Department of Transport officials continue to insist that the general mandtory use of cycle lanes law was never revoked, but, according to an email from 2013, Leo Varadkar wrote to a member of the public thanking them for supporting his decision to revoke the mandtory use of cycle tracks.
IrishCycle.com has received a copy of an email exchanged between a member of the public and Varadkar, when he was still the Minister for Transport. The emails in the name of Varadkar were sent from the department’s official ministerial address and had departmental references numbers included.
The emails cover a time frame which started before the law covering cycle lanes and cycle paths was changed in 2012 — with an update of the law with secondary legislation called SI 332 of 2012.
In June 2012, an email sent in Varadkar’s name said: “As you know, cyclists have been concerned for some time about the issue of mandatory use of cycle lanes where provided. This is due to a number of factors which you highlight in your email below. There has been particular concern for some time in relation to the conditions on some cycle lanes, where cyclists have found it safer to move off the cycle lane provided. While ideally cycle lanes would be located, designed and maintained in such a way that there would be no such concerns, I have agreed that the mandatory use of cycle lanes must be removed.”
The minister said the law covering mandatory use would be changed “during the course of this year”. Varadkar said: “The removal of the current mandatory requirement to use with-flow cycle lanes where provided will be part of this regulatory package. I do however propose to retain the mandatory requirement to use contra-flow cycle tracks and cycle tracks in pedestrianized zones, in the interests of safety.”
This is in keeping with a statement from the Department of Transport press office issued to IrishCycle.com in July of 2012 which said that secondary legislation to revoke the genral mandtory use of cycle track law was being finalised with Office of the Parliamentary Council.
In October of 2012, the member of the public replied to the minister and said: “I am writing to thank you. I was informed by a colleague today that you have passed SI no 332/2012, which makes only contraflow tracks and tracks in pedestrianised area mandatory for cyclists. I applaud your work on this, and welcome the legislation.”
There was no ministerial reply to the October email, but in March 2013, the member of the public wrote to the minister again, and said: “I was listening to you on the radio this morning publicising the impending fixing of potholes across the country, which is to be welcomed… But it contrasted greatly with the lack of publicity regarding another of your departments great decisions. Last October, you removed the obligation on cyclists to use cycle tracks where provided. It has freed me from using badly designed, poorly lit, littered tracks, where pedestrians wandered into my path without much care.”
The cyclist said he had received a “torrent of abuse” from a taxi driver who said he should be using the cycle track. He complained the change in the law on mandatory use was not widely publicised.
A ministerial reply — again in the name of “Leo Varadkar TD Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport” — said: “I appreciate your support for my decision that use of cycle lanes should not be mandatory. In regard to using bus lanes, the problems which you have experienced from certain other road users highlight the importance of public awareness of all of the Rules of the Road.”
Varadkar added: “The Road Safety Authority, which operates under my Department, is the body responsible for raising public awareness of the Rules of the Road and of all aspects of safe usage or our road infrastructure. I have passed your comments to them to be taken into account in the framing of public information campaigns.”
There’s evidence Varadkar was well-briefed on this issue. According to records found at kildarestreet.com, in a 2011 Dail debate Varadkar was asked by Seán Crowe (Sinn Fein) of his plan to remove the mandatory use requirement for cycle lanes. Varadkar said the question was an “easy” one and said: “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.”
What the minister outlined in emails is in line with the explanatory note under SI 332 of 2012. Sometime after Varadkar said he would write to the Road Safety Authority, the Rules of the Road — which the RSA edits — was changed to reflect the law change as explained in the explanatory note under SI 332 of 2012.
But the department recently claimed to IrishCycle.com that the explanatory note is incorrect and that mandatory use was never revoked.
In light of the email conversation sent to us, we referred to the emails and asked the Department of Transport if it was known at the time or shortly after the law was changed in 2012 that the explanatory note was incorrect re cycle tracks and mandatory use, was the minister or minister’s office informed of this, and, if so, when. We also asked the department when and how did the department find out that the explanatory note was inaccurate, as they claim it is.
A statement issued by the Department of Transport last Friday, however, did not respond to these questions. Instead it stated that the current minister is aware of the issue and that it will examine the issue.
A spokesman for the department said: “As responded to you previously, the Department has committed to look at legislation regarding cycling measures and this measure and other potential legislative changes will be examined in the Autumn by the Department. The Minister is aware of the issues raised in relation to this SI.”
He said: “Given the ambiguity that has come to light with regard to SI 332 of 2012 specifically, the Department is currently consulting with the Road Safety Authority and An Garda Síochána and has sought their views on the relevant provisions in the SI. Before any amendment to this SI might be made to clarify the situation in relation to the circumstances surrounding the mandatory use of cycle lanes and any amendment to the Explanatory Note, the Department will have to satisfy itself that any such measures strike an appropriate balance between the views of some in the cycling community and the views of those stakeholders from a road safety perspective.”
“The Explanatory Note does not affect the operation of the relevant Article (14 (4) (a)) of SI 182 of 1997 as substituted, as it has no legal standing,” the spokesman added.
Cycling campaigners have disagreed with the department’s view and said it is a “misinterpretation” of the regulations.