Wednesday, 19 September 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Cycling Facilities Funding
5. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to significantly improve the share of transport funding to allow for the construction of cycle lanes that are separated from general traffic and for other safety improvements in view of the increase in the number of persons commuting by bicycle in recent years and the ongoing dangers posed to cyclists by the lack of safe cycling infrastructure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38027/18]
In view of the significant increase in the number of people commuting by bicycle and the ongoing dangers posed to cyclists by the lack of safe cycling facilities, particularly the lack of cycle lanes segregated from general traffic, will the Minister outline his plans to significantly increase the funding to provide segregated cycling lanes and other safety measures which are so urgently needed?
I thank the Deputy for the very topical and important question.
Over recent years, data published from various sources show an increase in the number of people commuting by bicycle. Recent data published by Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority, NTA, in the annual canal cordon report show an upward trend of cyclists crossing the canal which continued between 2016 and 2017, with numbers increasing by 3%. There has been a steady year-on-year growth in the number of cyclists crossing the cordon since 2010. In 2017, almost 12,500 cyclists crossed the cordon in the morning peak period. This represents an increase of more than 150% when compared with 2006 and an increase of more than 57% in the past five years. The Central Statistics Office has also published statistical information on cycling, including the national travel survey which illustrates the prevalence of cycling and the upward trends in cycling numbers.
Cycling numbers have shown a steady increase in recent years, which is one of the reasons I worked to secure a substantial multi-annual funding allocation for this area as part of budget 2018. The increase I secured has allowed more than €110 million of capital funding to be directly allocated to develop cycling and walking infrastructure in the greater Dublin area, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford in the period from 2018 to 2021. The programme will provide safe alternative active travel routes that will help alleviate congestion by providing viable alternatives and connectivity with existing public transport infrastructure. Details of individual projects are managed by the NTA.
Over the same period, a further €135 million capital funding is allocated for investment in sustainable urban transport projects. These will include projects that will provide either direct or indirect improvements for urban cycling. This programme builds on investment to date to deliver improvements in public and sustainable transport infrastructure in the regional cities and the greater Dublin area. It includes traffic management, bus priority and other smarter travel projects, which will allow transport infrastructure to function more effectively and will help relieve traffic congestion and therefore improve safety for cyclists.
Additional information not provided on the floor of the House
In addition to both these allocations, the considerable investment of approximately €750 million for BusConnects that aims to reconfigure the bus network and infrastructure over the coming years will deliver the construction of significant new cycling facilities alongside bus routes. The NTA calculates that BusConnects for Dublin will deliver more than 200 km of cycle lanes on the key radial routes into Dublin city centre. This will provide safe cycling arrangements along these corridors, largely segregated from other traffic.
In addition to funding for the provision of infrastructure, my Department continues to be very active in promoting behavioural change to encourage more people to take up cycling and cycle safely. As well as funding national initiatives such as Bike Week, my Department also provides funding to the NTA on an annual basis for the delivery of behavioural change programmes such as workplace and campus travel programmes and the green schools programmes. My Department also engaged Cycling Ireland to develop a new national cycle training standard, Cycle Right, which was rolled out in January 2017 to approximately 15,000 primary school students. My Department also supports the great work that is being done by the Road Safety Authority in the promotion of safe roads for all road users, including more vulnerable users such as cyclists and pedestrians.
While we all recognise there has been a substantial increase in the number of people commuting by bicycle, cyclists only account for 3% of commuters. Among children commuting to school the figure is even lower at 2%. There is potential for more people to cycle. It is a very laudable objective and one the Government should be clearly behind because of its impact on personal health and activity levels, reducing congestion, CO2 emissions and so on. There is much to benefit society by encouraging and supporting more people to cycle.
It all boils down to funding and unfortunately funding levels have been incredibly low in recent years. In a recent reply to me, the Minister stated that the amount provided for cycling was only 2.2% of the overall road transport budget last year. Clearly there is a huge amount of ground to make up. It is a matter of setting very clear targets. Does the Minister accept the safer we make cycling, the more people will start commuting by bicycle? The lack of safety and segregation of cycle lanes is a big barrier to people deciding to cycle to work, school or college. Will the Minister indicate what percentage of the road transport budget he believes needs to be dedicated to cycling?
I accept what the Deputy says. It is indisputably true that the safer the roads are for cyclists, the more cyclists there will be. Perhaps because I did not finish my first reply, I did not spell out some of the other intentions we have for cycling and the commitments we have made. The €110 million is a trebling of the amount to be spent on walking and cycling. The Deputy is correct that we did not allocate enough to cycling and we have a great deal of catching up to do. We are well behind many countries. I also acknowledge all the benefits of cycling she mentioned. I said earlier to Deputy Troy that I have bought in to cycling. It is something we have to spend money on and commit to for all sorts of reasons, not only the obvious ones but also for health reasons.
BusConnects, which is coming through in Dublin and which we will debate later this evening, will deliver more than 200 km of cycle lanes on the key radial routes into Dublin city centre. These will provide for safe cycling arrangements and will be largely segregated, which is what the Deputy seeks. They will not be completely segregated but, wherever practical, they will be largely segregated. That is a major commitment, not only to cyclists but also to cyclists' safety. We are spending approximately €750 million on BusConnects, of which cycling is a large and important ingredient.
We are also spending a large amount of money on greenways. We have made a capital allocation of more than €55 million to greenways, which will obviously be a commitment to cyclists. A further €135 million in capital funding has been allocated to sustainable transport for the period ahead.
Cyclist.iehas called for 10% of the overall transport budget to be allocated to improving cycling facilities. Does the Minister accept that figure? He has said he is committed to improving facilities for cyclists. What target is he working towards in terms of the percentage of transport funding that he will allocate to improving cycling facilities? Does he accept that setting a clear target is the only way of making progress in this area? The Minister spoke about BusConnects. What percentage of the BusConnects budget will be allocated to cycling? While the greenways are very popular and a great help in improving tourist numbers, my concern is with commuting in Dublin in particular and also in the other cities. What is the Minister's target for the percentage of the transport budget that will be allocated towards cycling? What timescale does he have in mind to reach that target?
I will respond to that in as far as I can. I cannot and will not give the Deputy a percentage commitment for the allocation to cycling but I will give her the figure of €110 million, which is a trebling of what we had before. It is a very large and significant step change in a commitment to cycling which was not there in recent years.
I fully concede that this is necessary. We must educate people, provide facilities and reassure them that cycling is safe.
There is a current narrative to the effect that cycling has not been safe. That has some justification. It has certainly got some support, and it has got a little bit of movement and traction. I want to reassure people by providing these segregated cycling lanes, particularly in the cities to which the Deputy refers, and by introducing other measures. Safety is the most important element in the whole transport portfolio. By introducing other measures, upon which I will be making other announcements shortly, I will ensure that cyclist safety is a top priority.