Wednesday, 15 October 2008
This Adjournment motion is about the need for the Government to improve facilities for cyclists in Dublin city. I am aware that the Minister is issuing what he calls a sustainable travel and transport plan and will be bringing it to Cabinet in the coming weeks. It is a very ambitious plan to put 150,000 commuters on the roads, and substitute them for cars by 2020. However, it is a plan that will be very difficult to implement, particularly if the past record of care for cyclists by successive Governments and Dublin City Council is maintained. I will quote David Maher of the Dublin Cycling Campaign, which welcomed the initiative, from an article in the Sunday Times, of last Sunday, 12 October, which states:
I would say that 10% of all trips by 2020 is completely achievable, but we have found in the past that there is no follow through from policy to reality on the ground. You can make all the cycle tracks you want, but if the gardaí are going to allow people to park all over them, they are more of a hazard than a help.
The promotion of cycling has been more aspirational than a matter of delivering factual and concrete facilities for cyclists, and I shall give the Minister of State a few examples. I believe there are only 200 km of cycle lanes in Dublin city, which is grossly inadequate if we are to achieve the type of objectives the Minister has already outlined. Where they exist, they are dangerous — because there are potholes which are not looked after and they are cut off in many cases throughout Dublin and lead nowhere. They are dangerous because cars are left parking on them for hours and cyclists cannot pass them. They are also dangerous because taxis often use them and because gardaí often do not enforce the law in respect of cycle lanes. Cyclists believe that whereas the bicycle is everybody's favourite vehicle to champion, it is ignored in reality.
As the Minister of State will be aware, there are several types of cycle lane. They carry with them different rights and nobody, beyond cyclists themselves, is aware of those rights, and certainly not the drivers of other vehicles. The different rights attaching to cycle lanes are not carried in the rules of the road, which need updating so that people become familiar with the rights of cyclists in various lanes. The data on cyclists and the accidents they have had, as a direct result in some cases I suggest because of neglect of the maintenance of cycling lanes, have not been updated since 2006. We need new ones, but there are fatalities between cars and bicycles, at the rate of at least three a year. There were 86 injuries involving bicycles in 2006, an unacceptable number.
I should like to indicate some examples for the Minister of State of places that badly need cycling lanes and do not have them. There is a large amount of space around the Guinness hop store, for example, where there is no cycle lane, and which is very dangerous for cyclists. There are enormous potholes on the Lower Leeson Street cycle lanes and the only alternative is for cyclists to cycle in the bus lanes, with the buses coming in the opposite direction. This makes life extremely hazardous for cyclists as well. There is a great deal of room along Parliament Street on the approach to the City Offices, yet there are no, or very few, cycle lanes on offer.
It would be appropriate if the Minister of State could give me some assurances that this matter is now a priority, not just for the safety of cyclists, but for the environment. I know he will probably say there was a grant in the budget yesterday, which gave €1,000 under a new cycling to work scheme. That is an encouragement to people to cycle but they are not going to do so if the lanes are dangerous.
I am taking this matter for the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and will set out his ambition for cycling as a sustainable travel mode throughout the country.
As Senator Ross knows, it is regrettable that reliance on cycling has diminished considerably over a number of years. He mentioned that a unit in the Department is working on a sustainable transport and travel action plan which is due to be published before the end of the year. Census returns demonstrate a significant decline in cycling. On a national basis, in 1986 more than 7% of commuting trips were made by bicycle. This figure declined to 5.7% in the early 1990s, to 4.2% in 1996, to 2.3% in 2001 and to 2% in 2006. The reasons for this decline in commuter trips by bicycle are manifold. Perhaps it is partly due to the fact people live further from their places of work.
Reliance on the bicycle in Dublin has also declined but perhaps not to the same degree as nationally. There is some evidence of a resurgence in cycling in the capital but its modal share remains very low despite the fact there are 300 km of cycle facilities in the greater Dublin area. I believe Senator Ross said 200 km. In recent years, even with the additional cycle facilities, the share of commuter trips has gone down. Obviously, more than cycle facilities are needed.
The Dublin Transportation Office has been beavering away and it spent more than €300,000 on the provision of public cycle parking stands. It also approved further projects in Dublin city in late 2007, including cycle parking in more than 21 schools, a further 150 cycle parking stands in key city centre locations and cycle lanes in Gardiner Street and Parnell Street.
The Department commissioned research into a potential national cycling policy. The outputs of this research hold out the prospect of a culture of cycling in Ireland by 2020, with 10% of all trips by bicycle. It is one thing to have that as a policy but it is another to make it happen. Increasing the modal share enjoyed by the bicycle to 10% would be a huge shift and would move as many people on to bikes as the public transport element of Transport 21 could accommodate. To do that, we plan to spend at least €16 billion. The potential of success with the bicycle is enormous if it can be achieved.
Much action is required, including training school children in safe cycling. A start has been made in that through widening our support for the green schools travel module which, next year, will reach more than 100,000 children; providing safe cycle routes to schools, colleges and workplaces; re-prioritising existing roadspace in favour of cyclists and walkers and designing new roadspace with cyclists' needs in mind; and ensuring that those involved in traffic planning and management are supported in becoming fully skilled in prioritising both cyclist and pedestrians as the preferred modes of travel in Dublin.
As I said, it is the intention to publish the Department's action plan, which is its vision for cycling, by the end of the year. As Senator Ross said, it is significant that support, through the taxation system, for the provision of bicycles and safety equipment for employees was mentioned in yesterday's budget as well as a charge for carpark places. It was good to hear Senator Ross raise the matter. Yesterday when those items were mentioned in the Dáil, there was general laughter.
I realise that. It was good to hear Senator Ross's support for the measures. While many people talk about the need for cycling, when something was done yesterday, it was the cause of a bit of merriment. It was good to lighten the mood and to hear a few giggles because much of the Minister's speech was probably not very interesting news. While we all say nice things about cycling, it is unfortunate that when something is being done, it is regarded as a bit of a joke. That was the general response yesterday.
Facilities, money, ideas and vision are needed as well as a change in the culture. I hope many of those measures will be set in train when the plan is published. There was a time when cycling was a widely used mode of transport. Perhaps I am showing my age but 40 or 50 years ago, there would be five or six lanes of bicycles. We will not return to those days but we need to get back to greater use of bicycles because we cannot cater for all the cars. From the point of view of vehicle emissions and what was done yesterday, the new plan has the potential to change the culture in a significant way.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I believe his heart is in the right place. He said that achieving a shift to the bicycle of this magnitude will require actions. That is pretty flabby. Are there commitments to carry out these actions or are they aspirations? Will they be carried out? Is the money there for them or are they simply what the Department of Transport has listed as requirements if it is to get from here to where we want to get to by 2020?
Some of them are already happening such as the green schools travel module. It is reaching many school children and is one way to change the culture and to get young people to use bicycles. That has been hugely successful. I hope the plan will go to Cabinet and will be more than a list of aspirations. I cannot speak too authoritatively about that at this stage. It is visionary in many ways but I hope it will indicate how things are to happen rather than a wish list of what we would like to happen.