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Cycling Facilities

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 4 November 2021

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Questions (94)

Marc Ó Cathasaigh


94. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Transport the status of capital spending on walking and cycling infrastructure allocated by his Department for 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53503/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Transport)

In the programme for Government, this Government committed to investing €360 million per year throughout the life of the Government on active travel infrastructure. In the recent national development plan, that was extended to 2030. This is welcome. It aligns with the United Nations recommendation. Few countries are actually doing this. I ask the Minister of State for a status update on capital spending on walking and cycling infrastructure. There is an allocation from the Department for 2021 and I ask the Minister of State to make a statement on the matter.

As the Deputy knows, and this is probably the reason he is asking, in the programme for Government, we committed that €360 million in cross-Government funding will be spent on walking and cycling infrastructure per annum over the lifetime of the Government. This investment will help to support the delivery of about 1,000 km of new and improved walking and cycling infrastructure by 2025 as well as additional investment in greenways. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that this year, we have seen a significant increase in funding in line with the Government's prioritisation of active travel and greenways. My Department provided approximately €287 million in funding this year to the National Transport Authority, NTA, for active travel projects. This allocation is enabling investment in the greater Dublin area and the regional cities along with an additional investment in projects in 19 other local authority areas. The latter funding stream constitutes the first ever major active travel investment programme for rural Ireland. A further €70 million was allocated to greenway projects.

The significant increase in funding requires additional capacity and resources to be made available in the local authorities to deliver the projects as planned. To this end, earlier this year, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, wrote to the County and City Management Association to advise that approximately 250 additional staff would be allocated to local authorities around the country to work on the delivery of active travel projects.

I understand the recruitment process is ongoing and I hope to see all the staff in place by early 2022. As we emerge from Covid, we have a major opportunity to change the way we travel in this country and I am pleased to say that, despite the challenges of Covid as well as the need to recruit additional staff in the local authorities, it is expected that 80% of the total active travel financial allocation will be spent by the end of this year.

I am pleased to hear that €287 million is being spent. It falls short of the €360 million but we have to recognise it will take time to build up to that and it is with the local authorities to develop the pipeline of projects. It would be good if the Minister of State could speak to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and ask him to consult the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on pushing the local authorities to develop that pipeline.

I welcome the Minister of State's point about 1,000 km of active travel infrastructure to be developed by 2025. I think we can be even more ambitious. That figure is predicated on a very high standard, which is needed in our towns and cities, but if we want to have more extensive networks across all our towns and villages, we can go for a standard of infrastructure that would not cost €1.5 million or so, which is the basis for the 1,000 km. It comes down to reallocating road space and making difficult political decisions around that. We need to address that.

I think €287 million or quarter of a billion euro is a significant figure, especially in the context of Covid-19, given that greenways, which are part of this, were not considered essential works during the lockdown. That may have brought the figure down slightly but as the resources are allocated to local authorities in relation to active travel projects, we will see - and we will monitor this - an increase year on year in the roll-out of active travel infrastructure.

I note what the Deputy says on rural towns and villages. It is important to say that additional funding of €72 million was announced in March for 340 sustainable transport projects in 19 local authorities outside the greater Dublin area in our regional cities. The NTA originally earmarked €50 million for the scheme but it was increased due to the volume of proposals. That shows there is an appetite to roll these out in our regional cities, towns and villages. I encourage local authorities to continue to do that but we need to resource those authorities around that.

It harks back to my earlier question about the sustainable mobility policy which is in development and which the Minister of State told us we will have by the end of this year. That is welcome. The policy and the investment the Minister of State spoke about is important because we have a car-oriented society which has developed over the last 40 years or so. Some 74% of all journeys are made by private car. In my city, 70% of all journeys under 3 km are made by private car. We have to transition. They are journeys that can be transitioned over to walking and cycling, if not public transport. There has been a slight turn in recent years, which is positive. I acknowledge the Limerick school cycle bus and there is a successful cycle bus in Galway as well. We should not need cycle buses and would not if we succeeded in providing active travel infrastructure.

Absolutely. It is said by people who engage in and spearhead cycle buses that hopefully one day we will not need them and will have safe routes to school and protected infrastructure such that parents feel confident to let their children cycle to school appropriately. What is important about the safe routes to school programme is that the schools are actively involved in these solutions. It is not just the local authority coming in and proposing something outside of the school space. It is the schools working with parents and the real leaders are the students. They say what they require, be it cycle parking or a walk and stride facility. Our commitment is to roll out that €360 million per year on walking and cycling facilities. This is just the start and it will ramp up. If we get good examples in urban, rural and suburban areas that can be replicated across the country, and if leaders roll out schemes in areas where it was thought not to be possible, that will encourage others to do the same.

Questions Nos. 95 and 96 replied to with Written Answers.