Model for Cycling in Rural Ireland now needs Cash Injection

Clon Bikes

Today, Clonakilty is best known for its black pudding and its characteristic Irish architecture. It possesses no greenways or cycle lanes but despite this, the people of Clonakilty have come together as a community to promote cycling in a way that would put to shame government supported SmarterTravel towns such as Westport or Dungarvan. It holds an annual Bike Festival (just over) which went global this year. It has its own community bike workshop ‘The Bike Circus’ which also runs an active apprenticeship program. The town has a chapter of Cycling without Age/Wind in Your Hair and has its own Trio E-bike which they use to bring out elderly and sick from hospital or nursing homes. The most remarkable aspect of the cycling culture of the town, however, is that they have their own bike share with almost no financial assistance from Cork County Council or the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Tom O’Donovan of O’Donovan’s Hotel was one of the founders who established the Clonakilty Bike Share 6 years ago with some 60 bikes. He recalls that Cork County Council refused to give them public space for bike hubs so a number of hotels offered a section of their car parking area. With contributions from the hotels and private local sponsors and a small financial contribution from government bodies, they purchased bicycles, paid for parking racks and developed a website through which people could book and pay for renting. Most of the work was carried out by community volunteers so any money raised from renting was reinvested in the scheme. While the bike scheme originated in Clonakilty, it soon spread out to hotels in a number of locations across West Cork as far as Courtmacsherry and Rosscarbery. The scheme allowed users to stay overnight in different places and ensured that more money was retained in the local community than from individual day trippers.

Clonakilty also procured funding to erect directional signage designating a number of nearby cycling routes along quiet roads. Although funding has been available from late 2018 the County Council Area Engineer refuses to erect the signage as he is concerned about the legal consequences to Cork County Council of encouraging cycling on quiet roads. (Apparently, he has no concerns about the consequences to the Council of cyclists travelling on heavily trafficked national or regional roads). The Area Engineer and his Senior Engineer, want an independent safety assessor to tell them that it is safe before they agree to erect the signage. If they have such doubts about the safety of the roads, it is potentially negligent for them not to alert the public in general and cyclists in particular as to the nature of hazard and the risks of exposure.

The Clonakilty bike share was already facing increased maintenance costs due to an ageing fleet of bikes. Now, the rising cost of insurance is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and Clonakilty has been forced to shelve its bike share. Clonakilty is a model for a small community based cycling town. At a time when

(1)  A new Programme for Government prioritising cycling has been agreed
(2)  Over €1 million has been invested in bike share schemes in Cork, Limerick and Galway
(3)  Due to Covid-19, the health authorities urge people to walk or cycle where possible,
4)  The NTA are offering funding to encourage active travel and
5)  Cork City proposes to expand its bike share,

it is ironic that the Clonakilty bike share would be allowed to fail. While West Cork politicians have been vocal in their support, Clonakilty has received almost no state funding. Clonakilty’s most famous cyclist is of course Michael Collins who was born nearby. Looking down from heaven (or up from the other place if that is your politics), what must he think of Cork County Council and current councillors.

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