Cycling in Dublin the ‘preserve of the brave’, Committee hears

Published by Niall Sargent on

November 20th, 2019

Failure to provide adequate infrastructure and ensure road safety means that cycling in the capital is the “preserve of the brave and the foolhardy”, the transport committee heard today.

Speaking before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport this morning, Ciarán Ferrie of I BIKE Dublin said that better active transport infrastructure will lead to more cyclists and, in turn, reduced congestion, better air quality, and better physical and mental health outcomes.

“This isn’t about making Dublin a cycling city, this is about recognising that Dublin already is a cycling city, and providing the infrastructure to match,” he said. Recent figures show that numbers cycling to work in the capital took a sharp rise of 43 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

However, Mr Ferrie added, thousands of city-dwellers are failing to avail of the “manifold” benefits of active transport because they do not feel safe to do so, citing the recent the death of 34-year-old Neeraj Jain, hit by a cement truck on his way to work earlier this month.  

Significant investment is needed in both urban and rural Ireland to ensure greater road safety, he said, including segregated, linked-up cycling lanes and traffic-free routes to the likes of shops, sports grounds, and suburbs.

Mr Ferrie said that the Government will need to up its game and follow in the footsteps of neighbours such as the Netherlands where 75 per cent of children cycle to secondary school. In Ireland, the number is a little over two per cent.

Cycling Photo:stavnpetersen/Pixabay

Policy fast-track required

Dr Damien O’Tuama, the national cycling coordinator for the umbrella group, also told the Committee that the number of children cycling to school has “fallen off the cliff” in recent years.

According to the CSO, there was an 87 per cent fall in numbers cycling to secondary school between 1986 and 2011. Students going to primary school by bike fell from 49.5 per cent in 1986 to 25 per cent in 2016.

In order to reverse these figures, Dr O’Tuama said that we need policy that sees cycling as a part of everyday life, from cycling to school and work to going to social events and even to do the weekly shop.

Significant investment is required, he said, as called for by both the Citizens’ Assembly and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action. An important step, he added, would be to set aside at least 10 per cent of our land transport budget for cycling from 2020 onwards.

Dr O’Tuama said that such investment would see us catch up with improving EU states such as France where even Paris’ “hostile roundabouts” are being made cycling and pedestrian friendly.

Best estimates, however, put current funding for active transport at just two per cent, well short of the UN’s recommended 20 per cent target.

In addition, Mr Ferrie said that progressive plans are gathering dust, such as the National Transport Authority’s (NTA) Greater Dublin Area Cycle Network Plan published over six years ago.

“To date, there is no sign of this plan being implemented,” he said, even though over 100 organisations – including Google, Trinity College Dublin and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce – have called for its implementation to secure safe cycling routes for the 400,000 workers and students that they represent.

Hodgepodge of responsible bodies

While funding and political will is vital, policy coherence and coordination are also key for progress in the capital, he said. Upwards of 30 separate organisations, from local authorities and state agencies to task forces and private companies, currently share transport responsibility in Dublin.

“For campaign groups, this presents an intractable problem,” Mr Ferrie said. “Every time we think we have found the body responsible for a particular issue, we are referred to another.”

By way of example, Mr Ferrie said that the group’s concerns over coach parking on the Alfie Byrne Road cycle lane for events at Croke Park was “tossed around” between Dublin City Council, An Garda Síochána and the NTA.

This forced the group to take taken matters into their own hands, creating a human chain of 75 people and physically blocking the two-way cycleway from coach traffic. Segregating barriers were recently installed.

The Committee will also hear from the Department of Transport and the NTA later today in relation to proposals to amend road traffic regulations.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London