Cyclist.ie calls on the Irish government to urgently follow the lead of European and United Kingdom governments regarding emergency Covid-related active travel measures. These measures include allocating more space for active travel and controlling vehicle speed by introducing 30 km/hr speed limits in built up areas and other measures.
On Saturday 9 May, the UK transport secretary Grant Shapps announced a national plan to support ‘active transport’ (walking and cycling) during and after the Covid-19 restrictions . He instructed local authorities to create space for walking and cycling and said that 20 m/ph (30km/h) speed limits was one of the measures required. The Transport Secretary’s action follows similar action by European governments and the release on 8 May of WHO guidance for local authorities – Strengthening Preparedness for COVID-19 in Cities and Urban Settings – in which it recommends the “promotion of safe active mobility (e.g. walking and cycling)”.
As a consequence of the Covid 19 shut-down, recent weeks have seen a complete reversal of numbers driving versus numbers walking and cycling . However, from Monday next, May 18th business will begin to open on a phased basis and traffic will increase. Due to the constraints social distancing requirements will impose on public transport and the air pollution consequence of increased motor traffic, large numbers of people will continue to walk and cycle. Switching to the private car, as an alternative to public transport would result in cities and towns experiencing unprecedented gridlock and a consequent deterioration in air quality. This would pose further threats to public health by increasing the incidence of respiratory conditions.
Dublin City Council is, to date, the only Irish local authority implementing substantial traffic measures to improve safety for people cycling and walking during the pandemic. Cyclist.ie spokesperson, Joan Swift, Sligo Cycling Campaign, has called on the government ” to ensure that the remaining Dublin council areas and our other cities of Waterford, Limerick, Cork Galway – and major towns such as Sligo – will not be left behind”, The Department of Transport Tourism and Sport must emulate its UK counterpart and offer direction to local authorities on dealing with the challenges they face in keeping people safe while walking and cycling. Speaking on behalf of Cyclist.ie and its 20 plus member organisations across Ireland, National Cycling Coordinator, Dr. Damien Ó Tuama, said that “Initially the required segregated space can be secured quickly and cheaply by reallocating road space using a combination of wands, bollards, orcas and planters. In addition Mr O’ Tuama called for An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to introduce the following :
- Introduce €1,000 electric bike grant to be administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) this is necessary to facilitate longer journeys by people who will be unable to use public transport
- Introduce incentives for bike repairs (as implemented in France and UK)
- Ensure that the Cycle to Work scheme continues to be available to workers who could avail of the scheme pre-Covid-19 and enhance the scheme by (i) introducing an equivalent one for those dependant on social welfare, and (ii) increasing the limit from €1,000 to €2,000 for purchases of cargo bikes
In addition the government must work on cross-departmental basis to:
- Accelerate the granting of any necessary funds to local authorities for safety improvements in our towns and cities
- Use emergency powers to enable councils to bypass the current process and take swift action to. mandate 30kph speed limits in city, town and village centres and near promenades parks and schools
- Remind councils that other measures to reduce speed are already available to them, for eg junction build-outs
- Ensure enforcement by An Garda Síochána of anti-social driving and parking offences – e.g. by implementing fines and increasing resources available to tow vehicles obstructing footpaths or cycle ways
- Place a nationwide ban on local authorities de-pedestrianising streets or suspending cycle lanes.
We cautiously welcome the words of Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in the Dáil today (13 May), when he mentioned that the National Transport Authority (NTA) would work with local authorities in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford to develop a COVID mobility framework. We are disappointed that this appears limited in scope and gives local authorities the ability to opt out of any measures. We would like clarification from the Minister why this process was not started two months ago when initial restrictions began, particularly in light of cities around the world already taking such measures at that stage. We note that Dublin City Council led from the front on this matter, and that the Minister’s department, through the NTA, only intervened at a late stage. The Minister must surely recognise that there are more than five councils in the country that face these issues, and we are calling for greater support for the 28 city and county councils not mentioned by the Minister, including the councils surrounding Dublin City Council that are heavily reliant on public transport for mobility.