‘A bike truly is a freedom machine’ – Cllr Louise Heavin on her work to make Athlone a cycle-friendly town

Green Party Councillor for Athlone, Louise Heavin, writes about her work with the council to improve the experience of cyclists in her home town of Athlone.

On a slightly wet, somewhat cloudy morning in February, I decided to revive my once treasured cycle to work. It’s an interesting journey from a narrow country lane into the sometimes-narrower historic streets of Athlone's left bank.

Memories of my first cycle commute in Birmingham came flooding back. On that twenty-five-minute ride I went from suburbia to the Jewellery Quarter in the UK’s 'second city'. It was largely off-road and segregated.

My new commute, I’m pleased to say, is also largely off-road. We have a beautiful greenway we call ‘the old rail trail’. Last year the route was extended from the east side of the town almost to the west.... we are watching the construction of our new walking and cycling bridge with great anticipation.

I’ve been campaigning for Athlone to become a cycle friendly town since my first days as a member with the Party. Towns like Athlone are the perfect size to get a lot of people out cycling. On two wheels it’s less than fifteen minutes from the furthest edge of the town into the centre - a pretty good commute time in my book.

My, slightly longer, cycle this past season has inspired me to keep up the campaign in the council chamber. At the April meeting of the District, I tabled the following motion: “In light of the current fuel and cost of living crisis, Athlone Moate Municipal District resolves to progress projects for safer walking and cycling routes into Athlone from rural satellite settlements...” I also included a list of particular settlements and the roads that could be served.

This passed with members adding even more suggested routes. In May, I further progressed the cause by asking, “That the Municipal District of Athlone Moate install permanent bike pumps at accessible locations on the greenway in Athlone, Moate and Kilbeggan.”

This also received full support from the Councillors. To my surprise, and delight, the Council Executive have already started to look into procurement and hope to install a full maintenance depot with stands and shelters.

The interest in cycling in the town is growing and the council are working to improve the cyclists’ experience all the time. Athlone’s first bike sharing scheme was launched in April. There was a huge uptake in the town. The council are now keenly pursuing more locations for installation. Although we can all moan about the slow pace of progress, it’s clear that it’s working and I’m appreciating the ability to get around.

The bike truly is the freedom machine. When you are used to driving and paying for your vehicle, fuel and insurance you forget this. For most in rural Ireland, the car has become a standard necessity to budget for. This shouldn’t be the case. I am lucky that I have a largely off-road journey to the office, many are not.

For now, I will enjoy my nice commutes to town through the summer months which hopefully will inspire a few more suggestions for the Chamber.


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