This summer thousands of Irish will have crossed the channel to France for their annual holidays, to revel in the sun, relax by a pool, and, for those who want a little more activity, perhaps take a bicycle ride.
If they did, they would have been delighted with the extent of cycle paths in many regions, the respect given by cars to them, and by them to pedestrians, who in general share the same space. Whether dedicated cycle tracks, greenways, or roads with little traffic, France has created a national network of cycle routes over the last 15 years, mostly undertaken by their local authorities, and many flat - we’re not talking Tour de France here - although they are available for the serious cyclist.
Interestingly the French Ministry of Sustainable Development undertook a major study of cycling in France. It was not just geared at tourism, which was estimated to generate €2 billion and provide jobs for 16,000 people, but for the health of the nation and its people. It believed that as high potential sector, cycling could generate €4.5 billion in economic benefits, while generating 35,000 jobs - thus it would be “economic, friendly and modern, good for the planet, but also for health”.
Yes, France does have few advantages - notably its weather - but here in Ireland Mayo set the standard with the Great Western Greenway from Westport to Achill with its consequential impact for the small towns and villages that dot the 43km route.
Here in Galway the long-awaited greenway that will follow the old Clifden railway line has hit a few snags with landowners who own parts of the disused line. Although planning permission has been granted and certain works have been undertaken around Clifden where there are no issues, the project will remain in limbo until agreement can be reached with all landowners.
The sticking point is that landowners are not prepared to allow “permissive access” and receive nothing in return - either by selling the land or receiving a yearly payment for its use. And local Oughterard councillor Thomas Welby believes until something is put in place for the landowners, crucial sections - most notably Oughterard to Clifden [where N59 improvement plans have also been abandoned] - will never be finished. The land is the asset, and Cllr Welby makes the point that as it is owned by the farmers, they deserve something.
Of course greenways are not the only way to improve facilities for cyclists - grass verges on roads could be sealed - and even our own Prom is well wide enough to accommodate cyclists, pedestrians, pushchairs and skateboarders. But with projected figures of some 1,000 people a week using the greenway, it is time to get it sorted- for the benefit of all.