The election is over but a new government has not yet formed. The arrival of COVID 19 has added to the challenge of negotiations for a new Programme for Government, but at the same time we cannot stand still on other issues. During the election, Cyclist.ie, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network, urged parties to implement two key transport policies – 1) the rebalancing of Land Transport funding to allocate more to cycling and 2) the provision of high quality cycling infrastructure.
We accept that in the short term that the government is facing substantially increased expenditure to deal with Covid-19 and its consequences and a reduction in the capital budget is inevitable. However, we are looking for a rebalance of the transport capital budget and would stress that investment in cycling represents very good value for money – the best return on investment for any transport intervention. The need for an appropriate level of funding and high quality infrastructure will continue long into the future if Ireland is to achieve government goals on road safety, climate action, congestion, the environment and health.
From election manifestos, all political parties accept the need for increased everyday cycling, while most accept the need for increased funding to 10% of the Land Transport budget, which in 2020 would amount to €182M. In the first 8 months of last year, the Minister for Transport spent approximately €2M or 0.11% of his annual Land Transport budget on cycling from his Walking /Cycling allocation – the principal area of expenditure for everyday cycling. Gerry Dornan, Vice Chair of Cyclist.ie stated “We accept that an immediate increase to 10% by the Minister for Transport is not practical in 2020 or 2021, but it is realistic to ramp up investment to 10% within three or four years and that is the benchmark by which we will judge the next government”.
A revision to the Strategic Framework Investment in Land Transport (SFILT) is essential. The original SFILT was developed in 2015 and fails to take into account increasing congestion, chronic health issues, air and noise pollution. A suite of some twenty background papers informed the SFILT process but most were related to existing high car dependency and failed to give any serious consideration to increased active travel.
The second issue which the incoming government must address is the quality of infrastructure. Last year, international attendees at the Velo-City cycling conference in Dublin were shocked at the poor quality of Irish cycling infrastructure. In order to attract people out of cars, high quality segregated infrastructure is essential.
Seville was able to provide a cycle network and increase cycling significantly to 8% in just five years – the same period of office as an incoming Irish government. In the last five years, there has been little progress in Irish cities. Cyclists in Galway and Cork are frustrated and alarmed by their respective Metropolitan Area Transport Strategies while Limerick cyclists have little confidence in efforts to date at urban improvement by their local authority. The Strategies pay lip service to prioritising cycling and instead reflect the road-centric policies of the SFILT. In particular, traffic models are constructed on the basis that traffic levels will increase, with the inevitable “conclusion” that more roads are needed. The increases are large enough to justify “one more lane” but less than actual increases which would cause politicians to question the viability of schemes in terms of sustainability and value for money.
Furthermore, the lack of vision on cycling by Irish local authorities is clearly demonstrated by several Dutch cities having current cycling levels in excess of 40% of journeys, whereas by 2039-2040 the predicted level of cycling in Galway city centre is just 6% and in Cork is 4%.
Cyclist.ie believes that the Department of Transport should require Directors of Services for Transport to be appointed as Cycling Officers with responsibility for change in transport mode for their authority and for publishing annual progress reports.
The challenges to the next Irish government are unprecedented. It MUST introduce radical change to the way transport is managed in order to create a resilient mobility system and one that is consistent with nurturing active and healthy travel habits.