As a child, I realised that cycling gave me more independence than any other mode of transport. Before I could drive, it meant no waiting on a lift from parents, or on the side of the road for a bus. And once I could drive, cycling trumped that too, no maintenance costs (save for repairing punctures), no parking issues and no, or perhaps just less, peer pressure about makes and models. My Raleigh Grifter was my trusty, and latterly rusty, partner through school years and it was only retired when the likes of Sean Kelly introduced the allure of racing bicycles! However, now that I'm firmly in my 30s, I find that cycling has more to offer me than ever. Its now part of my personal and professional life, as Marshal McLuhan might say, a medium and message rolled into one.
On a professional level I use a hybrid to commute to work and to meetings throughout the City. I arrive more alert and in a shorter time, and save for tousled hair and the occasional trouser-leg-in-sock oversight, without any visible traces of having cycled. And this is one element I would like to stress, wearing business attire is not incompatible with cycling. In this case as in many in life, a little preparation goes a long way.
It would be impossible to mention suits and bicycles without mentioning Dublin Bikes. It's heartening to see so many of them whizzing around the city, and up and down the quays to the IFSC. From my interaction with businesses in the City about the green business agenda, I suspect the upcoming expansion of Dublin Bikes will be as keenly anticipated in the IFSC as anywhere in the City. Indeed, it fits with the current goal of creating a 'Green IFSC', i.e. not only a place to do green finance business, but also a green place to do that business.
It is not surprising that cycling-related businesses are booming given the government support available and the increasing costs of other modes of transport. However, cycling is increasingly being seen as an issue for the whole business sector. The Siemens European Green City Index rated Dublin last of 30 European cities for transport, noting that the length of cycle lanes was well below average. Indexes such as this one inform investment decisions and have competitiveness implications. It is not coincidental that The Green Way, a cleantech cluster initiative in the City, uses cycling imagery as part of its promotion materials. Also, again anecdotally, trend-setting companies such as Google are promoting cycling over driving for their employees. Of course, cycling isn't suitable for every occupation or situation, but within the City Centre, cycling has moved from a humble to a practical mode of transport; and although bicycles may never achieve the aspirational appeal of cars, those such as Dublin Bikes are becoming part of the character of the City and cause many of us to raise a smile.
The environmental benefits of cycling are well established and it is often said to be one of the most efficient common modes of transport (see here). In Dublin’s Sustainability Report 2011, the strategic goal for transportation is for 80% of trips into the City Centre to be by public transport, cycling and walking. This will require infrastructural support such as cycle lanes and cycle parking and it is symbolic that Lord Mayor Andrew Montague has had two cycle stands installed outside the Mansion House.
So far, I've lived and cycled in the US, Italy, Belgium, and the UK. And while each place had its own challenges, it makes me smile when people say Dublin isn't suitable for cycling - they should try the cobbled Milanese streets, or the giant avenues in Chicago. On balance I find the city safe for cycling and even the weather, including rain showers, isn't so off-putting. However I think there are still unresolved issues around the relationship between cyclists and other road users, and between cyclists and the rules of the road. Although they are crucial, I won't go into them in this short blog as the conversation might dominate any comments, and I'd rather hear how cycling fits into readers working lives and impacts on their business. It would also be great to hear and have the opportunity to discuss innovative ideas on how cycling and related industries can generate business and jobs, perhaps going beyond retail and delivery into manufacturing and design.