One of the goals for Navan Cycling Initiative is to improve our environment. But what does that goal look like? How will we know when it’s been achieved? And for all these long-term goals, how will we know day to day if anything is changing? Is there a way to break down this problem into bite-size pieces?
In this article, I look at greenhouse gas emissions for Ireland, Meath, and finally Navan to try and understand the sources of emissions, and how cycling might form part of the solution.
The National Picture
Let’s start by looking at all emissions for Ireland. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) produce annual charts, like the one below:
We can see that Transport is the second-highest source of greenhouse gases, about 21% or a fifth of all emissions.
Let’s dig into Transport and see what’s going on.
Transport makes up a fifth of Ireland’s emissions. But where do those emissions come from? Air travel? Trains maybe?
In fact 95% of Transport emissions are from “Road Transportation”, which is made up of Heavy-Duty vehicles, and Light Vehicles – cars and vans.
Light vehicles account for around 15% of overall emissions, which is about a sixth of all greenhouse gases emitted in Ireland. This is made up of small vans and private cars. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the exact breakdown. If anyone has this information, please give me a shout. So let’s take a guess that private cars account for two-thirds of this, which would mean
10% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions come from private cars
Cars, Counties and Local Areas
Up to this point, we’ve been looking at Ireland as a whole. The CSO provides data on how many kilometres are driven annually, broken down by county. Below, we can see that Meath accounts for 1,612 million kilometres (1.6 billion kilometres), about 5% of Ireland’s journeys.
People in Meath drive for 1.6 billion kilometres each year. That’s about 40 times around the planet. Or the distance to Saturn. OK, ok, it’s a big number!
Private cars in Meath account for around 0.5% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions.
But we’re not Meath Cycling Initiative, we’re Navan Cycling Initiative, so let’s keep digging.
Unfortunately the distance driven is only recorded at County level. So we’ll switch now, and look at the number of cars in each area.
There’s quite a big variation in car ownership across the county. Navan has the most single-car households and the largest number of households with no car. Let’s see what percentage of households have no car:
Wow, that’s a huge difference!
Navan has three times the number of households with no cars, compared to Ratoath.
So now we know where the emissions are coming from, and where the cars are. Let’s see where the journeys are, and then maybe we can figure out where it’s possible to get some “quick wins” to reduce greenhouse gases.
Distance & Perspective
Now let’s look at the journeys, starting with the distance traveled. First, let’s take a look at short journeys, up to 2 kilometres:
Wow. This really surprised me. Lots of people walking and driving, but hardly any cycling. Maybe that makes sense, if lots of the journeys are really short, it probably makes sense to walk? Maybe it’s due to lack of bike parking facilities, or maybe that many people just don’t have bikes. It’s pretty surprising that around half of all trips of 2km or less are by car.
OK, so that’s journeys up to two kilometres. How does this look across different distances?
Source: CSO, NTA12 National Travel Survey 2019
It’s not surprising that most journeys over 8 kilometres are by car. But for short journeys of 2-6 kilometres, it’s clear that private cars are the most popular mode of transport. This isn’t necessarily bad news. This is actually an opportunity.
If we’re serious about tackling big issues like climate change and health issues caused by our sedentary lifestyles, we’ve got a huge challenge on our hands.
Here in Navan, the town is pretty concentrated. The area in blue shows how far you can cycle in ten minutes, meaning a return trip of 20 minutes, or around 5km. It’s the majority of Navan, notably excluding the Johnstown area (which one of the reasons why we’re advocating for better cycling linkage between this area and the town centre).
This is very doable. We just need to break it down into bite-size pieces. Here’s one final piece, trying to understand what the reason is for each journey:
- Commuting to and from work? Difficulty: Very easy. You don’t necessarily need to do it every day – wait for a bit of nice weather and jump on the bike. Arrive at work feeling fresh and full of energy. You don’t need to go crazy and get all sweaty, but if your workplace has showers then you could use this as your exercise for the day.
- Popping to the shops? Difficulty: easy. Try taking the bike. A backpack can hold a couple of bottles of wine and a frozen pizza (don’t judge me!). If you have a basket, better still. And if you’ve got saddlebags (“panniers”) you’d be surprised at how much you can carry. I can do about half our weekly shop with one bike trip, for a family of three. Most places have good, secure bike parking with plenty of passers-by, and some even have sheltered parking (thanks Aldi!), and there are loads of bike parking racks around the town centre.
- The School run? Difficulty: Medium. but some schools organise “cycle on Wednesday” (COW) where a group of parents go together. Hopefully we’ll be organising a “cycle bus” when COVID allows, which is safer than sending your children to cycle the roads of Navan
If we’re serious about tackling greenhouse gas emissions, we need to tackle emissions from private cars. Most short journeys are by car, so we need to start shifting these journeys to walking, cycling or public transport.
Think about it. Next time you’re reaching for the car keys, consider taking the bike.