Good morning ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be with you here today as you come to the closing stages of what I am sure has been a long and productive week. I hope you have also taken some time to enjoy a little Irish hospitality. I want to thank you all for the effort and energy you have put into this important event. I would particularly like to thank all participants who have travelled from afar. I am sure that the wide spectrum of representation from around the world helped you achieve some significant results. I am particularly grateful to the EU Commissioner for Transport, Jacques Barrot for taking the time to come to Dublin for this event.
As your Conference comes to a close, I have no doubt that the conclusions will show that you have worked towards facilitating the development of cycling as a sustainable mode of transport both in Ireland and elsewhere.
I would like to congratulate the Dublin Transportation Office, Dublin City Council and other State agencies and cycling groups on the success of this Conference. I was struck by the sheer scale of the conference and the variety of methods used in your work - plenary sessions, poster sessions, debates, panel discussions, technical sessions and study trips. Looking through your programme, I noticed that nearly 80 people acted as chairs for the wide range of parallel sessions. Around 180 papers were presented to the various conference sessions. All of you, who gave of your valuable time, deserve our praise and our appreciation.
You will have noted during our discussions that we in Ireland are currently reflecting on the future direction of cycling policy. We have invested substantially in cycling infrastructure over recent years but cycling as a means of transport has continued to decline. Pilot projects, carried out by the Dublin Transportation Office on safe routes to school, showed that infrastructure by itself was not the answer.
Promoting cycling and walking to school needed a much more holistic approach requiring buy-in by parents, teachers and students.
I have no doubt that your deliberations this week have lessons for us all. Why have some countries succeeded in achieving a modal share of up to 30% for the bicycle? The figure in Dublin is about 4%, but it is as low as 1% in other cities in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. What is so special about the Netherlands and Denmark? Is there a fundamental cultural difference that makes their experience unique and non-transferable? I doubt it.
We need to understand why people do not cycle - or indeed walk - when they have short journeys to make. We need to understand their negative perceptions of cycling and address them in an effective way. Why will somebody drive to the gym and then work out on a cycle machine or a treadmill, but not walk or cycle to the local shops, church, school or indeed the gym itself?
We need to mainstream cycling policy as an integral part of overall transport policy. Cycling and walking need to be at the centre of policy, not at its periphery. Our road designers and traffic engineers need to have cycling at the forefront of their transport solutions. Public transport planners need to see the bicycle as a complementary mode and to integrate it better with the public transport trip. Urban designers, especially in the heart of our cities, need to design new urban spaces to favour cycling and walking. Land use planners and developers need to plan developments in a way that minimises the need to travel, thereby favouring the use of non-motorised transport.
Interaction between different areas of Government policy remains crucial. The interaction between transport policy and land use policy is already well understood. Other policy interactions are less well understood. The conference heard some interesting observations on the interaction with health policy. 600,000 deaths in Europe each year are attributable to some extent to a lack of physical activity. Twenty per cent of children in Europe are overweight and this figure is increasing by forty thousand each year. Health policy needs to see cycling as a mainstream and healthy means of transport as well as a form of recreation.
Transport policy needs to more fully appreciate the health benefits of cycling and particularly needs to target young people who are in danger of being a generation lost to the cause of cycling. The environmental benefits of cycling are self evident, but to date have not been easy to achieve.
Hopefully, when we have had a chance to sift through the papers presented and the discussions held over the past week, we will be able to find better ways of promoting cycling as a sustainable alternative to the private car.
A doubling of bicycle use in Dublin over the next few years would make a major contribution to reducing traffic congestion, but would still leave us way below the rates in the best cities. Is it achievable? How can we achieve it? These are the questions we have to answer in the period ahead.
Thank you for honouring Dublin with this conference. Thank you for coming this week and making your contribution in whatever form. Thank you for helping to energise the cycling debate in this city. I hope that you will return in future years and see that your labours have borne fruit.
In conclusion I want to congratulate the organisers of this conference for inviting me here today and would like to wish Cape town, South Africa, hosts of Velo-mondial 2006 every success for that event.
I am also very pleased to announce that Velo-city 2007 will be hosted in Munich, Germany. I hope they can build on the work achieved here over the last few days.