Since the results of the 2016 census were published, cyclist advocates and opposition politicians have often referred to the 43% increase in commuting to work by bike in order to highlight the potential of cycling. However, the same percentage has also been highlighted by Ministers Shane Ross and Brendan Griffin in order to ‘prove’ that their policies are working and that, as a result, no fundamental changes such as #Allocate4Cycling are required.
There are two problems with the ‘43% increase’. First, there are a further three categories of cyclists who broadly correspond to primary school pupils, secondary school pupils and students attending third level colleges. The increases in percentages for these are considerably less ranging from 10.5% to 25.2%.
|Category of Road User||No. of Cyclists
|No. of Cyclists 2016||% Increase In Numbers||Cyclists as % of Commuters|
|Children 5-12 years old||6,252||7,326||17.2%||1.5%|
|Children 13-18 year old||6,592||7,282||10.5%||2.3%|
|19 years or over at college||8,530||10,678||25.2%||5.8%|
|15 years or over at work||39,803||56,837||42.8%||3.3%|
While the number of cyclists commuting to work (as opposed to education) has increased, they still only make up 3.3% of overall commuters and even this figure is exaggerated due to the increase in population between 2011 and 2016.
The second problem with the figure of 43% is that it gives no indication that the percentages are coming off a very low base. If we had Danish levels of cycling, a 34% increase is significant– ie 34% of 19% is an increase in cyclist numbers of 6.3%. In Ireland’s case, however, a 34% increase is only 1% of the commuting population. As the target set out in the National Cycling Policy Framework is 10% , this is the benchmark we should use. Nationally, cycling is at a level of 3.0% which is the level it was at around the year 2000 so basically we have made no progress since then. Yes, the number of cyclists in Dublin and other cities has increased over that period but this is balanced by a decrease in cycling elsewhere. (This is the same as in the UK where London is an outlier compared to the rest of the country although Manchester and a number of other cities are beginning to get their act together.)
There is a similar weakness in the analysis of cyclist fatalities on a year to year basis. With a 50% increase in 2017, it was virtually certain that the number of cyclist deaths would be less in 2018. Sure enough, when the final figures came out, the RSA reported that there was a reduction in cyclist fatalities. No news there! What this overlooks is that taking a 3 year average, the low point for the number of cyclist fatalities was in 2011. Since then it has either increased or remained the same for each of the last 7 years.
We are at a critical time when cycling is moving up the political spectrum. #Allocate4Cycling – significantly more funding, reallocation of road space and higher standards are essential components of this campaign. We shouldn’t undermine it by accepting the spin by government of the Census results or of focusing on fatalities on an annual basis. Instead we should reference progress towards the NCPF target and the trend of cyclist fatalities.