When it rains in Dublin fewer people hop on their bikes, say two cycling enthusiasts, who’ve come up with an idea to help counteract the weather’s effects on cycling.
Windy days see an even bigger drop, says Dave Anderson, a software product manager. “If it’s particularly windy the day before, the evening before, then that puts people off.”
Anderson and his colleague Brian Maguire looked at data collected about users of Bleeper Bikes, Dublin Bikes and Moby Bikes, and mashed it together with Met Eireann open data.
“We wanted to understand a little bit more about what motivates people to cycle in the rain and what prevents people from cycling in the rain,” says Anderson.
Their project, “Not Made of Sugar: Identifying and Counter-Acting Low Active Travel Occasions”, was part of Smart Dublin’s recent Active Travel Challenge Showcase.
Maguire and Anderson hope their project can help the council encourage cycling in bad weather, to stop surges in vehicular traffic.
To Work, or for Fun?
The duo’s findings offer only a partial picture of how cycling behaviour changes in the city when the skies open, as it’s just data for share schemes.
“That’s only a small fraction of the people that are actually cycling,” says Anderson.
Still, though, their research suggests that commuters who use share schemes rarely changed their cycling habits to suit the rain, while leisurely cycles dropped significantly, says Anderson.
“Moby and Bleeper are used more for leisure. That impact was quite high, because people don’t want to be doing leisure rides in the rain,” he said.
Hugh Cooney, CEO of Bleeper, says that: “On Saturday and Sunday, when it’s raining, our ridership falls a lot.”
Bleeper’s ridership doesn’t fall as much on weekdays, he says, which points to hardy commuters using the service.
Anderson says that rainfall is overestimated in Dublin. “It’s actually really, really low. There’s actually very few days when it rains a lot.”
When it does rain, more people do cram onto public transport and into cars, he says. “That causes a huge problem.”
Kieran Ryan, communications coordinator for the Dublin Cycling Campaign, says: “There’s always worse traffic congestion on days when it’s raining, and the buses are always fuller.”
Those who opt to drive or take public transport can regret it, he says. “You realise that that experience was even worse than just getting wet on the cycle.”
Anderson says that in summer, people are less likely to cycle in the rain. In winter, they’ll have prepared for bad weather.
“Once you’ve bought the gear that’s it. The weather has no effect,” says Anderson.
As part of the Active Travel Challenge Showcase, Maguire and Anderson had to devise an incentive programme that would encourage people to bike in bad weather.
They used data analysis and computer programming to predict, based on the weather on a given evening, how many cyclists are likely to be on the roads the next day, says Anderson.
They’re still figuring out the practicalities of how to encourage people to get wet, he says.
Their idea is to turn to Twitter. A trigger from their computer programme would tell them that the following day would be wet or windy, which would prompt a competition to run on the social media platform.
It would say something like: “Hey! Get out on your bike, send us a photo of you on the bike and you can win x, y and z.”
“The idea is that once people get into the habit of it, that they won’t be put off so much by it,” says Luke Binns, project coordinator for Smart Dublin.
Look at Scandinavia, where people use active travel to get to work and school through grizzly cold winters, Binns says. “Just because they’re in the habit of it.”
Says Anderson: “It also means that people then tend to think about cycling as a permanent mode of transport, rather than something that they will just do here and there during the summer.”
Twitter would be an easy way to reach cyclists and people who might be interested in cycling, says Anderson.
“We wanted to make it sort of visible so that other people would see other people cycling in the rain, and then see it as a potential option,” says Anderson.
They were a bit out of ideas, though. “It was really the only way that was, it was kind of easy,” he said.
Other routes might be with already-established apps, such as the Dublin Cycling Buddy app, which guides cyclists along safer routes.
“They have the capability to add competition with an award. So we’re talking with them to see if we can plug in with them,” he said.
Other ways to increase awareness around cycling in the rain could be informing people of what gear to wear, what to be aware of on the road, and safer routes to take, he said.
Cooney, the Bleeper CEO, says cyclists don’t need to invest a lot of money to keep dry. “The main two things are to cover your footwear and to have a pair of wet bottoms.”
Beyond Rain Gear
Ryan, of the Dublin Cycling Campaign, says bad weather can be more dangerous for cyclists.
“That’s where infrastructure makes a difference in terms of how safe and protected you are on that trip,” he says.
“Good segregated network of bike lanes across the city would definitely mitigate that aspect of it,” he said.
Cooney, of Bleeper Bike, agrees. “Bad road conditions really show up when it rains.”
Ryan says increased traffic can be dangerous on those cyclists who choose to brave the bad weather too, so it’s a difficult balance to strike.
“You can expect drivers to be a bit more impatient or to take risky manoeuvres,” he said. They might have fogged up windscreens or road-frustration from slow-moving traffic, he says.
Improving cycle lanes would make it safer for cyclists out in the rain.
“You’re so much more protected if you have a curb-protected bike lane or that junctions were designed with cyclists in mind,” he says.