The Cyclist.ie Rural Collective, representing cycling advocacy and promotion groups in the regions, welcomes this government funding announcement for walking and cycling infrastructure to nineteen local authorities outside of the cities – as can be read here.
The allocation of more than €70 m is a good start to a process of providing infrastructure which will enable people living in towns, villages and rural areas to choose an active travel mode for their journey.
The schemes being funded vary from one local authority to another but include a large number of footpath improvement schemes, cycleways, pedestrian / cycle bridges, cycle-parking, pedestrian crossings, and public lighting improvements. We find it interesting that most county allocations reference funding for four specific programmes:
- Safe Routes to School
- Low-Cost Permeability Measures
- Light Segregation Cycle Schemes and
- Low Cost Junction Tightening / Pedestrian Crossing Schemes.
It looks therefore as if these measures were suggested by the NTA, who will be overseeing and supporting the entire active travel programme, and we look forward to a consistent approach from county to county.
A high point of the funding announcement is that several counties where Cyclist.ie’s Rural Collective is active have received funding for transport studies / urban mobility plans. These include Carlow, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Louth and Wexford. Much to the delight of Jo Sachs-Eldridge, one of the key members of the Cyclist.ie Rural Collective, her native Leitrim has opted to do a County Cycle Network Plan Study! In Kerry, both Tralee and Kilarney are going to get interconnected cycleway networks which again is most welcome.
It would be churlish not to wholeheartedly welcome this funding. After all, the €72.8m which has been allocated is greater than the entire 2019 funding for the national walking and cycling programme. However, we in Cyclist.ie do have some concerns. These revolve around the standards which will apply to the proposed new cycling infrastructure. In the press release announcing the funding Minister Ryan, Minister of State Naughton and CEO of the National Transport Authority, Anne Graham all used the words “high-quality” to describe the new infrastructure. However, at this point we are unsure whether the Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority share the Cyclist.ie definition of “high -quality”.
Current cycleway standards are to be found in the National Cycle Manual (NCM) and the Transport Infrastructure Rural Cycleway Design (RCD). The NCM is currently being updated and Cyclist.ie is awaiting news on what brief the consultants have been given. We very much hope that it will take account of Cyclist.ie’s A Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland and Irish Cycle.com’s CyclingForAll.ie.
The first three demands in the Rural Vision are for an environment where cyclists are expected and respected, the creation and mapping of useful connected cycle routes, and implementation of best practice design to ensure routes are safe and comfortable for all ages and abilities. CyclingForAll.ie provides numerous examples from the Netherlands of what this design would look like in practice.
A very positive aspect of this rural funding announcement is that all counties will be supported by the National Transport Authority. Up to recently the NTA only had responsibility for walking and cycling infrastructure for the local authorities in the five main cities and in counties Kildare, Wicklow and Meath. The authority now has a countrywide remit and will be supporting all local authorities in rolling out Active Travel and the Safe Routes to School Programme. We are happy with this outcome, but to ensure adherence to standards it will be necessary for the NTA to act as an oversight body and to withhold funding for any scheme which is not compatible with the new guidance.
Cyclist.ie are seeking a meeting with the NTA to discuss, among other items, our desire to ensure the highest quality of planned schemes being built with this welcome and much needed funding.