Isn’t the city ready for ‘Boris Bikes’

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Public bike share schemes such as those in Dublin, Galway and most recently Belfast have been very successful.

Could a similar scheme work in Derry?

Discussions are at an early stage to consider the options for a Bike Share Scheme that would be suitable for the city.

Ross McGill, Sustainable Transport Officer, Sustrans

Ross McGill, Sustainable Transport Officer, Sustrans

But cycling is already a very popular pursuit in Derry and across the North West.

There are approximately 80km of dedicated traffic-free walking and cycling paths in the city – 30km of which are high quality greenways. Since 1998, cycling has been boosted by the forward-thinking plans of the former Derry City Council which established the Access Forum to develop walking and cycling or ‘active travel’ as it is collectively known. The Council has been ahead of most councils across Northern Ireland with an established Cycling-Walking Masterplan first produced in 2000.

It is one of the few councils to install their own pedestrian/cycle counters to properly monitor usage and has produced Greenway Guides to the city. As a small regional city Derry is punching far above its weight when compared to Belfast in this regard.

Almost all of the provision developed is classified as “shared use”, that is for pedestrians, cyclists and non-motorised vehicles and therefore provides far better value for money.

It should come as no surprise to residents that the scenic riverside paths are particularly popular and well-used. 

Recent monitoring has shown an increase in walking and cycling along the riverside greenways in Derry of more than 50 per cent since 2011 and over two million people have walked or cycled across the Peace Bridge, averaging 2,300 pedestrians and 200 cyclists a day.

It is not just the numbers of people using the greenways that is startling but the diversity of groups.

The biggest rise has been the number of jogging and running groups along with membership of local clubs, such as Foyle Cycling. RNIB has started a weekly tandem bicycle club. There are also increased numbers of women using the paths, with groups such as the Cycling Belles helping women of all ages take to two wheels.

Safe and joined-up infrastructure is certainly a key component of encouraging more cyclists. Imagine if, for example, the greenway network could be extended further into communities, this would make it possible for commuters to try cycling instead of driving to work, or children walking to school instead of being driven by car. This would greatly benefit the health of the next generation which has been blighted by the obesity epidemic.

The new foot and cycle bridge which is set to open in Strabane next month is another potential game changer, in much the same way the Peace Bridge has completely changed the dynamic in Derry.

This will help connect the town’s walking and cycling network and has huge potential to boost the economy of the area. As well as the obvious health and environmental benefits of active travel, investment in walking and cycling is far better value for money than other transport spending. Using the Department for Transport’s assessment methodology in England, it offers much higher benefit to cost ratios than traditional road schemes. DfT regards a benefit to cost ratio of 2:1 as a good return on investment: walking and cycling schemes regularly return benefit to cost ratios of over 10:1.

Sustrans has been urging government to significantly increase its commitment to future investment in sustainable and active travel for the general population across Northern Ireland.

We have asked for a commitment to a direct annual budget for cycling of £10m for urban areas and £2.5m for rural areas, with a 70:30 capital revenue split.

The local authorities on both sides of the border have recognised the potential benefits of both cycling and walking and there are plans to extend the greenway network within Derry and Strabane District Council area and across the North West.

Sustrans has just completed a North West Greenway Plan for the NW Regional Cross-Border Group which has identified hundreds of kilometres of potential routes, including disused railway lines, coastal paths and canal routes across the region.

The development potential both for tourism, economic investment and attractiveness to residents cannot be underestimated.

A similar example was the development of the Great Western Greenway in County Mayo. It has of course attracted a lot of tourists and business to the area but monitoring of the route showed the largest group using it were in fact locals for their daily journeys.

There is still some way to go before Derry and the North West truly embraces the walking and cycling revolution but the wheels are certainly turning. Perhaps one day we’ll bring a Gran Fondo type event to the North West. If you’re interested in finding out more about active travel, cycling routes, or how to get involved with Sustrans contact Ross McGill at ross.mcgill@sustrans.org.uk or telephone 028 71 253 253.