Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Promoting Cycling: Motion [Private Members]
I thank all the contributors to the debate. We are aware of the importance cycling played in many people's lives in years gone by. However, the numbers cycling steadily declined in the 1990s. This trend has slowly reversed in recent years. The smarter travel policy and the national cycling policy framework will certainly help in that regard. The statistics show us that increases in the numbers of cyclists on the roads were happening up to 1986 and then we saw a decline. We are back up to similar numbers of cyclists on the roads as in 1986 but the percentages are far lower. That is an interesting point. How do we explain that? At the time the infrastructure was rather poor, road fatality figures overall were far higher and people were less prosperous. Other countries that are equally prosperous and where there is a higher level of car ownership have higher figures for cycling at the moment. It is difficult to explain this fully but it is encouraging to see that there has been an uptake in recent years and that things are improving.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has outlined several actions that are under way and plans to promote cycling. I will outline additional initiatives that are under way or funded by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport or its agencies. Between 2012 and 2016, the Department provided more than €20 million for the smarter travel areas programme. The programme promotes sustainable transport in built-up areas of varying sizes. These areas act as demonstration areas for others. Westport, Dungarvan and Limerick city were selected. The lessons learned will inform our policy to improve cycling, walking and public transport use in other towns and cities so that we can encourage a modal shift away from cars. In addition, several small and medium-sized towns were funded through the active travel towns programme. The programme supports sustainable transport infrastructure to make town centres more attractive places to live, work and do business.
Another important aspect of the Minister's brief, one we are highly supportive of, is the cross-Border projects under the INTERREG programme. These include several greenway projects that not only promote cycling but support the peace process as well. These include the north-west, Carlingford Lough and Ulster Canal greenways. The Department also promotes cycling around the country with events such as bike week. This is a popular annual celebration of all that is great about bikes and cycling. Cycling related activities are run throughout the country in collaboration with local authorities and cycling organisations to raise awareness of the many benefits of cycling. The Department also supports European mobility week, which features events throughout the country. The focus this year was on multi-modality, which means mixing transport modes within the same journey or for different trips.
The Minister, Deputy Ross, has secured large-scale increases in funding for cycling over a four-year period up to 2021. This will result in substantial year-on-year increases that will transform the cycling landscape in the country. In addition, the Minister provides extra funding where required. For example, only recently the Minister provided for the installation of safety equipment in key junctions throughout Dublin to improve safety for cyclists. The cycle-to-work scheme continues to provide a major boost to cycling, making it far more affordable while supporting many sustainable jobs in the cycling industry in bike shops throughout the country.
While the final road safety figures are not available yet for this year, I welcome that there is a downward trend. That is the most recent reading. I hope we will see a record low this year. There are two weeks to go in the year but I hope we will see no further fatalities on the roads and I hope this year will be a record-breaking year. Of course, every fatality is one too many and we can never be complacent.
I welcome that the Fianna Fáil motion recognises the growth in the popularity of cycling. The Minister, Deputy Ross, recognises that more can be done. This is why he is allocating more money to cycling. As with any significant infrastructure programme, we may not see dramatic changes overnight but the fruits of the considerable work already completed and under way will be increasingly evident in the coming years. Next year we will see several significant cycling projects commence construction in various parts of the country. The Minister, Deputy Ross, and I will announce funding allocations under the new greenway strategy and funding as well. That is something I am particularly excited about.
I remember writing a blog sitting in a hotel in Achill after cycling out from Westport in 2013. The title of the post was why greenways should be called gold ways. The amount of activity on the line that morning was striking. This was in August 2013. I saw cafés, bike shops, taxis and buses. Everything was there because of the greenway. It was incredible. I had been there three years earlier and cycled the Newport to Mulranny section shortly after it opened. It was rather quiet and not many people were using it. I saw the transformation. It is a great problem to have to be unable to find a space to park one's bike outside a café. It is very encouraging.
Deputy Gino Kenny referred to Waterford. I cycled there in April. There is remarkable infrastructure there and it is a very positive development. The accommodation works there are an example to all other greenways in terms of how to do it properly and right. The transformation of places like Kilmacthomas along that line has been remarkable. The old workhouse there is a busy enterprise now. It is symbolic of rebirth and regeneration. There are many other examples. In Moate in Westmeath, we launched the greenway strategy during the summer. It is great to see the usage on that line as well. I am keen to see more lines being rolled out. It was great to see the great southern trail receiving a major boost of funding under the recent rural regeneration fund. Those involved were able to recreate the Barnagh tunnel and resurface that trail. I cycled it during the summer from the Devon Inn Hotel near Templeglantine up to Newcastle West. We hope to see that route extended all the way down to Kerry and out to the coast by Fenit. Kerry also has the south Kerry greenway along the world famous iconic Farranfore to Valentia line.
These are great gifts from the past, especially the old railways. We owe a debt to our ancestors, the people who built these by hand. These are remarkable engineering achievements of the 19th century. We owe it to those people to make the most of these gifts from the past into the future and to get them working for us again. If the ripping up of those railways was symbolic of a dark age in this country and its economic outlook and vision, then I hope the rebuilding of the greenways can be symbolic of a new and positive era. I look forward to assessing the greenway strategy applications throughout the country. The scheme is approximately three times oversubscribed. That is a good sign. It shows there is great momentum in communities and local authorities to develop this infrastructure.
In 2019, there are several significant projects that will commence thanks to funding that is being provided to the National Transport Authority, NTA. In Dublin, construction will start on the Royal Canal, phases 2, 3 and 4. That will deliver a high-quality cycleway from the docklands out to Ashtown in Dublin 15. The greenway from Clontarf to the city centre via Amiens Street will be going ahead as well as the Dodder greenway. All these projects are significant. I hope it will lead to increased take-up along those routes. The NTA will also be funding a significant project in Navan and works will also take place in Cork city centre. I hope in the springtime we will announce further funding for the greenways. As we know, many of the town centres throughout the country that currently do not have any cycling infrastructure or inadequate cycling infrastructure have received funding under the urban regeneration fund. That is to be encouraged. We know that there are further tranches coming. In my constituency, Killarney received significant funding to improve cycling infrastructure. Through a combination of different funds and through a whole-of-government approach, I believe we will get the infrastructure right. However, it would be remiss of us simply to think that the infrastructure is all that is needed. It is not. It is simply a cog in the wheel. Many other things are needed as well to get the culture ingrained in the Irish psyche and to get us back to where we were.
My Department has a remit covering tourism and sport. For physical and mental health we need a positive health policy to get more people on bikes. That is the natural and obvious thing to do. We need to try to encourage that further. I probably had not cycled in ten years until I started training for the Ring of Kerry cycle in 2011. Subsequently, I did the cycle for three years in a row. There was one thing about the training process that I did not look forward to. It was not the hills or the hard work of climbing mountains on the bike. It was the fact that often motorists do not give a cyclist the space he deserves and needs on the road. There is a major safety risk when a cyclist is going out on the road. That is something we all need to work harder to address.
There are opportunities for local authorities. We have excellent assets in this country that are currently seen as liabilities.
Back roads, or local tertiary roads, are rarely used by vehicular traffic but they could provide an outstanding network of dedicated cycling routes, which motorists would not be banned, but would be discouraged, from using. We could start to see what are currently seen as liabilities as assets once again and get more people using bikes.