— Department of Transport also won’t release communications from DPP and Gardai.
Road Safety Authority (RSA) officials have refused release the cost of research it has contracted a market research company to do which may lead to a change in Government policy on mandatory use of cycle tracks.
The term ‘cycle track’ is the legal name for on-road cycle lanes and most types of segregated cycle paths in Ireland.
As we reported last month, transport minister, Shane Ross, admitted for the first time that a law change in 2012 was designed to revoke a requirement for mandatory use of cycle tracks by cyclists, but the minister has opted to spend taxpayers’ money on new research rather than moving straight away to fix a claimed error in the legislation.
The claimed error in the legislation is apprently related to a missing comma — but legal experts who have talked to cycling campaigners have said that the department’s interpretation is incorrect.
The Department of Transport said that three documents supports its claim that there is a flaw in 2012 regulations — two of these are: “Email from Garda National Roads Policing Bureau – 13 May 2015” and “Director of Public Prosecutions response to queries – May 2015.” But the department refused to release these records under FOI last year and this year it refused to conduct an internal review after they rejected an environmental FOI request.
A third document released under FOI lists little detail of a meeting between the Department of Transport and Gardai:
Superintendent Con O’Donohue is the senior Garda listed as meeting with the department. According to the RSA website he is a policy advisor to the Garda Commissioner on road safety and he was responsible for the “introduction of penalty points for driving offences and oversees the operation of the fixed charge system within An Garda Síochána.”
According to reports in the last week, Superintendent Con O’Donohue apologied after the news broke that thousands of drivers are to have penalties overturned after a Garda error. The Garda Commissioner said today that they still don’t understand how the errors relating to penalty points and the number of checkpoints carried out occurred.
Given the lack of transparency in relation to road traffic policing in the news recently, we asked Minister Ross — via his department’s press office and also via his personal advisor — was he aware of why exactly his department is hiding correspondence between the department and both the DPP and the Gardai. So-far Ministers Ross has not responded.
Despite Minister Ross’s department prompting the research to review the policy to revoke mandatory use, the Department of Transport said that the matter of cost was an issue for the RSA.
The National Cycle Policy, published in April 2009, states that it is Government policy to revoke mandatory use of cycle tracks because their design and maintance is often poor, some cycle lanes put cyclists inside turning trucks and some off-road cycle tracks can be unsuitable for large groups.
There has been no wide-spread investment in high-quality cycle routes nation-wide since 2009 and, as this website regularly reports, many projects in recent years go against even the low-grade Irish guidance. But yesterday a spokesman from the Department of Transport said: “The research is to ensure from a road safety position that the previous intention is still valid.”
On the perception that the Minister and Government are unwilling or unable to make up decisions without relying on reports, the department spokesman said: “No — When the review is received, the Department will take on board the outcome and amend the legislation accordingly.”
The RSA said the research planned includes: “An observational study of cyclist usage of cycle lanes in locations where cycle lanes are present; face-to-face in-home survey of cyclists attitudes & behaviour with regard to cycle lane usage, a systematic review of the literature regarding the safety benefits of cycle lane infrastructure; and qualitative study incorporating a series of in-depth telephone interviews with relevant stakeholders.”
On February 17, Elaine Gibson a spokeswoman for the RSA said: “We have provided as much information as we can on this project which is being conducted by the department of transport, tourism and sport. As such, it would be inappropriate to provide anything further.”
But yesterday a spokesman for the Department of Transport said: “The Department has not spent any money. Queries re RSA spending can be sent directly to the RSA.”
We said to the RSA that the Department of Transport had referred us back to them, Gibson said: “We have already provided a statement on the matter and won’t be commenting any further.”
The RSA did not respond to questions asking what exactly was “inappropriate” about releasing the cost of the research given that the Department of Transport had referred us to them. They did not respond when asked if the research work was tendered for.
The RSA also did not respond to a question asking who are the 8 people being interviewed by market research company for one part of the research — we understand that cycling groups have been contacted in this regard, but it is unclear who the majority of those being questioned are.
In 2010 before the law was changed to revoke mandatory use, the RSA was against the change. The RSA said yesterday that the main points of relevance of the view it gave to the Department of Transport at the time was that:
- “The safest cycle paths exclude motorists from interacting with the cyclist. However, as this is not always feasible, the engineering of cycle lanes should be reviewed.”
- “The RSA expressed concerns about removing the requirement to use cyclelanes where they are provided and recommended addressing cycle lane engineering and maintenance issues to increase the acceptability and safety of the cycle lane network.”
- “Particular engineering and legislative interventions are necessary to facilitate cyclists at junctions and traffic controls.”