A large-scale ongoing study of the activity habits of people living in Kilkenny has found very low levels of walking and cycling, particularly among the adult populace.
The research, carried out by the Department of Health, Sport and Exercise Science at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), is part of the Smarter Travel plan currently being undertaken in conjunction with the local authority. In a survey of 800 of Kilkenny’s adults, more than half had not cycled or walked for 10 minutes that week.
The figures were revealed at a recent meeting of Kilkenny Borough Council, where WIT’s Barry Lambe and Niamh Murphy gave a presentation to the members. Mr Lambe documented the results of a survey of 800 adults, 800 primary school students, and 800 secondary school students.
The model has been replicated in both Dungarvan and Clonmel. Kilkenny is ahead of Clonmel, but some way behind Dungarvan.
“What did we learn? We have very low levels of walking and cycling in Kilkenny,” said Mr Lambe.
In the primary schools, the WIT team found that many students would like to walk or cycle to school, but that their parents’ concerns prevent them from doing so.
“We asked the students, and there was only one school where car travel wasn’t the dominant form of transport. That was St John of God national school,” Mr Lambe told the members.
“The kids actually said that, if given the opportunity, they would rather walk or cycle. Children see the advantages, but parents see the disadvantages.”
In the secondary school group, students were asked how many had walked or cycled in the last seven days. They found that 15% of the students said they hadn’t even walked for 10 minutes.
They discovered that the reasons for not cycling were different than in other groups. Many girls cited concerns over being slagged by boys, or how it might affect hair and make-up.
A large part of the Smarter Travel plan consists of ‘behavioural change’ – an active intervention in schools. The programme commenced in 2011 and has focused on an intensive behavioural change programme carried in Loreto Secondary School.
“We went into Loreto to see could we put in an intensive intervention,” said Mr Lambe.
They set up cycle training workshops and so on, and asked the students what worked for them and what didn’t. The WIT team conclude that the transition from primary school to secondary school needs to be targeted.
The group’s research suggests that the community does want the local authorities to invest in improving things, however. For example, almost 90% agreed that the council should be investing money in promoting cycling.
“Safety is an important issue,” Mr Lambe told the meeting.
“The infrastructure and feeling of being safe is key here. We need to make cycling more convenient. It needs to be cheap, and with more places to park bikes.”
Mayor Sean O’ hArgain said that from personal experience, he knew of the difficulties of getting around the city by bicycle.
“There are urgent infrastructural gaps that need to be addressed,” he said.
“We are hugely thankful to WIT for their work.”
The local authority, in its 2012 active travel town submission, envisage spending millions on improving the city’s infrastructure in the coming years. Proposed projects include extending existing cycleways on the Callan and Freshford Roads, as well as new boardwalks at Greensbridge and Ossory Bridge.