Many thanks for the invitation to address you this evening. Congratulations on organising another year of the Cork Cycling Festival. The small organising committee are a group of committed individuals who I know have the promotion of Cork at its heart. Cork is a city of festivals – we have over 30 of them and over 110 days. It seems the last few weeks Cork has seen several high profile festivals where there has been much focus on Ireland’s southern capital.
A breakdown on any of these festivals show that many of their organising committee are also small but have continued to put Cork on the cultural map. All too often the City does not reflect on the committees as almost family like structures, whose knowledge build-up is organic and is based on foundations of years of experience, and a real belief that the festival is positively important to the city’s DNA.
The Cork Cycling Festival draws on these latter points – it is a family, it has years of experience, it’s ongoing knowledge build up is organic, and speaking with any of the organisers, they clearly have an infectious positive outlook. And what may look like a festival, which ticks away annually, it is the origins of the species when it comes to promoting cycling and all its positive narratives within our city and the methodologies gleamed from previous festivals should not be forgotten about. In particular I love the idea that the festival works and splices with other aspects of Cork’s DNA – its landscapes, its histories, the passing down of heritage, its food, education, lifelong learning elements, its communities. Not every festival within this fair city does that or can boast that the whole city is its playground.
This positive and spliced narrative is one which supporters of cycling in the city need to champion. Whilst knocking on almost 8,000 doors recently, the narrative on cycling is one which is very split in a whole series of different perspectives – many of them more or less statement-like. I recorded in my notebook some citizen perspectives or quotes which I wish to briefly share….
“Cycling is my mode of commute to work sets me up for a positive day”.
“My friend was knocked down by a speeding cyclist on the old railway line, who didn’t stop”.
“I enjoy watching my kids learning to cycle – it is a great skill to have”.
“Cyclists should be taxed if they wish to use the road”.
“I feel healthy. It’s a great feeling to cycle along and view Cork and its beauty”.
“Many cyclists abuse the rules of the road”.
“The Coke bike scheme had its millionth customer last year. There is an interest in cycling”.
“Very few people cycle in this city”.
“We need to improve the cycling networks and infrastructure to make it easier for anyone interested in cycling to engage with it”.
“Gardai should be out in force stopping cyclists cycling on footpaths”.
“Cycling is a way of life we have forgotten”.
I have no doubt that many of you in this room from the amateur to the passionate cyclist agree with some of these and disagree with some of them. For me coming away from the doors, I thought about what do all of these statements and what do they mean about the future of cycling. What is clear is that there are passionate stances about the future of cycling in the city but it always seems like when it comes to cycling the city walks on eggshells. The cycling narrative in our city seems more like a battleground, with an evolution needed on all sides of the debate more so than a revolution.
There is a really great need to find some kind of common ground about the positives of cycling but also deal with the negative aspects. For me in an ideal world this community festival is one such targeted approach to resolving issues arising out there. However, we need more of such positive community approaches to cycling. In the Council chamber I have asked the Council appoint a dedicated cycling officer, whose post would be to draw the various positive strands of thought together on cycling in this enlarged city. That for me remains my plan of attack in the short term.
I wish to thank all the sponsors attached to the Cork Cycling Festival.