Dáil debates

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Promoting Cycling: Motion [Private Members]


6:05 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

recognises:— the rapidly growing popularity of cycling as a means of transport, particularly in Ireland's urban and suburban areas, as evidenced by recent Census figures and the popularity of schemes such as the dublinbikes public bicycle rental scheme;

— the considerable health benefits that regular physical activity, such as cycling, brings to citizens and the need to promote such activity;

— the high level of economic returns and value for money that cycling projects give;

— that chronic congestion is grinding our cities and road arteries to a halt, making it more difficult and more unpleasant for people to get to work;

— that cycling is a zero-carbon mode of transport and one which can help to reduce Ireland's carbon emissions, as per our commitments at European Union and international level;

— that Ireland lags behind our European peers in the provision of safe cycling infrastructure, such as dedicated cycle lanes, secure bike storage facilities and cyclist-friendly traffic lights; and

— that the largest cycling conference in the world is due to take place in Dublin in June 2019, and that Ireland needs to show progress on the development of cycling infrastructure;condemns:— the considerable safety risks that cyclists face on Irish roads, owing to our poorly developed cycling infrastructure;

— the current low funding allocations for cycling at only approximately two per cent of the overall land transport capital budget; and

— the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport's failure to bring forward legislation requiring drivers to maintain a minimum distance when passing cyclists; andcalls on the Government to:— prioritise the rollout of dedicated cycle tracks, that are physically segregated from other road users, across the country;

— place cycling infrastructure at the heart of transport infrastructure planning by appointing a dedicated cycling officer to every local authority at an appropriate level of seniority, and by establishing a dedicated cycling division within the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to coordinate activity and projects across all departments;

— introduce cycle friendly legislative initiatives, similar to those of our European neighbours to promote the growth of cycling, including contra-flow cycling, left turn at red lights and joint use of pedestrian crossings;

— build on the successes of bike sharing schemes by expanding these schemes to major suburbs of towns and cities;

— revise the Bike to Work scheme to allow commuters to purchase a new bike every three years instead of every five years, and to extend this scheme to pensioners and unemployed people;

— introduce immediate supplementary funding to local authorities to support the rollout of 'quick win' projects supporting safe cycling and walking routes in the short term;and— prioritise two cycling projects to be delivered in advance of Velo-City 2019.

I am sharing time with Deputies Lahart, Michael Moynihan, Cassells and Eugene Murphy.

I welcome the opportunity to move this motion. I welcome the groups attending in the Visitors Gallery to hear the contributions from each side of the House. I apologise for the late start. We were due to start at 6.05 p.m. but, between one thing and another, we are starting only now. I apologise to the visitors for the inconvenience. I thank them for the work they have done over many years advocating greater investment and the prioritisation of cycling in national policy.

The reason I am moving this motion is to try to encourage the Minister, Deputy Ross, and to highlight to him and his Department the urgent need to prioritise cycling. He seems to have a major issue when it comes to prioritisation in his Department. Only last week, despite the urgent need to consolidate road traffic legislation to prevent unnecessary legal challenges, he tried to introduce further amendments that would further complicate the Act and leave it open to further challenge. Again, there were disproportionate penalties for offences.

The Minister has a poor record on cycling. Since he came to office, the national budget for cycling has been cut from over €16 million to €10 million for the upcoming year. The Minister confirmed this with me in a reply to a parliamentary question. Earlier this year, he made a firm commitment to implementing the statutory instrument on the minimum passing distance.

I compliment the groups which brought that campaign to the gates of Dáil Éireann. I facilitated them and I was on the verge of bringing forward an amendment on Committee Stage of a road traffic Bill later that evening. The Minister tried to get the upper hand and play politics with the issue. On the morning of the day the amendment was due to be debated, he called a press conference to announce he would sign a statutory instrument in the immediate future. When pushed, he said it would be within weeks. We are now 12 months on and it still has not happened.

The Minister blames the advice of the Attorney General but he did one of two things. Either he called a press conference without having sought the advice of the Attorney General, and if he did it was a very poor action for a Minister to take, or he ignored the initial advice of the Attorney General and decided to plough ahead in the hope he would get publicity. The simple fact is it is cyclists who feel let down by the Minister's inaction on the minimum passing distance.

I do not for a second accept the Minister's contention that it is not workable. It is workable in many US states, in Australia and in many of our European neighbours. If it can work in so many other places throughout the world why can it not work here? It is because of the Minister's lack of priority to ensure it is progressed. Cycling increased by 43% between 2011 and 2016. Last year, 90,000 people cycled in Dublin alone. This in itself is a reason to prioritise cycling. Look at the chronic infrastructure in place. We need to invest in our infrastructure. Unfortunately, this year alone nine cyclists have lost their lives. Look at the benefits of moving people from cars to bikes, in terms of reducing our chronic congestion problems. Look at the positive benefits it can have on physical and mental health and the hugely positive effects it can have on the environment.

There are a number of key reasons we are bringing forward this motion in the hope we can put pressure on the Minister to include cycling in his departmental priorities for 2019. As I have said with regard to safety, in the past five years 59 people were killed on our roads and we must express our sympathy to the families who were bereaved. In 2017, by way of a freedom of information request, we realised that 350 cyclists were treated for head injuries and 345 for elbow and forearm injuries. This in itself clearly demonstrates the need for segregated cycle lanes to enable people to cycle safely. I have no doubt that in his reply the Minister will speak about BusConnects and his plans for it. In some instances, we will be waiting ten years for BusConnects to have an effect. The pace is too slow and we need acceleration of the roll-out of segregated lanes.

I want to take this opportunity to compliment the then Minister of State, Deputy Regina Doherty, and Deputy Cannon, who brought forward a Bill on minimum passing distance more than two years ago. For one full year, the Minister resisted its implementation or facilitation. The huge positive effects and benefits cycling can have for physical and mental health cannot be understated. We have a huge task in how we will meet our targets with regard to climate change. One of the areas that would seriously benefit and help is cycling. The EU has set a target for Ireland of a reduction of 20% by 2020 and 30% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. Figures from the EPA suggest Ireland will only be able to reduce its emissions by a maximum of 1% by 2020. We are so far off meeting our targets it is unbelievable.

Dublin City Council was fortunate to win the bid to host the Velo-City cycling conference in 2019. I would like to hear from the Minister what are his priorities on projects that can be delivered in advance of this conference to show that his late conversion to cycling last year was not merely words but can be demonstrated by action.


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