Dáil debates

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Promoting Cycling: Motion [Private Members]


6:25 pm

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I move amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:“welcomes:

— the growing popularity of cycling as a means of transport, particularly in Ireland’s urban and suburban areas, as evidenced by recent census figures;

— the ambition of the Government to deliver strategic cycle networks in our major urban centres, and high-quality greenways in rural areas;

— the Government’s commitment towards delivering improved cycling infrastructure as part of the BusConnects programme in our major cities;

— the unprecedented funding made available under the National Development Plan to support such delivery;

— the establishment of the Cycle Right training programme in primary schools and its expansion in 2019; and

— the planned construction of a number of significant cycle projects in 2019; and calls on the Government to:— prioritise the delivery of improved cycling infrastructure in both urban and rural areas in line with the commitments made under the National Development Plan;

— continue to work with the National Transport Authority, as the relevant statutory authority, in ensuring the timely and effective implementation of cycling-related programmes and projects; and

— consider, within the context of the ongoing review of public and sustainable transport policy, and taking cognisance of the overall budgetary parameters as set out in the National Development Plan, whether further cycle-friendly legislative, policy or institutional initiatives could usefully be applied in Ireland.”

I applaud what has come from the other side of the House. On the whole, we are in agreement on virtually everything that has been said and we are pursuing the same goals. We cannot agree the motion because it condemns the Government and we believe that what we are doing is a full commitment to cycling in the future. I want to start by making a concession and state that in the past there has been inadequate support for the cycling community and we have indeed fallen behind the standards and ambitions we should have lived up to. That though is in the past.

All of the speakers have asked me to outline what we are doing. I apologise to Deputy Michael Moynihan, I was using my phone but just to look something up to answer one of his questions. I will outline what we are doing, what we are going to do, the commitments we are solemnly keeping already and the ones we intend to act on in the future. I hope the Fianna Fáil Party and the Green Party, which have amendments, and the Labour Party will join with the Government in pursuing these goals which are genuinely felt.

I may be a late convert but having come to this job, as Deputy Troy acknowledged, I have said that commitment is there and that cycling is the future.

We have to support it because it is part of the Government's policy to get people out of their cars. It is the main thrust of transport policy. I also believe Members will agree with the Government in its commitment to safety on the roads. We must join together and not be too abrasive about what we say on this serious issue to which we have given much commitment.

There are elements of Fianna Fáil’s motion and amendments from others which are acceptable. While the Labour Party’s proposed amendment is perfectly acceptable, it fails to acknowledge that the design manual for urban roads and streets does precisely what its amendment proposes. Accordingly, I am unable to accept its amendment. The Green Party’s amendment alleges a failure of the Government to implement policy, a claim I cannot accept. The motion, however, is not about starting a real debate on cycling. Instead, it is being used as an opportunity to grandstand. Any real consideration of the motion would confirm that in my view.

The motion calls on the Government to prioritise the roll-out of segregated cycle lanes which is being done through the BusConnects programme, the greenways strategy, as well as under other programmes funded both by my Department and the Government’s urban and rural regeneration and development funds. The motion calls on the Government to establish a division in my Department which has already existed for some time. It seemingly calls on the Government to short-cut planning and procurement to just build two cycling projects in advance of the Velo City conference next year. I could go on but I will not.

Instead, as I have been asked by other speakers, I propose to take stock of what has been achieved, look at what can be improved and seek consensus as to how we can build on the very welcome increases in the numbers of people cycling across the country. The national cycle policy framework, as published by the then Minister, Noel Dempsey, was a significant and welcome development. This was under Fianna Fáil and I applaud the party for what it did for cycling. As he stated in the introduction to the framework, no single action will prompt people to cycle. These are words on which we should all reflect, particularly those who have tabled this Fianna Fáil motion.

The economic and financial crisis meant that among the 19 objectives and 109 actions in the framework, priority had to be given to those that were possible from within the much reduced financial resources available at that time and the years that followed. However, progress has been made and should be recognised. In terms of planning and design, for example, the National Transport Authority published its cycle manual in 2011, while in 2013 the design manual for urban streets and roads was published. Development of both was a key recommendation of the framework.

In rural areas, Members will acknowledge the wonderful amenities created through the development of greenways, a point absent in all speeches so far. That is why I was delighted to launch the new greenways strategy with the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, earlier this summer. In launching that strategy I also ensured we had the funding framework in place to back up its delivery. The funding I secured provides the link between ambition and delivery. I look forward to the announcement of successful projects next year.

The cycling safety programme provided training for around 20,000 primary schoolchildren this year. Thanks to the additional money I have secured in the budget, it will expand again next year. This is in line with the ambitions contained within the national cycling policy framework but which, due to those funding constraints, was not implemented in 2009. Safety is critically important. All Members agree that the loss of any life is a tragedy. Last year, there was, unfortunately, an increase in the number of the cyclists who lost their lives on the roads. Since 2000, the average number of cyclists killed on the roads has been ten per annum. Last year, however, it was 15, the highest since 2007. Numbers this year show a decrease but I know there is no cause for complacency.

As Minister, I am personally committed to the issue of road safety and how to improve it. In 2016, I secured Oireachtas approval for the Road Safety Act 2016 which made provision for a new 20 km/h speed limit, in addition to the 30 km/h and 40 km/h limits already available to local authorities. My Department’s guidelines for setting and managing speed limits encourage local authorities to use reduced speed limits in residential areas. Many are expanding the areas covered by these special speed limits.

Another topical legislative issue is the proposed minimum passing distance. I applaud the consistent efforts made by Mr. Phil Skelton in this regard, a person with whom I have had a close working relationship in the past. In terms of the legislation, the Office of the Attorney General raised issues with the initial proposed legislative solution. I cannot ignore those issues. I cannot tell the Attorney General I am going to introduce legislation willy-nilly. Instead my officials have developed an alternative solution in consultation with both the Office of the Attorney General and the Garda Síochána. There are several administrative supports which need to be put in place. The Department is reliant on outside stakeholders to deliver these. Once these supports are set up, the legislation will be commenced without further delay.

On other safety measures, just a few weeks ago, I announced an additional €400,000 in funding for Dublin City Council to allow the council install cycling safety technology on 40 of the busiest junctions across the city. This has great potential and I look forward to hearing about its impact once rolled out. Any discussion of cycling must consider the issues of funding and infrastructure. On the issue of funding, Deputies seem unwilling, or unable, to accept that funding for cycling is increasing thanks to the budgetary increases I have secured. Over the period 2018 to 2021 we will provide €750 million to BusConnects Dublin which will deliver 200 km of largely segregated cycle lanes; €110 million through a dedicated cycling and walking infrastructure funding programme; €135 million to the sustainable urban transport programme which funds the delivery of traffic management and smarter travel projects in our cities; and €53 million from 2019 to support the greenways strategy.

We have funded public bikes schemes in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. We have also funded their expansion with new stations opening in Cork and Dublin this year and more planned for Galway, while work is well under way to extend the scheme to include Waterford. This collective level of funding is unprecedented. It will make a real and lasting difference to cycling infrastructure across the State.

There are those in the House, however, who refuse to acknowledge that. I said at the outset that I wanted a real debate. In that spirit, I will obviously acknowledge that, despite the improvements that have happened, we still have a long way to go. Multi-annual infrastructure projects and programmes do not always flow seamlessly. There are a range of issues which impact on delivery. I do not mean money, I mean issues like organisational capacity, design, planning and environmental considerations. I agree that in recent years we have not built as much of the infrastructure that we wanted to see delivered.

The future is bright for cycling and the commitments to it are in place.


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