Cycling Officers: What is their Background and What Should they Do?

At the recent meeting of Cyclist.ie to develop future strategy, there was discussion on the role of Cycling Officers in local authorities. Some of the comments showed a lack of awareness of Cyclist.ie’s position on the matter so this article was designed to clarify the subject. Cycle campaigners agree that there should be Cycling Officers in all local authorities but what should their background be and what should they do?

Cycling Officers were explicitly mentioned in the 2009 National Cycle Policy Framework where their sole task was defined as setting up a Cycle Forum but, since then, most local authorities have ignored the Department of Transport calls to appoint one. Where they have been appointed, some have an administrative background while others have a technical background and the underlying grade of appointed Officers includes Senior Executive Engineer, Administrative Officer and  Road Safety Officer with some working in “Sports Partnership” rather than “Transport”. In Kildare, the post of Cycling Officer was incorporated with the Road Safety Officer and the necessary qualifications uniquely included needing a driving licence but did not include being able to cycle.

In the past, the policy of Cyclist.ie was that the Cycling Officer should be appointed at an appropriate grade without specifying what that grade should be. At the October 2019 Council meeting of Cyclist.ie, a motion was passed that the Cycling Officer should be at Director of Services level and that the role of the Cycling Officer should be:

(1) to achieve an increased level of cycling and

(2) report progress or lack of it on an annual basis.

In large part, this was because in local authorities no-one is responsible for increasing the level of cycling. It also avoids the question of whether the required skillset should be technical or administrative. What is more important is the enthusiasm of the person for the job!

In 2005, following a road traffic crash in County Meath in which five schoolgirls were killed, safety procedures changed radically when Directors of Services in local authorities were given responsibility for new road safety procedures. This was a radical departure and led to an increased emphasis on health and safety in the upper levels of local authority senior management. In (most) local authorities, an equivalent radical departure is required in relation to cycling. Cycling Officers at Director of Services level with responsibility for increasing the level of cycling would be one step in ensuring that high quality is an integral part of new cycling infrastructure as low quality will not attract a high number of users.

Since the passing of the motion by Council, the Cyclist executive has raised the issue in its Pre-Budget submission to government but the Department of Transport has given no indication that it accepts Cyclist.ie’s position. Under it does, efforts to improve quality of cycling infrastructure will be handicapped.

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