Government’s July Stimulus -Does It Deserve a Welcome?

Cyclist.ie has stated that it is broadly welcomes the recently announced €88m stimulus funding for active travel. If Cyclist.ie welcomes the funding, it should give credit to the Minister where credit is due. As Cyclist.ie did not name the Minister responsible, this article will name him – so thank you Minister Shane Ross, or rather former Minister Ross. The announcement of 2020 funding was made in October 2019 by the then Minister Shane Ross. Yes, he may have got mixed up over the details of the funding of cycling, but he is responsible for the funding allocation.

Cyclist.ie states that cycling campaigners around the country need to try to ensure that the monies are spent wisely by the local authorities as there are a number of listed projects that are of dubious benefit to cyclists and pedestrians. It does not explain how the campaigners are supposed to do this considering that most local authorities have no Cycle Forums and a lot of the proposed schemes will have no drawings to examine. Cyclist.ie states that there are number of dubious projects but gives no indication if it is a big number or small number.

In relation to cycling schemes, the current Minister invited local authorities to submit proposals for active travel schemes with the result that in most local authorities, schemes were proposed by road engineers. Cyclist.ie did urge caution but it is unclear exactly who should be cautious – cyclists, the Minister, local authorities? Cyclist.ie is on record as being in favour of the re-education of road engineers. It is contradictory if on the one hand, Cyclist.ie want road engineers to be re-educated and on the other hand it welcomes their proposals for expenditure of €88 million which includes dubious schemes. In Kildare, a number of the proposed cycle schemes actually worsen conditions for cyclists.

In South Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow, local authorities have minimal allocations for cycling, with most funds being spent on pedestrian improvements such as footpaths and crossings. This confirms the necessity of Cyclist.ie to continue to monitor the expenditure on walking and cycling separately. It is too easy for councils to combine the two modes and allocate significantly more for walking than cycling schemes as the latter are much more controversial.

Cyclist.ie did criticise the proposal on greyways. The attempt to convert hard shoulders to cycling infrastructure was tried five or six years ago and was soon abandoned – presumably on the grounds that they did nothing to increase the level of cycling. In 2020, the idea was revived with no less than seven counties proposing greyways. Now you can believe that it was random chance that seven counties happened to think of the concept of hard shoulder conversion at the same time. An alternative more realistic explanation is that officials in the Department of Transport were behind the idea of hard shoulder conversions – not because it was an effective method of increasing cycling but because it was an ineffective method of doing so. Just because we have a new Minister for Transport doesn’t mean that the Department officials, who were in charge when cycling got just 2% of transport funding, have thrown in the towel. They haven’t gone away you know!

As for the new team of politicians in charge of the Department of Transport, it was never a realistic possibility that there would be a sea-change in management in Kildare Street. We should give them at least a year, if not two, before we judge them.

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