Cycling safety: policy there, leadership missing

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November 19th, 2019

Cycling activists carried out a week of action earlier this month, concluding with a slow cycle on Friday 8 November from College Green to Dublin Castle, home of An Garda Síochána’s traffic unit.

Close to 200 people joined the cycle organised by I BIKE Dublin that ended with a solemn “die-in” – a strong visual tactic inspired by Dutch cycling campaigners from the ‘70s. But why the need for a full week of events, you may ask. Neeraj Jain is your answer.

On Friday 1 November, the life of 34-year-old Neeraj met a tragic end when he was hit by a cement truck while cycling to work. There was immediate and widespread shock among the Dublin cycling community.

That evening, a candle-lit vigil was held at the location of the incident close to St James’s Hospital to pay respects to Neeraj. During that weekend, his brother said that the family wanted something to be done about safety for cyclists in the capital so that no other family would have to suffer.

I BIKE Dublin was determined to make sure that this message was driven home to those with responsibility for the safety of people cycling in Dublin.

The list is long: the Department of Transport and Minister Shane Ross; An Garda Síochána; the Department of Justice and Minister Charlie Flanagan; Dublin City Council; the National Transport Authority; the Road Safety Authority; and finally the Health and Safety Authority.

Fast-track protection policy needed

We sprang into action the following Tuesday morning (5 November) as close to 100 people converged on Dublin City Council, calling for it to immediately fast-track a program of physically protected cycling infrastructure in the capital.

Wednesday lunchtime, an even larger number cycled to the front gates of the Dáil, bringing the message to the Government that it is simply not doing enough for cyclists – 39 people have died cycling on Irish roads during its current term.

Sadly, by the time of our action outside Leinster House, this figure had risen to 40 following the death of Henry Corrigan in Co Kilkenny from injuries sustained in a road collision a week earlier.

Combined, the last three Ministers for Transport – Shane Ross, Paschal Donohoe, and Leo Varadkar – have seen 86 people killed while cycling on Irish roads during their tenures.

While the Government was more than happy to announce funding for new roads to the tune of almost €1 billion in the last fortnight – there is an election coming up after all – it continues to underfund cycling infrastructure.

Best estimates (the Minister continues to obfuscate the figures) put current funding for active transport at just two per cent of our land transport budget.

This is well short of the UN’s recommended 20 per cent target, with similar targets endorsed by the Citizens’ Assembly and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action. Both Mr Ross and the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe need to answer for their refusal to act.

On the Thursday of the action week, Mr Ross told a group of activists at the launch of a Dublin Bus cycling safety event that the Government is doing “everything we can” to make the roads safer for cyclists. This is clearly not the case, however.

bike accident cyclist Photo: William Murphy

Failures across the board

He has failed to properly fund cycling and he has failed to properly legislate for cycling. Almost two years after Mr Ross first promised minimum passing distance legislation, the Government published watered-down legislation that simply increases fines for dangerous overtaking.

He has also talked the talk on graduated speed limit penalties for over three years now, but we are still no closer to seeing them become law. Not only is the legislation not there to protect people who cycle but there is a failure to enforce what legislation we do have.

On average, the Guards are issuing just 65 fixed charge penalty notices per month for parking in a cycle lane. This equates to two drivers per day nationally. We know that the problem is far more widespread and by several orders of magnitude.

The Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan must also ensure that An Garda Síochána has the resources to enforce road traffic laws and that it, in turn, must enforce the law in an evidence-based, targeted manner to change the behaviour of those who cause the greatest threat of harm to road users.

In addition, the NTA’s Greater Dublin Area Cycle Network Plan  – a comprehensive plan to deliver 2,900 km of an integrated and connected cycle network – has been gathering dust on a shelf since 2013. Even calls from the likes of Google for the plan to be implemented have gone unanswered.

The HSA, responsible for ensuring safety at work, is also failing in its duty to protect workers. While it looks to protect workers in the construction industry from workplace accidents, this role seems to stop at the site gate.

In our experience, the Authority is quick to pass on complaints of danger to cyclists caused by construction vehicles entering or queueing to enter building sites to An Garda Síochána, washing their hands of the issue.

It is unconscionable that we currently allow trucks with serious blind spots on narrow residential roads during rush hour traffic.

The HSA needs to take on a more proactive role to ensure that risks caused by construction traffic in urban areas are mitigated through traffic management and vehicle regulation.

The RSA, in turn, has systematically portrayed cycling as a dangerous activity, heavily promoting Hi-Viz as the panacea for road safety. We have yet to hear it call on policymakers to do the one thing proven to reduce deaths and serious injuries – build safe cycling infrastructure.

It is no longer acceptable for authorities to wring their hands in response to road deaths while doing very little to prevent further accidents. We can’t afford another one. The families of Neeraj Jain and Henry Corrigan, and those of all the other victims, deserve better.

We know what needs to be done. We need safe cycling infrastructure, better legislation, and better enforcement.

What we are missing is political will.

By Ciarán Ferrie

Ciarán is a member of I BIKE Dublin. The advocacy group is due to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport tomorrow morning at 9.30AM on proposed road traffic regulations and national cycling policy.

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