— Department of Transport’s stance goes against change previous government agreed to
A legal requirement for cyclists to use cycle lanes was not removed in 2012, the Department of Transport claimed yesterday, but cycling campaigners have said that the department’s view is a “clear misinterpretation” of the law.
The legislation covering mandatory use of most cycle tracks — the legal name for both cycle lanes and cycle paths — was supposed to be reduced to just a subset of the tracks: those in pedestrian areas and contra-flow cycle tracks which are used on one-way streets.
The National Cycle Policy said that revoking the requirement to use cycle tracks was needed because Irish cycling infrastructure is of “a poor standard and is poorly maintained” and that off-road cycling tracks are unsuitable for groups of cyclists.
The interpretation given by the department — published for the first time in this article — goes against the explanatory note under the relevant regulations, ministerial and governmental intent stated by Leo Varadkar in the Dail, a statement from the department just before the regulations were published, and the government’s National Cycle Policy.
The explanatory note at the end of the regulations, SI 332/2012, states the changes included “….amended requirements for use of cycle tracks (only use of contraflow cycle track and of any cycle track in pedestrianised area is mandatory).”
In a Dail debate in April 2011, the then minister for transport Leo Varadkar was asked by Seán Crowe TD of “his plans to remove the mandatory use requirement for cycle lanes”. Varadkar replied that the question was “an easy one” and the “Government agrees” that the requirement was to be removed.
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.”
The minister added: “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.”
In 2012, months before the contested regulations were published, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transport said: “Provision for the removal of the mandatory use of cycle lanes is being provided for in the legislation, except for contra-flow cycle lanes and cycle lanes in pedestrian areas.”
Yesterday, however, the department said that the explanatory note was “incorrect”. They did not reply to a request asking them to explain the difference between their current stance and both their 2012 statement and the ministerial and governmental intent expressed by Varadkar.
“The explanatory note attached to the 2012 regulation is incorrect in stating that only use of contraflow cycle track and of any cycle track in pedestrianised areas is mandatory. As stated in the explanatory note, this note is not part of the instrument and does not purport to be a legal interpretation. As it is not a legal instrument, the explanatory note cannot be amended in itself,” a spokesman for the Department of Transport said yesterday.
The relevant section of the 2012 regulations is as follows:
- (4) A pedal cycle shall be driven on a cycle track where—
- (a) a cycle track is provided on a road, a portion of a road, or an area at the entrance to which traffic sign number RUS 021 (pedestrianised street or area) is provided, or
- (b) a cycle track is a contra-flow cycle track where traffic sign number RUS 059 is provided and pedal cycles shall only be driven in a contra-flow direction on such track.”
The spokesman then said: “To set it out as clearly as possible, paragraph 4(a) should be read as ‘A pedal cycle shall be driven on a cycle track where a cycle track is provided on a road. A pedal cycle shall be driven on a cycle track where a cycle track is provided on a portion of a road. A pedal cycle shall be driven on a cycle track where a cycle track is provided on an area at the entrance to which traffic sign number RUS 021 (pedestrianised street or area) is provided’. It is not to be read as ‘A pedal cycle shall be driven on a cycle track where traffic sign number RUS 021 (pedestrianised street or area) is provided’.”
If mandatory use applies to all cycle tracks under the 2012 legislation, it could mean mandatory use is more strict than before those regulations were introduced. The previous regulations from 1998 included exceptions which would likely no longer apply — this could mean mandatory use applies to dashed-lined cycle tracks for the first time, when previously it only applied to cycle tracks marked with a solid white line.
Exceptions in the previous regulations also included motorists parking or loading in cycle tracks, buses stopped in bus stops where a cycle track is present and an allowance for leaving a mandatory cycle lane to turn in a different direction.
Read cycling campaigners’ reaction in the following article: