Galway’s rain and roads won’t stop this school cycle bus from operating

By Maeve Lee

A year and a half on, a Galway group that encourages and accompanies children cycling to school has set a trend across Ireland, showing that Irish weather is not the thing that stops kids from cycling, but rather the lack of safe routes.

 

Members of the Galway Cycling Campaign, along with teachers and parents, set out each morning to cycle with children from Knocknacarra National School and Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh. Their route begins at 8:15 am and ends at the Gaelscoil at 8:33 am, just in time for classes to begin.

 

Knocknacarra School
Outside Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh

The number of pupils taking part in the almost 20-minute cycle each morning was large from the start, with many keeping up the tradition once they gain more independence.

 

“Numbers were big from the get go, we were very surprised, we didn’t know how it was going to go…[they] actually dropped a little bit at the start of the year but that was because there’s a lot of kids who are older now and they actually feel confident enough to cycle on their own having cycled with us for a year,” said Neil O’Leary, a member of the Galway Cycling Campaign who takes part in the cycle each morning.

 

Many of the pupils who take part each morning are girls, which is not often reflected in such cycling groups.

 

“There’s actually a decent representation of girls in the cycle bus even though nationally-even locally, we know from census figures that girls are massively underrepresented in the cycling to school group, so you know this was another unintended consequence that maybe it has enabled more girls to cycle to school as well as more kids in general,” explained Mr O’Leary, whose wife is a teacher at the Gaelscoil.

 

The success of the Galway Cycle Club, which was set up by Alan Curran and inspired by cycle buses in the Netherlands, has encouraged other areas to introduce similar groups.

 

“This one started the ball-rolling and Limerick was then quick to follow. There’s a north Dublin cycle bus as well and there’s talk of one starting in Wexford and more locally, Alan was at a meeting last night out in Renmore at Gaelscoil Dara where there’s a group of parents who are keen to start one up,” said Mr O’Leary.

 

The popularity of the group, who won a Sustainable Travel award at the RSA’s Leading Lights Awards Ceremony in December, highlights the desire of many schoolchildren to cycle to school in spite of the often-rainy conditions in Galway.

Knocknacarra
The sun rising on Knocknacarra, the view opposite Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh

“The most important message is that there’s kids who will come out in the most appalling weather and are waiting for the cycling bus and are ready to go and the idea that weather is what stops people cycling in Galway is not the full picture at all,” explained Shane Foran, who is also a member of the Galway Cycling Campaign and a volunteer for the club.

 

The groups popularity highlights the demand for child-friendly cycling routes and the volunteers stress that it is merely to act as short-term solution.

 

“We enjoy the cycle bus and we love it, but we want it to end. It’s just a temporary thing, we want the kids to be able to come to school by themselves and cycle home by themselves..it’s not a solution-we’re showing what could be possible,” said Mr Foran.

 

“We get 15/20 kids every morning and that’s just on one route, this school has a huge catchment area and it’s a band aid solution to have ppl coming out for half an hour and doing this like there only so many people you can squeeze with those morning,” added Mr O’Leary.

 

“Ultimately the long-term solution is to have safe routes to school for these kids and that should happen all over the city, all over the county, all over the country.”

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