The Northern Ireland Transport Statistics bulletin for 2013/14 depicts what environmental campaigners are calling a ‘car-first’ transport policy. Not only does Northern Ireland have more cars on the roads than ever before, but cycling commuter numbers are so insignificant that they aren’t even given
Northern Ireland was promised ‘a cycling revolution’ earlier this year. It was hoped that hosting the opening stages of the Giro d’Italia in May might encourage more locals to start cycling, but recent figures indicate that the bike has an awful lot of ground to make up on the car.
The Northern Ireland Transport Statistics bulletin for 2013/14, which is produced by the Department of Regional Development, reveals that there are now 25 per cent more cars and vans on the roads than there were 10 years ago. While this is perhaps unsurprising, the rise compares unfavourably with other areas. Scotland has seen a 16 per cent rise in the same period, Wales 15 per cent and England just 11 per cent.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Declan Allison from Friends of the Earth commented:
"Northern Ireland remains locked into a car-first transport policy. If it is to be a sustainable, low-carbon society, we have to move out of our cars for public transport, walking and cycling instead.
"That won't happen until buses are affordable, reliable and frequent, and walking and cycling is safe. Much could be achieved if the balance of the transport budget was shifted from an emphasis on private cars to focusing on sustainable transport options."
The report also looks at people’s methods of travel to work. Although car, van and minibus use has dropped from 86.2 per cent in 2009, these vehicles still account for 81.2 per cent of all commutes. This compares to a figure of just 68.8 per cent for the UK as a whole.
The second most common means of commuting is by foot at 10.6 per cent, then bus or coach at 3.8 per cent and train at 1.3 per cent. While ‘bicycle’ is listed in the table, it warrants only an asterisk to indicate fewer than 8,000 cases and so no percentage is given.
Perhaps one reason for the relative lack of popularity of cycling is the accident rate on Northern Ireland’s roads. The report compared the number of injuries per 100,000 of population for each of the four UK regions. Northern Ireland sees 318, England 230, Wales 191 and Scotland 169. Furthermore, from 2012 to 2013 the number of reported road casualties in Northern Ireland rose by two per cent from 9,010 to 9,187.
While only a proportion of these incidents involve cyclists, separate research found that cyclist injuries had doubled in the last ten years. This encouraged the Department of the Environment to create a cycle safety advert which ran from late April until after the Giro.
Speaking at the time, Transport Minister, Danny Kennedy said:
“It is clear that cycling is growing in popularity in Northern Ireland and my aim is to create a safe and accessible cycling infrastructure for everyone in Northern Ireland.”