World Car Free Day is a global initiative that encourages us to rethink our car dependency and seek greener, healthier alternatives.
To mark the occasion, we've had a chat with Andrew McClean, Northern Ireland Engagement Officer for Cycling UK, who has shared some fascinating expert insights into how we get more people cycling and move away from car dependency.
A big thanks to Andrew for taking part and sharing his knowledge!
Have you heard of World Car Free Day, and what does it mean to you?
World Car Free Day is a great way to draw attention to the detrimental effect car dependency can have on our towns and cities.
It's an opportunity to focus on alternative options which many of us should be able to use for most of our journeys. It's also a chance to help shift the common view of cycling being a purely exercise or leisure pursuit to a genuine way of getting places.
What's your perspective on the current state of cycling and active travel here in Northern Ireland, given your experience with Cycling UK?
It is well known within Cycling UK that Northern Ireland is the ‘poor sibling’ of the UK and Ireland when it comes to active travel, we spend significantly less per head on infrastructure and behaviour change and have a very entrenched car dependent culture for a number of reasons.
While it is difficult to identify positive steps that have been taken, we are starting to see a change in rhetoric and resource from the decision makers - the new Roads Eastern Transport Plan is starting to say the right things about creating the conditions to encourage more people to walk, wheel, cycle and use public transport, and crucially for the first time it is also talking about measures which would discourage private car use when there are other options.
Despite its numerous benefits for the environment, personal health, and the livability of our towns and cities, uptake in cycling across the UK remains lower than many of us would hope for. What are the primary obstacles and challenges you have found in fostering the widespread adoption of cycling?
It’s always good to look at places where car dependent cultures have seen a turnaround, with Paris and London being more obvious recent examples. It’s clear from those cities that public and media resistance to the changes required is a real challenge.
Therefore bold leadership is key, political changes need to be made in order for the culture to shift and there is often a backlash, but we have seen countless examples across the world where opinion and culture have changed around 6 months to a year after measures such as pedestrianisation have been introduced and the benefits are experienced by the people who live there.
Building on this, what strategies have you found effective in addressing these challenges, and getting more people cycling?
While we haven’t had much success yet in Northern Ireland we can see from other places that dense, urban environments are where we need to focus when it comes to shifting people out of their cars.
One of the core issues we can address is the need for car ownership that many people feel. It may sound counterintuitive, but access to car clubs are actually a great way to encourage walking and cycling.
If people don’t feel the need to buy, tax and insure their own personal vehicle for the year because they have easy access to one when they need it, they are more likely to change their shorter journeys to active travel.
We need to look at why people choose to drive journeys that could easily be walked and cycled and consider how we steer them towards more sustainable forms of transport.
Some of this will be carrot e.g. cycle lanes, cycle parking, workplace incentives, but much of it needs to be stick e.g. workplace parking levies, reduced speed limits, wider enforcement of traffic laws.
If you could enact one single change across the UK to get more people on bikes, what would it be?
I would tackle the car culture within our residential spaces, this is where children like myself learned to cycle and realised the independence it gave, but parents no longer feel it is safe to give their children the independence to walk or cycle to school or a friends house which further entrenches car dependency.
My change would be to introduce Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and Low Traffic Streets anywhere we can, reducing rat running, lowering speeds and giving people more of a connection with the street outside their window. This has so many benefits for social cohesion, transport independence and local business.
It is also an opportunity for residents to have conversations to help shape the shared space they live in together. The bonus is that this is a relatively low cost measure as you are simply keeping traffic to main roads as was intended and the infrastructure required is just a few bollards or, better still, some trees or planters.
Are there any upcoming cycling innovations or technologies that you believe will significantly impact the future of sustainable mobility?
Cycling technology has shifted hugely with the development of reliable electric cycles, it has opened up cycling to masses of people and journeys which otherwise would be driven.
We all know those journeys, it would take 25 minutes to walk which feels a little long, but cycling is less than 10 minutes. Electric bikes have taken away the issue of arriving covered in sweat, dealing with a headwind or a hill.
Even more than all this, electric cycles have paved the way for mass adoption of cargo bikes, used to transport everything from children, adults and even household appliances.
For World Car Free Day, what practical steps and initiatives can we take today to reduce our dependence on cars?
The main step we can all take is to organise and build solidarity with other people in our local area. Individuals cycling places and showing it can be done is an amazing example for others to see and emulate, but campaigning together for change is when our voice is really heard.
Cycling UK have managed to start up and support a couple of campaign groups in Northern Ireland and they are already making a difference keeping cycling on the political and media agenda.
We need to start articulating the positive impact more people cycling will have on our towns and cities and we need examples showing people what it can look and feel like.
A huge thanks to Andrew again for these fascinating answers!
To celebrate World Car Free Day, we're also running a 15% Flash Sale on a range of our lights and accessories. Running this weekend only - shop here!