself in selling in-season and local produce. Spend your money on locally produced food, goods and services.

A common definition of “buying local” is consuming food and products that are grown or made within 100 miles of their selling point. Food that is bought locally tends to be safer, healthier and better for the economy of the country you are visiting and the environment as a whole. The less food has travelled, the less carbon emissions have been emitted into the air due to transport.

It’s not always straight forward to know the travel miles of all the food and products you buy, but start having those conversations with sellers in the market, seek out restaurants that advertise themselves as organic, local or in-season and visit local craftspeople’s shops and stalls.

Go Wild

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Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Visit local charities and initiatives that support the local ecosystems and help support wildlife conservation. Book tours that are eco-friendly and help you learn about local customs, traditions, nature and the landscape.

Visit www.ecotourismireland.ie to learn more on how and where you can support ecotourism in Ireland.

Single Use, is Single Use Everywhere

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Photo by Ryan Everton on Unsplash

We’ve gotten much better (not perfect) at rejecting single use waste and opting for reusable coffee cups, water bottles, lunch boxes, shopping bags utensils, etc. However, still so many people don’t take this good habit abroad with them. When we make these clean choices, we make them for the planet as a whole, so don’t get lax when it comes to your holiday. Do your best to use your reusable and refillable products and even try learning a few helpful sentences that will make explaining you don’t want that straw or you you brought your own cup, easier to explain in Swahili.

Likewise, collect and dispose of your waste responsibly, giving equal respect to the beaches abroad, as you would at home. Recycle wherever possible and don’t litter.

Sea, Sun, Safe

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Photo by Emily Bauman on Unsplash

Avoid toxins for you and the sea, by using Ocean Safe or Reef Safe® sunscreens, that use natural ingredients and are preferably vegan and cruelty-free.

Opt for non-motorised sea transport like, kayaks, canoes, surfboards, etc., so you can avoid fuel waste entering the water and damage to sea-life.

Coral reefs are extremely diverse and sensitive ecosystem, never ever touch the coral, as they can be affected by the oil on your skin. Dive In recommends using buoyancy aids to help prevent overzealous kicking and causing damage to coral.

These are just some of the ways you can help the planet when you go on holiday. Please share any other ideas you have in the comment section below.

Green Travels! 🙂

What’s in Season in Ireland?

There are a few reasons why we should eat in season fruit. Firstly, it’s good for the planet, as it promotes the balance and order of the Earth’s natural cycles. Modern food processes allow us to enjoy fruits and vegetables all year round, but this exposes us to pesticides, genetically modified foods, waxes, and preservatives. It also increases the use of energy and resources, and thus emissions, that go into transporting fruit and vegetables from abroad to our shores. This leads me to the second reason it’s good to eat in season; local economy.

When we buy in season, we can also buy locally and support our local producers and sellers. This in turn promotes community, and strengthens our local businesses and economies.

Food that’s picked and eaten seasonably is also believed to outperform in taste. Any of its counterparts consumed out of season don’t measure up, as they have been forced to grow in unnatural climates, and the longer these items sit on the shelves, the more nutrients and antioxidants they will lose.

 

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*Yes, Rhubarb is a vegetable. Sue me.