What's in the Programme for Government for Cycling?
Over the past number of weeks, negotiators from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party have been hammering out a deal for a coalition government. If all three parties ratify the agreement, then a coalition government will be formed.
Our focus in Dublin Cycling Campaign is on the transport section of the Programme for Government (PfG), and specifically on its implications for cycling. In a welcome change from previous PfGs there is plenty to get our teeth into, so in the piece below we will break down, section by section, what the PfG says about cycling.
So what does the PfG say about cycling?
“Cycling and electric cycling have enormous potential to facilitate a high proportion of daily trips, if we provide an environment which protects and prioritises this mode of transport. We will promote cycling and pedestrian safety and enable this through improved design, increased separation and better signage and marking.”
The most important aspect of this statement is the acknowledgement that to enable more people to cycle, the environment must be changed to make cycling a safe, convenient and attractive option.
The most effective way of doing this is to create a network of segregated cycle tracks, i.e. a web of interconnected cycle routes that are physically separated from motor traffic by kerbs, bollards or other appropriate structures.
“The Government will commit to an allocation of 10% of the total transport capital budget for cycling projects and an allocation of 10% of the total capital budget for pedestrian infrastructure. The Government’s commitment to cycling and pedestrian projects will be set at 20% of the 2020 capital budget (€360 million) per year for the lifetime of the Government. This commitment will deliver a five-year, multi-annual funding programme linked with a specific target of new separated cycling and walking infrastructure, which will be delivered or under construction by the end of 2024. This will enable a step change in the number of people taking daily journeys by foot and bicycle, which will help improve quality of life and air quality.”
This would represent a very significant increase in funding for walking & cycling infrastructure. Our rough estimate is that over the past few years an average of around 2% of the annual transport capital budget was being allocated to walking & cycling. This 10% allocation for cycling is something that we have been calling for as part of our #Allocate4Cycling campaign, and was also a key ask in our #ibikeivote campaign ahead of the general election.
This demand was based on a United Nations Environment Programme report from 2016 which called on countries to invest at least 20% of their transport budgets in walking & cycling infrastructure.
The clause of “will be delivered or under construction” does raise some red flags for us however, as we are well aware of how long cycling projects can remain in the planning pipeline before they are actually delivered.
The additional resources that will be needed to deliver on these promises are not insignificant - especially the human resources of suitably-experienced designers and engineers. We could end up in a situation where there is enough money to transform cycling in Ireland, but not enough relevant expertise to oversee that transformation.
“The total spend on walking and cycling infrastructure includes committed funding from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport for active travel, greenways and an agreed pedestrian and cycling allocation from the Bus Connects programme.”
This statement is a cause of some concern because it harks back to our difficulties in ascertaining how much funding is actually being allocated to cycling infrastructure. This can be extremely difficult to determine because very few projects are purely about cycling infrastructure, e.g. a new road or street scheme might include some cycling infrastructure, such as bike parking stands or a painted cycle lane, but what percentage of the project’s overall funding went towards cycling, and how is that determined?
Greenways can add to this confusion because they’re usually shared walking & cycling routes, and quite often they’re designed for leisure or tourism, rather than cycling infrastructure that will enable more people to choose walking and cycling for everyday transport.
The “pedestrian and cycling allocation from Bus Connects” is another unknown (and possibly unknowable) quantity, and there would be some concern that a major infrastructure project like Bus Connects could swallow up vast sums of walking & cycling funding. We would like to see how active travel funding would be incorporated into Bus Connects, and how that scheme can deliver value for money in terms of walking & cycling infrastructure.
“In addition to this expenditure commitment, we will undertake other measures to help enable the continued increase in the numbers of people walking and cycling each day. We will:
Mandate that every local authority, with assistance from the National Transport Authority (NTA), adopts a high-quality cycling policy, carries out an assessment of their roads network and develops cycle network plans, which will be implemented with the help of a suitably qualified Cycling Officer with clear powers and roles.”
There must be consistency in cycling policies across the country. It should not be left to each individual local authority to determine what “high-quality” means to them - it must meet an approved national standard that enables everyone to cycle.
Likewise, the assessment of roads networks and development of cycle network plans should be based on an approved national standard, and these assessments and cycle network plans should be approved by a central national authority.
Similarly, the role and powers of Cycling Officers must be significant, along a similar vein to the UK’s Cycling Commissioners, such as Chris Boardman, who are undertaking the development of cycle networks across the United Kingdom.
It is not enough for Cycling Officers to merely have a role in promoting cycling, they must have the powers to enable cycling, and that means being able to commission networks of segregated cycle tracks.
“Expand and enhance the expertise on active travel needed to dramatically improve infrastructure and participation both in the NTA and local authorities, including by establishing Regional Cycle Design Offices, co-located in the seven Regional Design Offices for roads, to support local authorities.”
This is an absolutely critical aspect of the entire plan. Without the appropriate expertise, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. We see this as an opportunity for a new generation of designers and engineers to apply a 21st century approach to transport in Ireland.
“Dramatically increase the number of children walking and cycling to primary and secondary school by mandating the Department of Transport to work with schools across Ireland, local authorities, the Green Schools programme and local initiatives, including Cycle Bus and School Streets.”
There is a critical distinction between promoting cycling and enabling cycling. Promoting cycling, without enabling it first, is not money well spent.
We acknowledge the wonderful work being done by Green Schools, and especially the various volunteer-led Cycle Buses that have popped up across the country, but the only long-term sustainable approach that will enable more children to cycle to school is to create integrated networks of segregated cycle routes.
“Widen the eligibility of the Bike to Work scheme. We will provide an increased proportionate allowance for e-bikes and cargo bikes.”
This is a positive development and we’d like to see further details on what this will entail. This doesn’t seem to address some of the aspects of the Bike to Work scheme which have been criticised since its inception, such as it being unavailable to self-employed people and students, or that applications to the scheme can only be made once every five years.
“Ramp up the Cycle Right programme to ensure that all children are offered cycling training in primary school.”
Teaching cycling skills to children is important, but it is in no way an appropriate substitute for enabling children to cycle by providing networks of segregated cycle tracks.
“Conduct a review of road traffic policy and legislation to prioritise the safety of walking and cycling.”
Walking and cycling are inherently safe activities. Roads are inert man-made environments composed of hard surfaces such as tarmac and concrete. Walking & cycling are not activities that are incompatible with roads.
What we mean to say is that any review of the safety of walking & cycling should be heavily focused on the one major aspect which makes road environments unsafe for walking & cycling: Motor traffic.
We will not tolerate any review which focuses solely on the responsibilities and behaviour of the more vulnerable road user, or which makes any attempt to falsely equate their responsibilities to those of the people in charge of motor vehicles.
“Greenways: We will lead the development of an integrated national greenways strategy. This has the potential to transform modal shift and improve air quality and public health. This commitment to cycling will enable us to achieve the huge ambition of developing an integrated national network of greenways to be used by commuters, leisure cyclists and tourists. We will continue the coordinated approach between central government, local authorities, and agencies to deliver on this ambition.”
We welcome this commitment to a network of Greenways. While Greenways are fantastic leisure amenities and a great addition to any local area, it is vital that they are integrated into local cycle networks so that they can properly enable more people to cycle.
Greenways that don’t properly link with urban centres, or which operate in isolation by only running from Point A to Point B, or that a family can only safely access by using a car, are wasted opportunities and will not enable people to choose walking and cycling for everyday transport.
This Programme for Government would represent a step change in how cycling infrastructure is funded and resourced. The €1million-a-day funding for cycling would put Ireland on a par with some of the top cycling nations in terms of per capita spend.
Ultimately, this PfG would be judged on its delivery, not its ambition, but it is reassuring to see cycling being given such serious consideration.
Perhaps the Covid_19 pandemic has played a part in crystalising cycling’s societal importance, but cycling’s inclusion in the PfG is a result of years, and decades, of relentless campaigning, advocating, lobbying and action, by Dublin Cycling Campaign and our many sister organisations.
The PfG recognises the many positive benefits of cycling on health & wellbeing, social inclusion, sustainability, emissions reduction and tackling urban congestion. Cycling can directly contribute to achieving 11 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which seek to realise human rights for all.
Even if a government does not materialise from this PfG, it is our hope, and our ambition, that this level of resourcing for active travel, along with the 2:1 investment in public transport over roads, would form the basis of any future progressive & sustainable transport strategy.
Most of the political parties that aren’t involved in the current negotiations for government referenced and acknowledged cycling’s critical role in sustainable transport in their General Election 2020 manifestos.
Cycling has been firmly established as an election & political issue, and that is where we are determined for it to stay. #ibikeivote
Help us do more for cycling in Dublin by becoming a member!