Electric Estonia

Estonia is in the news, with what is claimed to be the world’s first nationwide car charging network. The chargers are “fast chargers”, designed to charge the battery in 30 minutes rather than a more typical 8 hours (c.f. Britain’s car charging network – which looks pretty nationwide for England anyway to me). To be fair, 55 of Britain’s points are also rapid.

Students on Energy and Sustainability will notice a ironic connection here: in TMA02 not only did battery electric vehicle technology come up but so did Estonia in another respect, it is a major producer and consumer of shale oil. So the power to run these electric cars comes from one of the dirtiest fuel sources we have. Still, it illustrates the fact that electric vehicles are an enabling technology: make the electricity source cleaner and the cars automatically become cleaner, no waiting years until they are replaced.

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Celebrating cycling in West Cork

I was thrilled to hear about the forthcoming Clonakilty Bicycle Festival, even though I unfortunately will be unable to go myself – I may in solidarity cycle across Luxembourg on the Saturday. Luxembourg is an equally beautiful spot for cycling, but that – and its excellent infrastructure – is for another blog.

I have mentioned in previous posts that I feel that the commitment of government and indeed opposition parties to cycling tourism has to date produced more speeches and reports than it has practical benefits such as cycles lanes or green routes, and initiatives such as this are welcome in that not only will they be great fun – you can bet there’ll be plenty of good music and some fierce craíc in the evenings – but they also help bring home to people the enjoyment of the bike: the right pace to see plenty while not missing any of it, finding a quiet field to eat your sandwiches (you can tell I am getting old when I go into a quiet field for sandwiches …) and the joys of reaching the top of a long, steep, hill – and be warned, those rolling hills of West Cork are quite deceptive – and speeding down the other side, only to have to start all over again. Next year, I’ll be there!

If West Cork is such a fantastic place for cycling, why don’t we see more people doing it, particularly locals in the town cycling to work or out for the day? Of course, there are many different factors that discourage it, and at Sustainable Clonakilty’s Energy Festival in 2010, where we had a bike ride on the Sunday out to Inchydoney, we issued a short questionnaire to a few of the riders to see what they felt about cycling in the area and especially what might prevent them from doing more.

IMG_5872

The cyclists on their way back from Inchydoney – note the 60 km/h speed limit on a narrow, winding road!

The results, while they only provide a very limited view, were nevertheless interesting and revealed some important concerns of people who, while they clearly enjoy cycling, on the whole don’t – or didn’t at the time – use their bikes that much.

The survey was broken into four parts: a bit of general information, various questions on why and in what way people cycle (or could be persuaded to), bike usage and safety, along with some general comments at the end. I have prepared an online survey to repeat this exercise and would really appreciate it if anyone involved in the festival could take five minutes to fill it out (if you are not going to the festival or even have nothing to do with the town do think about filling it out anyway, it will give help give a picture of the situation elsewhere). When the results are in I will put the results up along with a brief analysis.

Summary of results:

A.      About you

10 people responded – the first ten to arrive in the car park, so not really a random sample, and that was the number of printed forms available. There were 6 male and 4 female respondees, of whom altogether 4 were under 18, 1 between 18 and 30, 3 between 31 and 45 and 2 between 46 and 65. 6 live in Clonakilty town, the remaining 4 in the rural area about 10 km from town. Asked to rate their cycling skill level between 1 (novice) and 5 (expert) four chose a level of 2 and three each levels of 3 and 4.

B.      Opinions on cycling.

This section consisted of three questions asking participants to rank certain qualities, but unfortunately I think that it wasn’t entirely clear that 1 was the most important and 7 the least, so some care is needed in interpretation.

On reasons for cycling, 6 ranked keeping fit as most important and three had it ranked at 2, while the remaining one ranked it at 6 (since this respondent ranked nothing higher than 6 I think my wording may have confused them). Fun and recreation was a close runner up (3 ones and 4 twos), followed by reducing emissions then saving money and finally more convenient. No-one entered an “other” option.

How people choose their cycling route was varied, but “least traffic” was the clear front-runner. Quickest and feels safest were followed by “best road conditions” with shortest distance, maybe surprisingly, coming in last.

Finally for this section we asked “what cycling infrastructure would benefit you the most?”, on-road bike lanes and off-road bike paths proving equally popular while secure locking facilities and a locker room at work were not considered particularly important.

C.      Using bikes.

Three out of the 10 respondents cycle for commuting at least weekly, 2 at least once a month and 5 never. Two use their bikes functionally (that is for shopping, business, going out, etc) at least weekly, 3 at least once a month and again 5 never. Since it was a cycle for fun it was no surprise that no-one ticked never by how often do you cycle for fun?, with 7 doing so at least once a week and three at least once a month.

Asked what discourages them from cycling, too many cars and poor roads were seen as the most important, with a subgroup mentioning safety of the neighbourhood with other concerns a long way behind – absolutely no-one supported the idea that the area wasn’t scenic enough (a trick question, I admit). All ten said they would cycle more if there were better cycling infrastructure in place.

D.      Safety.

Encouragingly, eight of the ten respondents always wear helmets, with the remaining two coming in at seldom and about half the time. (I can’t overstate how important it is to wear the helmet, and teach your kids to wear it all the time, however quiet the road and even on cycle paths: the concrete on a cycle path is still just as hard as the road). The story with high visibility jackets is less good, with only 4 always wearing them and two never.

The biggest external hazards were seen as not being seen by cars at night, and cars passing too close, but other activities by the occupants of cars – such as opening doors or turning in front of the cyclist as well as weather and poor road conditions also got high scores. One person wrote in “dogs”, and this has been mentioned to me many times by many cyclists around the country: if you are a dog owner please remember, your dog might not hurt a flea intentionally but if they run out barking at cyclists or walkers they scare them, and they may end up scaring them into a collision with a car one day.

E.       Open comments.

Since we were asking people to fill this out in the car park it wasn’t surprising that there were few additional comments, a heartfelt plea “please please please get cycle paths in town” is worth mentioning, and two respondents requested more organised cycles: hopefully the Festival will be useful and fun for them, and they could also check out the Clonakilty Cycling Group’s Facebook page. While we are on the subject, you could also “like” the Bike Fest’s own Facebook page.

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Jobs initiative

It’s hard to get too excited about the new government jobs initiative, but it may be worth making a couple of transport related points. Having looked at the parties’ proposals for transport pre-election I was not expecting anything spectacular and while some of what there is seems worthy enough there is little in the way of joined-up thinking going on.

I am going to take a brief look at three areas addressed in the announcement, questioning some of the assumptions behind them and asking a few questions. These three areas are tourism, the air travel tax and local sustainable transport initiatives.

Tourism.

I wake every morning realising how privileged I am to be able to live and raise my family in such beautiful surroundings, then I drop in somewhere for a cup of coffee and have to phone the bank for a new mortgage to pay for it. I exaggerate, though not by much – yes, things have got better but still, compared to Germany, Portugal or indeed most other eurozone countries we pay a lot for basic services. Whether the reduction in VAT will go very far to convincing visitors they are getting value for money remains to be seen, and anyway this is not in the scope of this blog.

Sunset over the causeway: Clonakilty, Ireland

The jobs initiative document sings the praises of tourism and its potential to attract overseas visitors, thereby promoting jobs and improving local economy, but is at times a bit facile in its approach. For example, let’s take this innocent sentence:

Culture and heritage, golf, angling, walking, cycling and equestrian pursuits are all easily accessible.

Walking and cycling are “easily accessible“? Well, yes, they are if you have a car and use your car to get to the designated reservations where such weird activities are tolerated. Our neighbours in Britain have a vast network of public rights of way – one source tells me that England and Wales alone have 224,000 km of public rights of way – and a growing national cycle network. You can walk the South-West coast or the length of the Pennines, or if your needs are more modest you can almost always find a path to the pub in the next village. I recently cycled across Holland entirely on segregated or cycle-priority routes, in Germany rural areas are criss-crossed with roads that are “Anlieger Frei” for motorised traffic meaning that only residents and non-motorised traffic can use them and most other jurisdictions have similar provisions.

Here we have none of this: despite an enormous and intricate network of boreens throughout the country anyone walking or cycling these will be familiar with their perils: the lorries supplying the local co-op that use them as short cuts, forcing other road users into the hedge or the ditch, the boy racers who fly down them at 100 km/h and the dogs that charge out of farm gates barking madly – I know more than one person who will not walk down country roads for just this reason. Even if they were safe to use there is little signage and the mapping is poor. It needs more than a cheaper breakfast to change this: we live in a beautiful and relatively unspoilt country but its charms are not so much greater than those of Cornwall, the Black Forest or the Pyrenees that we can afford to offer so much less in terms of the basic infrastructure.

Air travel tax.

The abolition of the air travel tax, currently €3 per passenger, has received a lot of attention, possibly because our media have grown accustomed to allowing Michael O’Leary to define the terms of the debate. Both Ryanair and Aer Lingus appear to have a habit of trumpeting new routes and new bases from the rooftops, while quietly closing the ones that don’t perform – though if there is a chance of blaming someone else they may issue a press release. How many routes have closed in the last two years, now to be magically reopened, remains to be seen, as does the actual impact on fares.

In reality, air travel is very lightly taxed – zero-rated for VAT and a much reduced excise duty apply to the fuel as far as I can see (I’m open to correction) – and could be seen as competing unfairly with more sustainable types of tourism. In particular, it seems unfortunate that no consideration has been given to increasing the numbers using ferry services rather than air services: even without direct incentives a variety of schemes to improve modal integration (such as ensuring public transport services to ferry terminals), to allow easier through booking (for schemes such as Sail-Rail) and to provide the traveller with the information needed to plan and book their trip more easily could be considered. In fact, the single simplest change that would benefit travellers from Cork using the Dublin – Holyhead route would be for the ferry bus to pick up and drop off at Heuston rather than (or as well as) D’Olier Street: that would save an hour off the journey!

Local sustainable transport initiatives.

Additional Investment in Smarter Travel Projects
This additional investment will go towards local, labour intensive projects such as construction of cycle paths, pedestrian routes, traffic management systems and low-cost safety measures.

It is not very clear where the €15M for local projects will go – I would hope there may be some kind of tendering process and that many local organisations will be able to tender for a part of the funding. It is to be hoped that this will go into simple, practical and low-cost measures – such as the Green Lanes idea pioneered in Jersey – rather than expensive, prestige, projects that, while they may be very worthy, will result only in small, isolated, improvements.

Conclusion.

From the point of view of transport, and sustainable transport in particular, the jobs initiative doesn’t bring a great deal. The focus of course is on the jobs, not on the projects themselves, but even so there seems to be a missed opportunity to promote sustainability and a missed opportunity to integrate different strands of policy thinking. Tourism is vital, but isn’t it at least worth asking where the tourists’ money goes and who will benefit? Take a group arriving at Cork Airport with Ryanair or Aer Lingus, hiring a car from a big multinational, staying in a chain hotel and eating in their restaurant for four nights of the week: they pay a couple of thousand euro almost all of which leaves the area, if not leaving Ireland entirely – the net jobs benefit may be to the minimum-waged serving and cleaning staff in the hotel. Now consider a group of cycle tourists who arrive on the ferry, stay in local B&Bs and eat and drink in the local pubs and restaurants. Their spend is probably the same, but now its all local. These are extremes – of course lots of air passengers will stay and eat locally, and some B&B owners may spend all their income on wintering in Spain – but the point is that a tourist’s euro is worth different amounts to the local economy depending on how long it stays.

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West Cork Railways: the railway is (50 years) dead, what next?

It’s 50 years since the last train left Clonakilty for Cork, and West Cork was left without a railway line. A few weeks more, in fact, but the Model Railway Village‘s retrospective opened yesterday – March not being a time when there would be large numbers of visitors, I suppose.

That’s for another day – I haven’t seen it yet – but for now I’m going to indulge in a bit of idle and not so idle speculation: could there be some form of future for the West Cork Railway? And if so, what could it be?

Some people have not given up hope of reviving the railway itself, probably as a light rail service but possibly including some provision for freight. An independent researcher, Brian Guckian, published a proposal in 2005. It contains some interesting ideas on modal integration, integrated ticketing and community ownership that mirror some of the suggestions that I worked on with the Sustainable Clonakilty Transport Group in our submission to Bus Éireann. (I don’t propose even to start asking why integrated ticketing, ubiquitous throughout much of Europe for decades, should be so difficult for us in Ireland because that needs a book rather than a blog post!).

This idea was speculative even then, and of course the economic outlook has changed a lot and the likelihood of such a project going ahead in the near future seems remote – though the idea of community funding for infrastructure projects has arguably become more mainstream. There are however other ways in which rail lines can continue to provide a community service even without trains: as cycling and walking routes. In many places around Europe disused railway lines are used in exactly this way, and indeed there are a couple of sections of the old West Cork railway – certainly part of the line from Timoleague and Courtmacsherry and a small section on the main Inishannon – Bandon road – where this is already the case. But these are small scale, and not well integrated: cycle and walking routes that used a significant fraction of the old track bed could, at a relatively low cost, provide an easily cyclable backbone (because railway lines have a low gradient, so they are perfect for cyclists) for a regional network that could be used for day to day activities such as commuting or shopping as well as as a tourist network. As a side-benefit this would keep the track-bed well-maintained and in public ownership, meaning that there would not be development on the land that might hinder any future light rail project.

Note: Brian Guckian, the author of the proposal referenced above, has mentioned in an email that it can cost 12-25% more to re-open a line if a cycle or walking route is using the alignment, due to the need to often re-locate the cycle / walking route onto a new alignment parallel to the re-opened railway. Re-opening lines that have been converted to cycle and walking routes is therefore not as straightforward as is often claimed. So it appears my assumption was a bit facile.

photo of Biddulph Valley Way, Cheshire, England

Biddulph Valley Way, Cheshire, England - a walking and cycling route along an old railway alignment.

This is not a new idea, and the Clonakilty Traffic and Transportation study currently under review includes a suggestion for a cycle route, using part of the old railway alignment, from Clonakilty to the West Cork Technology Park. This would be a valuable start.

As a final note, I should just say that while I would love to see both of these ideas come to fruition – I see no reason why a cycle route should not be able to flourish alongside a railway line – it shouldn’t detract from simple, short term improvements both to public transport (see again the Sustainable Clonakilty submission to Bus Éireann) and to the walking and cycling infrastructure, where a great deal could be achieved through the use of local roads, prioritisation of non-motorised traffic, reduced speed limits and good signage. A subject to which I will return in a future post.

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Cycling against the wind

Thanks to Marian Cadogan for putting me on to this:

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/brakes-put-on-bid-to-exempt-cyclists-from-one-way-rules-153525.html#ixzz1LSge5BVG

It is impossible for me to comment on the specifics of the situation in Ennis: I don’t know the town, still less which roads and junctions are actually involved. But the report doesn’t give me any sense that Ennis Council feels that there is any important issue at stake at all: that it even worth looking at new and different solutions to promote walking and cycling. Reduced speed limits, parking on one side of the road only or cycle entry lanes are all possibilities that could be discussed. (A cycle entry lane is a situation where a cycle lane is provided at a junction but on the straight part of the road with no junction it is assumed that sensible cyclists and motorists can, with due care, avoid each other).

The UK organisation Sustrans has some interesting and useful ideas in this area. )

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On the buses in West Cork

This is a cross-post of a press release prepared for Sustainable Clonakilty.

The news that Ballingeary’s daily bus service to Macroom is to cease operation at the end of January is a serious blow to the village. Sure, most people drive but it is disproportionately the young and the elderly that don’t and for them this news spells a depressing loss of independence. The provision of public transport is only one part of the problem though: if the take-up is not there then we can’t expect Bus Éireann or any other public transport provider to continue to run a traditional service with empty buses.

Public transport brings many benefits to a community: independent travel for those who might not normally enjoy it, a choice for those who would like a couple of beers in the evening and less congestion for those that choose to use their cars anyway as well as reduced pollution, including reduced carbon emissions. But it needs to be convenient, easy to use, reliable and affordable if people are to be persuaded to use it.

The government’s Smarter Travel initiative recognises this and identifies integration with other modes of transport as well as provision of accurate and timely information as key to improving the uptake.

Sustainable Clonakilty’s transport group is committed to working with Bus Éireann and other potential service providers in West Cork to promote realistic and effective improvements to services by addressing these issues. We have recently submitted to Bus Éireann a proposal paper outlining various recommendations for improving, at little or no cost, the services provided in the region. We are pleased to report that the Chief Executive, Tim Hayes, has responded very positively and has proposed that the Transport Group meet both the Cork Area Manager and the Business Development Manager to discuss them in detail. Among the options we will discuss is the idea of “Bus on Demand” services currently being trialled in rural areas of England, the Netherlands and Germany. This type of service runs to a published timetable, stopping at published stops, but runs only if reserved by telephone or internet an hour or so before the published departure time. This could be an ideal solution for a small, rural community such as Ballingeary.

Providing effective public transport and persuading people of the benefits of using it will require imagination as well as determination. Sustainable Clonakilty’s Transport Group is committed to bringing these qualities to bear on the debate and welcomes suggestions, comments and new members.

For more information contact :

Sebastián Tyrrell
8 Clogheen Heights
Clonakilty , Co. Cork
Ph: +353 23 886 9214    Mo: +353 86 312 0974
or email us at sustainabletransportclon@gmail.com

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Promises, promises: the parties’ transport policies

Where the parties stand.

Neither sustainable transport nor sustainability in general seem to be burning issues in this election: understandable in a recession where people are more concerned about tomorrow than the next decade, let alone the next 50 years, but a missed opportunity for all that.

Revitalising the economy needs a strong strategy for infrastructural development as an integral part of the recovery plan: we should not wait for congestion and pollution to force a reaction: always doing too little, too late.

The party manifestoes generally pay lip service to this idea and there are few major ideological differences but they differ widely on the specifics, or at least on whether to provide any specifics.

Fine Gael

Fine Gael, who we are all presuming at this stage will lead the next government, are short even on fine words and as far as specific commitments go bus privatisation is pretty much the only one. Personally I am less interested in who owns the infrastructure than that that infrastructure be effective and encourage – through comfort, convenience and integration with other transport modes – a greater uptake of public transport in general. In my view we should consider specific privatisation proposals in the light of these criteria – anything that endangered the painfully slow progress towards integrated ticketing (something taken for granted in most of Europe) would certainly be a retrograde step, for example.

Other Fine Gael policies, tucked away in the final chapter of its manifesto, are largely aspirational. The proposal to develop Park and Ride facilities as transport hubs is welcome, as is a plan to make local transport plans an integral part of local development plans – though the value of such a move depends on those local development plans proposing specific, costed measures that have been agreed with local stakeholders rather than vague and generic statements of good intentions.

The Labour Party

Fine Gael’s likely partner in government, recent spats notwithstanding, is Labour and they are, while short on detail, at least making many of the right noises. Their manifesto commitments include practical matters such as integration, with a specific commitment on integrated ticketing, quality bus corridors and a goal of reducing carbon emissions from transport. There are also specific proposals, in line with the Smarter Travel strategy, for improving the provision, information and safety of cycling and pedestrian routes. They show a commendable commitment to concentrating on measures that will work rather than prestige projects that will spend many years in planning enquiries before ever seeing the light of day, if indeed they ever do. Of course there is also a need for thinking further ahead, and this may be where Labour’s weakness lies.

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil clearly don’t expect to be in government, and their manifesto is brief and to the point. They’ve invested, they say, substantially, in public transport and would like to complete the Metro North project, the DART interconnector and make public transport more accessible. And, er, that’s it! Up to the standard of the Morning Ireland contribution, anyway.

The Green Party

The Greens are also unlikely to appear in government for a while, and could indeed be forgiven for never wanting to touch the poisoned chalice of power ever again: many of their erstwhile supporters would have clearly preferred them to carp from the sidelines rather than trying to get things done. I have a certain sympathy for them, I confess: why go into politics if you are not going to try to change anything? However they haven’t lived up to my (possibly unrealistic) expectations: nearly four years on the Climate Change Bill fell with the government and claims that Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced could sound a little hollow given that the recession and imports of manufactured goods from China can be given credit for much of that. Still, we have seen a much greater awareness of the need for sustainable development in the last few years and the Green Party has done much to articulate that, even there are some suspicions that, by the time they reached government, they were pushing at an open door as the EU took the lead and member states ran to catch up.

The Green manifesto is, as you’d expect, much more detailed on transport policy than its rivals: extending in many ways on what the Labour Party offers. Particularly noteworthy are an explicit commitment to prioritise public transport over roads in investments by a ratio of 3:1 (which, for the begrudgers, only goes a small way to balancing a persistent bias in favour of the private car over the last 40 years), a proposal to look at Community Rail Partnerships for rural and lightly used lines and far more positive and specific proposals with regard to safe cycling and walking than any other party.

Sinn Féin.

Another group unlikely to be in a position to make decisions, Sinn Féin are still likely to have more TDs in the new Dáil than the old. SF think transport is a good thing and would invest heavily in it, though details are vague to the point of being entirely absent from the manifesto.

Summary.

So, serious, interesting and occasionally innovative policies from the Greens, rather less of the same from Labour and some worthy aspiration from Fine Gael while, transport-wise, Fianna Fáil and SF aren’t at the races.

More and more though I believe that while central government can set a strategy and provide enabling legislation it is local initiatives that are needed to develop local communities. Here in West Cork I am involved with Sustainable Clonakilty, and our transport group is actively looking at a variety of ways in which we can improve public transport provision, promote walking and cycling both as recreation and as a useful mode of travel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport. Our submission to Bus Éireann on the development of bus services in West Cork gives a flavour of the type of local, practical and achievable proposals that we want to promote and that we would look to extend to other aspects of transport policy.

Final note

I would be very pleased to hear of other local initiatives along these lines, whether independent or associated with Transition Towns projects and extending into other countries and not simply in Ireland. Please put a link in the comments section or let me know by email: sebastian.tyrrell@ieee.org.

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