Thursday, 30 March 2017
Topical Issue Debate
Approximately 25 years ago, Mike Curtis died on Merrion Square in Dublin. He was on his bike, was flattened and killed. A lot of us started campaigning then to try to make Dublin a cycling city. It is deeply shocking for anyone with a keen interest in cycling to look at what has happened here in the last few months. On 12 February, Ms Tonya McEvoy, a member of the Orwell Wheelers cycling club was knocked down and killed in Kildare. On 12 March, Daragh Ryan was knocked off his bike and killed on Conyngham Road, a well recognised black spot - we having been talking about these black spots for a long time - near the Phoenix Park. Last Friday, Paul Hannon was knocked down and killed on Patrick Street, while last Sunday, Des Butler, was killed on his bike in Bunratty. Last Monday, a young woman was knocked down at the roundabout on Templeville Road and flattened under a truck.
We have been campaigning for 25 years to try to make this city safe for cycling. It should be one of the best cycling cities in the world because it is flat and relatively dry. Cycling is the quickest, best, most social and healthiest way of getting around. Dublin should be like Copenhagen and Amsterdam. My party and others have been working on this matter for all of that time, making very little progress but continuing to push the idea. We set out the smarter travel plan in 2009 and a plan for the overall network in 2011. We are at a point now where we really are ready to go and make this a safe cycling city. This is achievable, doable and it is a decision for here and now.
There are some significant routes ready to be built, including the Clontarf cycle route, which is a two way route from Clontarf all the way into town. Huge numbers of cyclists use that route every morning but it is lethally dangerous at present. The Liffey cycle route is a two-way cycle track right along the river which would transform how this city works. There is another project ready to go for College Green that will create a safe civic space and turn the whole city centre around in terms of how it works. We have greenway routes that would not only work as commuting routes but would also provide incredible benefits for the city. One such route runs along the seafront from Sutton to Sandycove. It is ready to go but investment is required. We need big money to make this happen, although not big in comparison to the money needed for a motorway. It would cost the equivalent of 1 km of motorway to develop most of these projects. The funding requirement is big in the context of what we have spent on cycling to date. Other projects include the Dodder greenway, the Royal Canal greenway and the Santry river greenway. These are all projects that we have been working on for 20 years.
We have the designs ready to go but the shocking reality at this time, when we need capacity solutions to our transport system and cycling infrastructure to be provided more quickly to cater for the significant volume of cyclists just trying to get back on their bikes, which could really tackle Dublin's traffic problems and, more than anything else, make the city safe, the capital budget for cycling is being slashed year in, year out. It fell by 21% last year. There is a projected 18% fall this year.
The Minister has a responsibility in this regard. After 25 years of campaigning, the Minister must realise this investment is more important and significant than any other transport investment we could make. In the first instance, it would protect and save lives. There was a recent spike, involving three deaths in three weeks. We have to respond to that by making the city safe.
Second, to make the city work, we have no capacity solutions equivalent to those cycling can provide for the same expenditure. In this regard, one should consider the numbers. When we provide high-quality facilities, as on the Grand Canal route, thousands of people take to cycling. We should really go for it now and make a decision on the six or seven key routes. They have to be funded now. The money has to be provided now or else we will face 25 more years of not having what we could have in Dublin. Dublin could be a safe, an efficient and a brilliant city in which to cycle. Will the Minister provide the money? Will he allocate the money that the Dublin Cycling Campaign and others are calling for to make the city safe and to make it work?
I thank Deputy Eamon Ryan for raising this important issue. I share his dismay over the number of cyclists and pedestrians who died in recent weeks. The number this year is now five. It is absolutely unacceptable and demands action.
What Deputy Ryan is saying is correct but we should consider the matter in a somewhat wider context also. When he says our roads are not safe for cyclists, he is right. Our roads are not safe for anyone at the moment. Forty-six people have lost their lives on our roads so far this year, including five cyclists, who account for 10.8% of the total number of road fatalities.
Every death is one too many, and my Department and I, together with the Road Safety Authority, RSA, the Tánaiste, An Garda Síochána and local authorities, work together to implement measures to reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries on our roads. As a result of what is a crisis of fatalities on our roads, we have doubled the number of those meetings per annum in recent times. My Department is tackling the issue of cyclist-related deaths and serious injuries through a multifaceted approach. This involves targeting cyclist and motorist attitudes and behaviour, an education programme, the provision of cycle tracks and the rolling out of the Cycle Right campaign.
The current road safety strategy, which runs from 2013 to 2020, contains measures to promote the use of personal protection equipment and high-visibility clothing, in addition to the development of a standardised road safety cycling proficiency training programme for schools, the Cycle Right programme. Arising from the work of a steering group comprising the RSA, An Garda Síochána, Coaching Ireland, An Taisce, the local authorities and my Department, Cycling Ireland, which is funded by my Department, has developed the new Cycle Right cycling training standard. Cycle Right was launched in January this year and will be rolled out during 2017 to as many primary schools as funding allows. I am confident that this new cycle training, which includes an on-road element, will result over time in an increase in the number of children choosing to cycle to and from school safely. It is expected that between 12,000 and 15,000 children will avail of the training in 2017. Cycling Ireland will administer and manage the Cycle Right scheme registration and will maintain an Internet-based public register of qualified and approved Cycle Right trainers. My Department has allocated €350,000 to subsidise participating schools for the cost of the training, which will also be funded by parental and local authority contributions. The RSA is also contributing significant funding towards this initiative.
The RSA has produced a new 60-second advert focusing on cycling safety, particularly on the need for drivers to take extra care when sharing the road with cyclists. Cyclists are entitled to road space as much as cars, vans, goods vehicles or any other vehicle on the road. The advert aims to educate drivers on sharing the road safely with cyclists, and on motorists' responsibility to cyclists as vulnerable road users. The general message is the need for drivers to observe the road property at all times for the presence of cyclists.
In regard to funding for cycle tracks, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that under the sustainable transport measures grants, STMG, programme, my Department provides funding to the National Transport Authority, NTA, for the seven local authorities in the greater Dublin area for the implementation of sustainable transport measures, including cycling infrastructure. Funding of €23.2 million was allocated to this programme alone in 2016. The NTA also manages a similar sustainable transport grants programme - the regional cities programme - in the four regional cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. Overall funding for these two programmes in 2016 was €36.7 million. That is addressing the issue that the Deputy raised. He has raised the general issue of cycling, which I will address in response to his supplementary question.
The Minister has come to the nub of it. We are spending €36 million on trying to create safe cycling spaces. We absolutely need to do this in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Dublin. The expenditure is out of a total budget of €1.8 billion, however. Therefore, 0.02% of our overall budget is being spent on cycling. I am sorry but we need to be spending something like 10% of our transport budget to be taking seriously the issue of road safety of vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists.
The measures the Minister has listed, including educational programmes and encouraging people to wear helmets, are all to no avail if we do not take the first fundamental step, namely, create safe conditions on the street. Instead of pouring all our money into new motorways, dual carriageways and big roads programmes, which we are doing, we need, as a matter of urgency because people are dying owing to the lack of investment, to start creating safe space on our streets so we will not be crushed by trucks or knocked down by cars. The authorities say they are really keen to do what I propose. They are able to do it but they have no budget. They cannot allocate staff to this. If, instead of just spending the money on an educational programme for children, we actually made the roads safe for our children, we could reduce by 30% the morning peak-hour traffic, which involves us driving our children to school. We could be creating a safe space where they could get to school in a healthy way. Everyone benefits.
The nub of the problem is that €36 million is not adequate or right. We need a multiple of that. We need an increase in expenditure next year of €100 million at the very least in Dublin alone to build the six or seven key projects that are ready to go. The most important reason for them, in addition to the safety reason, is that if the Government does not do what I describe, it will result in gridlock anyway. The infrastructure would give us capacity. Dublin can work as a cycling city. The Government should give the money, not the 0.02% that we are spending on cycling infrastructure at the moment.
I fully understand the Deputy's request for more investment. I take his point. He is correct in that we do not spend enough money on cycling. We would like to spend more and we will spend more. There is no doubt about that. The Deputy will probably be aware that there are commitments in the programme for Government on this. More important, for the capital review that is coming up shortly, I have made a special application. I have prioritised cycling in my Department's application. It is very important and it should be addressed as a matter of urgency. Cycling is underfunded. I take the Deputy's point in that regard and I intend to address it in the mid-term capital review application.
The issue is not just one of cycling; it is also an issue of safety. All five fatalities this year involved crashes with motor vehicles. The point that the road should be made safe for cyclists is very important but it is even more important to make sure the roads are not peopled by dangerous drivers, who are the source of most cycling accidents. We are taking many measures on that basis from which cyclists should benefit. One cannot blame cyclists for the cycling accidents - far from it; one blames the infrastructure. To some extent, I blame the fact the roads are not safe because we have dangerous drivers on them. We have addressed that. That should benefit cyclists and also pedestrians, who are tragically being killed by reckless motorists on our roads. I will list some of the things we have done. It is only fair to note them because cyclists will be beneficiaries, as will drivers.
The 2016 Road Traffic Act has just come in which addresses the issue of taking drug-drivers off the road. We are addressing the issue of naming and shaming and taking all sorts of measures to improve the roads as a matter of urgency. We recognise this is a crisis for everyone. Next week, I will bring another Bill dealing with road safety measures to pre-legislative scrutiny. I hope cyclists will benefit as much from it as will innocent drivers and pedestrians.
If I can just finish, the reason we need to invest in the cycling space in Dublin is not just for the safety issue but also to make the city work. Dublin is facing gridlock. I am on the Committee on Budgetary Oversight to which various agencies and organisations come every week calling for more motorways to be built. There is no one championing investment in cycling expect for the likes of the Dublin Cycling Campaign. It is the Minister’s decision. Whatever we do on the safety issue is one matter. As for designing for Dublin city, however, there is a once in a lifetime chance to build a Dodder greenway, the Sutton to Sandycove cycle route, as well as the Liffey, Clontarf, Santry, Royal Canal and College Green cycle routes. We need to forget about the capital review into the distance. If we do not see significant budgets going into these projects next year, it will mean we do not really take cycling safety seriously and we do not know how to save the city from the gridlock that will otherwise ensue.
I reject the Deputy’s claim we are not taking safety seriously. That is completely and utterly wrong. It is unfair and there is no evidence to back that up. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I have introduced several measures for road safety through Bills since I have come into office from which cyclists will be, I hope, the chief beneficiaries. That is just nonsense from the Deputy.