Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Questions (69)

Catherine Martin


69. Deputy Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the reason he is not implementing the majority of the actions set out in the national cycle policy framework. [45644/18]

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Oral answers (44 contributions) (Question to Transport)

The Minister is forever saying he does not have responsibility for anything, but I believe he is the person responsible for the implementation of the national cycle policy framework. Unfortunately, we set ourselves the target that by 2020, 10% of all trips will be made by bike. In fact, the proportion of trips made by bike stands at less than 3%. Nothing is happening. Safe routes to schools, demonstration towns and major infrastructure are not being developed and not a single cycle project is under way. When will we start taking cycling seriously? When will the Minister ensure that in his Department, in his job, the existing policy to promote cycling is actually implemented? Nothing is happening.

I reject Deputy Ryan's assertions, which fly in the face of the evidence. He repeats a mantra I have heard from him so often that I do not expect him to reverse on it in the face of the evidence. I expect instead that he will keep saying it in order that some people will believe him.

I am somewhat surprised by the Deputy's claim that the majority of actions under the national cycle policy framework are not being implemented. As he will appreciate, the economic and financial crisis which accompanied the publication of the framework in 2009 had an impact on the levels of public expenditure available, but that is very different from asserting that implementation is not ongoing. Similarly, the Deputy will also appreciate that the economic and financial situation today is vastly different from that of 2009 and subsequent years.

As Minister, I have secured significantly improved multi-annual funding until 2021 for active travel measures which will be used to support the ongoing implementation of the framework. This improved funding includes €110 million specifically dedicated to cycling and walking infrastructure in our major urban areas; €135 million for sustainable urban transport measures; and €750 million towards the BusConnects programme in Dublin, which will include delivery of approximately 200 km of segregated cycling lanes, where possible.

That is pretty good. I do not know what Deputy Eamon Ryan has to complain about there. It is just not enough for him.

It is one hell of an improvement. We also have €53 million to support the development of new greenways in more rural areas, in line with the recently published greenways strategy. The national cycling framework contains 19 objectives with 109 supporting actions. All of these have been developed against the six broad themes of planning and infrastructure, communication and education, financial resources, legislation and enforcement, people and evaluation and effects. As the Deputy will be aware, a range of bodies are responsible for the implementation of the various actions. These include my Department, Government Departments, local authorities and the NTA, but I recognise, obviously, my Department’s overarching responsibility for the policy area.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I believe that, notwithstanding the constrained funding available across all areas of Government spending in the years immediately after the framework’s publication, collectively we have made real progress in implementing actions in support of the framework's objectives. For example, in terms of planning and infrastructure, implementation has seen the development of a design manual for urban roads and streets and the national cycle manual which apply international best practice to design, provision and maintenance of cycle lanes, the funding of the smarter travel areas and active travel towns programmes which saw significant investment in infrastructure in towns around the country, the integration of the framework within development plans, the publication of the greater Dublin area cycle network plan in 2013, and the establishment of public bike schemes in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

In the area of communication and education, implementation of the framework since 2009 has witnessed the establishment and roll-out of the green schools programme, the establishment and ongoing support of the annual bike week, the establishment and roll-out of Cycle Right, the national cycle training programme, to primary schools throughout the country, and the establishment and continued support of the smarter travel workplace and campus programmes in big companies and third level institutes.

As regards funding, as I have acknowledged, the economic and financial crisis of a decade ago meant that funding in those early years was not available at the level that would have been hoped for when developing the strategy. That is now behind us, however, and increased levels of funding are available and are being allocated through the NTA to local authorities.

In the area of legislation, I have brought through a number of proposals such as the Road Traffic Act 2016, which allows for 20 km/h speed limits to be set by local authorities in residential areas, while on the minimum passing distance my Department is engaging with the Office of the Attorney General with a view to implementing alternative solutions which are legally robust. I expect that legislation to be in place before the end of the year.

If we look at outcomes, we see increased numbers of commuters using the bike to get to work, not just in Dublin where the cycling share has increased from 3.7% in 2006 to 7.6% in 2016 but at a national level also. That is a positive sign and one we will look to build upon in the coming years. I have given the foregoing just as a snapshot of actions taken under the framework so that the Deputy can see that progress has been made and that implementation is ongoing.

There is not a single person with an interest in this issue who would think the way we are managing the promotion of cycling is working. I do not think there is a single person who would side with the Minister in this argument. I could go down through a litany of examples of actions. The Liffey cycle route was in planning for six years. The financial crash had nothing to do with it not going ahead. It was a lack of political will and that is coming from the centre, in part from the Minister's Department and in part from his own office. In regard to College Green plaza, the problem was a traffic management plan done by An Bord Pleanála that was still based on an incredibly car-centred system. On safe routes to cycle to school, Finglas councillors voted against putting in such provisions in regard to new schools despite it being policy in the new national development plan. The Minister and his Department did nothing about it. That was in the past two years. The proposal for a south Dublin cycleway, which would have really promoted cycling on the south side of the city, was again blocked-----

The Deputy will have another opportunity.

-----and the Minister and his Department did nothing about it. There is not a single cycling project being built. Nothing is happening.

I do not know. I sometimes give up. Deputy Eamon Ryan has a lot to complain about because nothing is ever quite right. When progress is made, he does not acknowledge it but other people do. People who are keen advocates of cycling do so. The Velo-City conference is coming to Dublin next year. Is that right?

That is right.

It is organised by the European Cyclists' Federation. Is that right?

That is correct.

The director of that series of conferences, after choosing to come to Dublin, said that Dublin is a great example of a city moving towards a more liveable, safe and active environment for its citizens. I accept that plaudit. I accept that others, apart from Deputy Eamon Ryan, recognise that we in Ireland have bought into the cycling story.

We are doing things because the percentage of cyclists as commuters is going up. We have committed to 200 km of dedicated segregated cycle lanes in the future.

I call Deputy Eamon Ryan for his second supplementary question.

We are doing-----

We have to move on.

-----many of the things that Deputy Eamon Ryan was advocating back in 2009.

I call Deputy Eamon Ryan for his second supplementary question. The Minister will have another opportunity.

If we were at 10% of all trips on bikes, I would say that was fine and that something was happening, but we are not. There is a major pent-up demand that would mean cycling would take off if we had some political leadership. I will be honest. There is real embarrassment in the cycling community about the prospect of Velo-City 2019. I have been to it and it is a great conference but we now have the embarrassing situation of Velo-City 2019 coming here when nothing, and I mean nothing, is happening on the ground.

I hope it might steer a change in the Minister's mind and in his Department that our ambition must be scaled up. Scaling up our ambition would bring all sorts of benefits. I refer to economic, environmental, social and health benefits. The truth, however, is that there are more schoolgirls driving themselves to school than cycling at the moment. The conditions on the roads in this city and in every other city in the country are atrocious. The Minister needs to do something about it rather than pretending it is all going fine.

I call Deputy Troy for a supplementary question.

If the Minister engaged with cycling activists nationally, they would not praise the work he is doing. Since Deputy Ross became the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, the funding for cycling infrastructure went from €19 million in 2015 to €8 million in 2018, according to the Minister's written reply which he sent to me. I see the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, coming into the House. She might be interested to know that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, promised in February of this year that the statutory instrument in respect of the minimum passing distance for cycling would come in immediately. Has he signed it? If he has not, when will he?

I thank Deputy Troy for his question. I will repeat to Deputy Eamon Ryan that he can go to whomever he likes but Velo-City has chosen Dublin for the cycling conference. It has applauded Dublin-----

It was the Green Party-----

-----as a city which is going in the right direction with cycling. It may be inconvenient for Deputy Eamon Ryan but when he set out on that road in 2009, which is what he or his colleague mentioned, he was sitting in Government at the time bankrupting the country.

The reason that it could not be implemented-----


-----as quickly as possible, is because Deputy Eamon Ryan and his Fianna Fáil friends were in government together as the country was going down the financial tubes.

Deputy Ross was waxing lyrical.

It could never have been afforded. What we are doing-----

Appoint Seánie FitzPatrick as Governor of the Central Bank. Who suggested that?

-----is acknowledging happily that the plan produced by Deputy Eamon Ryan when he was in government was a very good one.

Nothing has been done about it.

The Green Party in government was good at one thing and that was producing plans. It could not, unfortunately, deliver on anything at all.

We are going to move on to the final question.

I have no doubt-----

What about the minimum passing distance?

-----Deputy Eamon Ryan has his ambitions to get his chance again, and perhaps he will.

I ask the Minister to concentrate on the question regarding the minimum passing distance.

I have told Deputy Troy the answer to that question.

It has been answered.

Will the Minister tell the House?

We will be replacing that with a dangerous overtaking offence.