Thursday, 3 December 2015

#Cycling #Benefits #PublicHealth #CyclingTsar

At a time when we have less available public money to spend in Northern Ireland, in part due to the fiscal policies of central Government and in part due to how regional Government has operated, it is important we adopt a longer term strategy and get policies right.

Despite investment in cycling infrastructure being relatively inexpensive set against other capital projects, it has been often viewed by civil servants and roads engineers as some sort of luxury or add on.

Yet far from being a luxury or add on, it is a must. It is a must because it allows the public to themselves through daily routine delivery important outcomes of better physical and mental health. It allows the public through habit to deliver positive outcomes for small retailers, reduced crime, reduced anti-social behaviour, an increase in the urban population and an improved urban environment. Increased population density makes public services more efficient and less expensive to deliver as well as providing a strong income stream for local councils. In turn a positive urban environment drives visitor numbers to a city as well as improves the lives of its citizens. The global column inches dedicated to Copenhagen as a cycling city provides a wealth of positive free publicity.

Whether you think of the growth in health expenditure or the cost of roads maintenance increasing the number of journeys on foot or by bike has positive outcomes for both.

To derive these benefits we need to have significant change in the quality and density of segregated cycle routes. The Belfast bike hire scheme has confirmed what many suspected, that Belfast could be a leading cycling city, but only through sustained (not huge sums) capital investment in infrastructure and an pro-cycling attitude right across Government can we deliver these favourable outcomes.

Danny Kennedy did set up a cross departmental working group on cycling to bridge the gaps between departments but maybe its time we had a cycling Tsar for Belfast or better still Northern Ireland to provide even greater focus.

In urban areas we should target improving the cycle commuter experience and in rural areas we could really get local Government to buy into cycle tourism on the Westport and Great Western Greenway model. A significant component of the European tourism market has already taken a foothold in the South and there is no reason whatsoever it couldn't bike North too.


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