Cyclists a positive cog in the climate wheel


CYCLE OF LIFE This image of Rice College and Sacred Heart School students using their bikes (and scooter) to get to GAA training is one of the photographs on display in ‘Freewheeling – to a better future’. Pic: Conor McKeown

Ciara Moynihan

A new initiative called 15 Minute Westport started in early 2021 with the aim of future proofing the town as a healthy, sustainable and vibrant place to live. It’s an intriguing proposition, beautiful in its simplicity and its practicality, and it’s a model that could be used in towns all over Mayo.
Established as an SEAI Sustainable Energy Community initiative, 15 Minute Westport is campaigning for the the town to adopt a similar planning strategy to the successful 15-Minute City concept made famous by the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.
The 15-Minute City strategy puts liveability at the heart of town planning, with an overarching aim that access to everyone’s daily needs – such as work, education, food and recreation – should be within a 15-minute walk or cycle of their home.
To help raise awareness about the cause and promote cycling, 15 Minute Westport is holding a photographic exhibition entitled ‘Freewheeling – to a better future’ in Westport Town Hall. Opening this Thursday, November 18, it will run until the end of January, funded through Mayo County Council and free to the public.

In their element
Portraits by local photographer Conor McKeown form the backbone of the exhibition, which is comprised of images of some of the many ordinary Westport folk who go about their everyday business on their bikes. The subjects include a range of ‘two-wheel enthusiasts’, from the very young to older people, with a backdrop of familiar Westport landmarks.
The organisers are hoping the show will encourage a lot more people to join them, whether that’s by filling their bikes’ panniers at the shop, cycling to school or going to work on their self-steamed or electric bikes.
“There is an everyday simplicity about the images,” explains 15 Minute Westport campaign member, Heather O’Reilly. “They portray people who have chosen a simple mode of transport that gets them from A to B but yet gives so much in terms of connecting them with nature, with space, with themselves and even with the elements.”
The exhibition also includes text boards that inform viewers about a range of themes, from myths about cycling to families making the modal shift to the bike. There is even a detour ride down memory lane with old photographs of Westport cyclists of yesteryear, which many people will enjoy, as well as interesting schools’ survey results and images from the Brackloon NS Safe Routes to School Initiative.

Win win
“The big picture, of course, is the global climate crisis, and the need to change the way we do things. Reducing our carbon emissions as a society is no longer optional, it is essential,” says O’Reilly, adding: “But this should not be seen as a loss. It is in fact a gain, an opportunity for positive change, because in addition to reducing our emissions, changing our transport habits to incorporate more time on the bike is a big step towards a better quality, healthier lifestyle. So, it’s a win for our environment and a win for our personal wellbeing.”
Campaign member John Maguire points to the fact that societal attitudes are shifting. “A lot of people are re-evaluating their priorities and are reassessing the impact their choices have on their CO2 footprint,” he says.
“One change that many people are actively considering, if they haven’t already done so, is moving to an electric vehicle. That’s great. But there is something a lot cheaper most of us can do. The CSO reported in 2016 that 55 percent of all car journeys are less than 2km. So, one very practical thing most of us can do is get on our bikes for those short journeys.
“In organising the exhibition, we wanted to bring home to people that almost anyone can cycle and most people will really enjoy it. We also want to stress with people that the modern E-bike has made cycling even more accessible, eliminating the push on hills, for example.
“A lot of people who participated in our Retiree Cycle event in September rediscovered the joy of cycling and are back on the bike regularly. You don’t need to be super fit or super young to cycle. You do need a decent jacket, but you don’t need to dress in Lycra!”
The exhibition will be launched in Westport Town Hall Theatre at 7.30pm this Thursday evening by nature filmmaker, cameraman and television presenter Colin Stafford Johnson.