Cycle lane mandatory use: Leo Varadkar was left in the dark over error

After “exhaustive searching” the Department of Transport said this week that they could find no records showing former transport minister Leo Varadkar was informed of issues with the law covering cycle lanes, an official said responding to a Freedom of Information request made by IrishCycle.com.

Before he moved from the transport ministry, Varadkar thanked members of the public for emailing him their support for him revoking the general requirement of mandatory use of cycle lanes, or cycle tracks as they are officially known. The change excluded contra-flow tracks and cycle tracks in pedestrian areas.

We already reported that he thanked one member of the public, but we now understand that the same email was sent to at least a few members of the public who thanked the minister for changing the law.

The issue was not one which was only addressed by written replies by people around the minister, in a Dail debate Varadkar showed a clear understanding of the problem with mandatory use of cycle lanes and he made it clear that it was government policy to revoke it.

In the Dail, Minister Varadkar said: “This is an easy one. The deputy asks if there are plans to remove the mandatory use requirement for cycle lanes. The removal of the requirement to use cycle lanes where provided is one of the undertakings in the national cycle policy framework. Where a cycle lane is provided, cyclists are required to use it, even if it is damaged or in a bad condition or inappropriate to use it. The government agrees that the regulation should be changed and it will be.”

The removal of the requirement of cyclists to use some cycle lanes was widely viewed as done and dusted in secondary legislation called SI 332/2012 — the explanatory note under the legislation still says as much. But readers alerted IrishCycle.com to a change in the Rules of the Road, the current edition of which still has a line which implies cyclists should use all cycle tracks.

We then contacted the Department of Transport and an official press office statement confirmed that it was the department’s view that mandatory use was still in place. We know that others have since confirmed the same from the department independently of our contact with them.

The Department of Transport claims that the explanatory note is the only thing in error — and, it claims, that does not matter because it does not directly form part of the legislation.

But Varadkar seems to been left in the dark over this issue, which — even in 2013 — he continued accepting members of the public thanking him for fixing the issue. Cycling groups also welcomed the change in the law in 2012 after it was changed.

Under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Acts, IrishCycle.com requested any records — including notes, briefing papers, meeting records etc — which shows that the Varadkar was informed that SI 332/2012 did not revoke the general requirement of mandtory use of cycle tracks (excluding contra-flow tracks and cycle tracks in pedestrian areas).

Nicola Hayes, the assistant principal officer at the road safety division of the Department of Transport, replied to that FOI request.

“I am sorry to inform you that, following an exhaustive search for the records your are seeking, in both paper and electronic format, we have no such correspondence,” she said.

The requests was refused as there was no available documents to release, which is standard in such cases.

As it is not covered by his current portfolio, Minister Varadkar was contacted via his constituency office for comment, he has so-far not replied.

When previously reporting on this topic we asked the Department of Transport if Varadkar was told about the issue, but the department has yet to reply without referring to Shane Ross, rather than the previous minister.

Cycling groups have rejected the department’s new view on the law. for example, Colm Ryder, chairman of Cyclist.ie which is an umbrella group for most cycling campaigns in Ireland, said: “The latest statement from the Department of Transport’s press office indicates a completely different interpretation on mandatory use to that outlined in SI 332/2012. Cyclist.ie, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network is extremely disappointed with the department’s about turn on this issue, its clear misinterpretation of SI 332/2012, its apparent refutation of national policy on the issue, and the lack of consultation with cycling advocates.”

11 Comments

  1. Cyclists owe you a debt of thanks for following up on this by Freedom of Information request, Cian. This is disgraceful, retrogressive, myopic and unacceptable conduct by the Department. All the more reason for the upcoming protests. Well done.

  2. I second Will’s vote of thanks but I think publication should have waited until after The Protest to avoid having mandatory use becoming a distraction from the main issue.

  3. How much would it cost to get a legal opinion on the legislation? It certainly seems to me that the various cycling hostile bodies don’t have much of a basis for their claim. They previously said that the law was ambiguous, are they now saying that it unambiguously states that cycle lane usage is still mandatory?

    IF this is true, then what would a new wording that would make things clear even to the RSA and the guards be?

    I’d certainly be willing to pay a share towards legal fees to answer those questions.

  4. It seems to me that the RSA has decided, for its own purpose, to reinterpret the mandatory-use as requiring us to use cycle tracks and altered the Rules of the Road accordingly. This is unacceptable. The RSA is lurching towards being cycling-hostile!

  5. Keep pushing!!!

  6. The main object of the R.S.A. is to become a self funding and profitable organisation that can be spun out of state ownership. This was hinted at in an irish times article which referred to the huge cash reserve they were building up.
    Unless they can monetize something they are not interested. Dont be surprised when you see them suggesting mandatory testing of cycles, purely for our safety of course and for a small fee.

  7. Thanks so much for your efforts regarding this

  8. I agree with HivemindX and Mike McKillen. The RSA seem to have taken it upon themselves to interpret the legislation to mean that cycle lanes are compulsory. Their opinion seems counter to the understanding of previous transport minister and the understandings of all the cycling bodies. So – did the RSA get a legal opinion for this position, or, as I suspect, just make it up?

    Could a FOI request uncover what legal opinion (I suspect there isn’t one) that the RSA are basing their latest ‘guidance’ on? Surely they can’t just make this up on the fly, if there’s doubt – as there clearly is.

    In addition, failing the above, I’d also be willing to contribute towards obtaining a legal opinion on the legislation.

  9. Kevin O'Farrell October 1, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Why would anyone use cycle lanes that are full of broken glass, in a poor state with splitting Tarmac or obstructed by parked vehicles ? This is pure crazy stuff. DTTAS don’t seem to have a clue about cycling. They are completely out of touch with the real world.

  10. Yes, great work, Cian.

  11. Up until last Friday, DoTTAS web-site was still showing Minister Donohoe as incumbent minister! No mention of active travel or cycling in list of priorities either. This is telling and forms the policy backdrop to the protest this evening.
    A department of state that has clearly turned its back on cycling promotion. Keep on ‘truckin is the motto and to hell with transport GHG mitigation.

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