There’s no question that 2020 has been unprecedented, with the impact of COVID-19 having a terrible ongoing impact on all aspects of our lives.
It can be difficult to think positively with all of the challenges we’re going through. But if we can find one small positive aspect from 2020, it’s the opportunity that many of us have had over the summer to spend time outside walking and cycling.
More adults are now physically active than before the restrictions were introduced with a substantial increase in the numbers walking for recreationSport Ireland, Impact of Covid-19 Restrictions on Sport and Recreational Walking
All around Ireland we’ve seen people getting out more often, whether it be walking to town, going for a run, or cycling to work. In response, a number of counties and towns have rolled out improvements to footpaths, temporary cycle lanes, outdoor seating and even pedestrianising streets.
But how much of a change in behaviour is actually happening, to justify such investment?
Before we answer that, let’s look at what information is available to inform decision-makers. Planners have access to data gathered by the census, collected every five years, the most recent census being 2016. From the census data, a broad range of analyses is performed and published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). This includes statistics on population, income, transport patterns, and more.
We can create analysis from this data, to create beautiful visualisations, and we also use the data when planning our towns and counties.
At the same time, change sometimes happens quickly. We’ve all seen the graphs and charts of COVID, which changed our lives at the start of March. Could behaviour change also happen quickly? First, here’s a view of cycling in Meath from 2017 to 2019.
Here we see cycling trips during the year. Pretty much the same each year since the last census. Based on this, it would be reasonable for future planning decisions to continue with the status quo.
And then along came 2020
The change is striking, around DOUBLE the number of trips in May. And this only reflects a small fraction of people who log their cycling trips using the Strava app, so the increase may be even larger.
This increase in cycling is mirrored in other towns and cities across Ireland, and in other European countries.
So it’s clear that behaviour has changed. And it’s clear that current plans for towns are based on information that’s no longer relevant.
The question is, what happens next in Navan? Will we take stock and update our plans, to provide for safe cycling?