Road safety should come before “economic requirement” – culture of Garda management needs to change

It is already an uphill struggle to make Ireland a cycling-friendly country, but now the Gardai are openly defending allowing motorists to break the law by parking in cycle lanes.

Police discretion is an important requirement for modern policing. But discretion should not extend to allowing the regular and often non-stop parking on cycle lanes, cycle paths and footpaths which we see today in our towns and cities. The #freethecyclelanes hashtag on Twitter has shown how wide-spread the problem parking is now, with little risk of sanction — less than 200 motorists were fined by Gardai for such in the last year records are available for

An elected national government decided to create “mandatory cycle tracks”, the legal name given to both cycle lanes and paths which are marked with road signs and a solid white line. Given the name, the lanes are confusingly not mandatory for cyclists — it’s mandatory for other road users to keep out of these lanes. The law states that motorists are forbidden to enter such cycle lanes or paths, expect for direct access to a side road or driveway, or in an emergency.

Our elected councillors in local government then agreed to put in mandatory cycle tracks on streets and roads which are covered by their democratic mandate. Mandatory cycle tracks are not the only option available, dashed or broken lined cycle lanes allow for loading up to half an hour. Time plates on signposts also regulate the hours of operation of cycle lanes.

If some councillors or TDs or businesses want more relaxed systems which allows haphazard parking they must do by legal means, not by lobbying the Gardai.

Parking or loading In cycle lanes should currently be a very rare thing, but it’s not. However, like parking on footpaths, it’s out of control — and often the same people doing it over and over without Garda intervention.

There’s already exceptions in place. And there’s already alternatives available. Discretionary policing, therefor, should be limited. Gardai should be following the rules laid down by our national and local government — discretion at the level it is happening goes beyond rule bending.

The Irish Times reported the following recently: “Supt John Ferris said that many of the cases raised involve delivery vehicles and there was an ‘economic requirement’ to this use of cycle lanes.”

It echoed comments made already about the @GardaTraffic official Twitter account. Here’s one example:

The above tweet and the practice on the ground is goes beyond discretionary policing. Our parliament and Government sets the law, our councils and councillors set policy and street design. Gardai should not be supplementing the process at the level  which is happening — if loading bays are needed on the Main Street or side streets, that’s council business.

However, motorists delivering goods or popping into a shop are usually parking in cycle lanes for convenience, not necessary. So-called  “economic requirement” should not come before safety but the reality is that, more often than not, there’s no economic requirement — parking or loading is often available a short distance away or in areas where that loading or parking is busy, it often can be done at other hours. People cycling bicycles in cycle lanes should not be put out and given added risk just because others can’t walk a few metres or can’t arrange themselves  better.

So, the Gardai are standing over allowing illegal acts for the convenience of one type of road user over the safety and convenience of others.

Twitter users have also changed the idea that it’s mostly business activity or other excuses used, here’s just one example:

The safety and convenience of people who cycle bicycles is clearly provided for by law and is in line with government policy on road safety, transport, the environment and health. The Gardai need to police our roads and streets — leave the law making and street layouts to our elected governments. And the elected members of our systems of government must stay within the open processes which are in place.

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