THE number of cycling tourists coming to Ireland has dropped by more than 50% in five years as visitors are put off by bad roads and aggressive drivers, the Sunday Tribunehas learned.
Official figures from Fáilte Ireland show that in the year 2000, 130,000 people came to Ireland to cycle around the country. By 2005, this figure had dropped to just 60,000.
This dramatic decrease in what is seen as a niche market for Irish tourism prompted Fáilte Ireland to employ a specialised planning consultancy firm to advise on how to improve cycle facilities around the country. Last week, Buchanan Cycling submitted a report that plans for 2,500 miles of signed cycling routes running from the Donegal coast through Galway, Cork and Dublin.
"Cycle tourism is a really important part of the industry, " said Damien Ó Tuama, principal cycle planning consultant with Buchanan Cycling. "It's a niche market. We can't offer low prices, or sun holidays. But this, we should be able to do."
"We used a MORI survey of cyclists to investigate why there was such a drop off in numbers.
The 1,000 cyclists interviewed said that the high numbers of HGVs on the roads, the lack of dedicated cycling networks and hideous driver behaviour all combined to make Ireland an undesirable location to come on a cycling holiday."
The Buchanan report focuses on using alternatives to main traffic thoroughfares around the country to create cycle-friendly routes.
"One example would be an old Galway railway line that runs all the way from NUIG out to Connemara.
It's a really cool, love ly cycle route, and it means cyclists won't have to negotiate the road out through Spiddal, which is a cyclist's nightmare, " said Ó Tuama.
"We also need to look at the cities. Reducing the speed of cars in the city would be a big step towards making it more cycle friendly. We would recommend a speed of 30kmh. We also need to get the HGVs out of the city centre;
75% of cyclist fatalities in Ireland involve a heavy goods vehicle. And we need to start making some radical decisions, like giving up one lane of tra ffic to make room fo r cyclists."
Some work is being done around Dublin to make the city more bicycle accessible. One major oversight by the city council was not including any cycle lanes when planning the rejuvenation of O 'Connell St.
But now, just as all the work on the street has finished, it appears the council has decided to rectify that problem. A report submitted to the council last month proposes to extend cycle facilities over the full length of O'Connell St, on both sides of the road. The report also recommends new cycle lanes on Parnell St and Gardiner St.