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30 Nov 2021

Just 100 Portlaoise adults cycle to work according to study

Just 100 Portlaoise adults cycle to work according to study

A cycling bus for Cycle Week in Portlaoise. Photo: Michael Scully

Portlaoise is coming from a "low base" in its efforts to become a cycling friendly town, figures have revealed.

Just over 100 adults cycle to work in the town, statistics show, while just 60 children and teenagers cycle to school.

If Portlaoise is to truly become the Low Carbon Town it was selected to become by Government, then a public bike rental scheme is a must, say the town's councillors.

The Laois capital town has been spending funding to introduce its first bus service - soon to launch - and add new cycle lanes and bike stands to get people out of their cars.

A two year funded survey has begun also to gauge the level of cycling and see what needs to be done, with the initial survey showing the town has a long way to go to truly be bicycle friendly. 

Cllr Thomasina Connell has suggested a public bike rental scheme, which operates in several cities around Ireland. Cllr Willie Aird agrees.

"I do think we should look into a bike rental scheme. I was up at the CBS and I couldn't get over that the bike shed was completely full. There was only one bike in the girls' side, maybe we should look at that. 

"A few people made a laugh of us putting in bike stands around the town but the rack is often full. Our whole behaviour is changing. We were at such a low base, the only way is up," he said.

The scheme is worth investing in, says MA student Aine O'Connor, who is conducting the two year cycling survey.

"Any scheme to get people cycling is worth investing in. People might not be able to afford a bike, This way they could pick one up and drop it off at the next stop. For people doing longer commutes, they could use it to get to the train station," she said.

Statistics on just how many Portlaoise people use bikes instead of cars was given by Ms O'Connor to the November meeting of Portlaoise Municipal Districts.

Her figures were based on the most recent data available, the 2016 Census, when just 102 adults in Portlaoise cycled to work,  and just 25 children, 35 teenagers and eight young adults cycled to school. Most of those cycling are male.

It found that 32% of working adults drive for less than 15 minutes to work, and 46% of children are also in the car to school for less than 15 minutes, meaning cycling is a possible alternative. 

The MA student will spend two years on her project Cultivating a Cycling Culture in Portlaoise. 

Asked by Cllr Connell if she believes it is the lack of infrastructure or lack of cycling culture that stops people cycling, Ms O'Connor said it is both.

"When infrastructure is not there people don't feel safe, they are worried about cars hitting them. There has been a massive cultural change in Ireland, but if parents don't feel comfortable its easier to drop their child to school and go on to work, so we have to make it easier for them," she said.

The Portlaoise councillors are going to take part in a cycling tour of Portlaoise with Ms O'Connor in November to view the obstacles themselves in the saddle. 

Director of Services Simon Walton said that the Census figures may be out of date for Portlaoise.

"There is no doubt we are coming from a low base, but it is encouraging to see the new cycle stands in Top Square occupied regularly. It might not be as bad as the figures show. This is a challenge but also a huge opportunity," he said.

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