COMMENT & ANALYSIS: For those outside cycle campaigning, it may not always be obvious that historically cycle campaign groups have been a main part of the walking lobby, writes the Galway Cycling Campaign.
Typically the cycle campaigns are signed up to, and promote, a “Hierarchy of Road Users” that puts people on foot and the mobility impaired ahead of cycling.
Major cycle campaign groups follow the principles of the “Road Danger Reduction Charter” that promotes both walking and cycling and seeks coordinated action to improve the safety of both modes together. The cycle campaigns have made common cause with people on foot over issues like road design, junction design, speed limit policy, town planning, roads policing, etc. These common causes are outlined in the founding document of Cyclist.ie in 2008.
Documents from the European Cyclists Federation (ECF) and other campaign groups make clear that the needs of pedestrians have equal and even higher status than those of cyclists. The moral authority of cycle campaigns depends on a commitment that they work for all vulnerable roads users. In particular, there was an understanding that cyclists would defend these shared interests and refuse to make common cause against other vulnerable roads users for their own gain.
The established position of the ECF and local cycle campaign groups is that they are absolutely opposed to compulsory helmets and compulsory high-visibility clothing. Readers unfamiliar with the field will find relevant links below. To summarise, the claimed benefits of both helmets and high-visibility clothing are a matter of dispute. Calls for cyclists and others to wear such items are viewed as victim blaming and as an attempt to excuse dangerous driving.
For a discussion in the context of the minimum passing distance law, read the Galway Cycling Campaign briefing document. This is not to dismiss reflective clothing in principle, but such measures must be discussed in a context that considers the totality of measures needed to protect the vulnerable
Before 27 February 2018, Irish people who go about their daily lives on foot could trust that the Irish cycle campaigns would watch out for their interests in contacts with state actors. As of this week, however, it must be asked whether the basis for that trust and credibility is at risk from the mandatory passing distance lobbying efforts by some cycling interests.
Readers may be aware of an ongoing political campaign related to a push for a minimum passing distance law for motorists passing cyclists. This is something that Irish cycle campaign groups have been pushing for years. On 21 February 2018 an event was held outside Leinster House whose purpose was to hand over a joint document on the minimum passing distance law proposals to Minister of Transport Shane Ross.
The intent was that it would be passed to the Oireachtas Select Committee on Transport in support of amendments that Deputy Robert Troy TD (Fianna Fáil Transport Spokesperson) would be proposing to the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017. In his actions before the Select Committee, Robert Troy could therefore be seen to be acting as the acclaimed champion of all those groups who had signed this document. Thus these groups were now directly associated with any other amendments affecting vulnerable road users that Deputy Troy wished to bring forward at the same committee.
Deputy Robert Troy is a very strange bedfellow for active-travel campaigners, as he is well known to be opposed to people walking and cycling while wearing ordinary, everyday clothes. Deputy Troy advocates compulsory cycling helmets and compulsory high-visibility clothing. In an Oireachtas Joint and Select Committee meeting on 8 February 2017, Deputy Troy called for legislation to require pedestrians to wear high-visibility clothing and had obtained provisional agreement of the Minister of Transport, who said he could see no objections.
As recently as 14 November 2017, in a subsequent contribution on the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017, Deputy Troy stated: “It should be mandatory for all cyclists to wear a helmet at all times. I have already discussed with the Minister the need for pedestrians to wear high-visibility jackets on unlit roads. That is another amendment which I will bring forward on Committee Stage. The Minister shares my concern and supported me when I raised the matter previously. This is an opportunity to address the issue.”
The Select Committee on Transport was due to meet to discuss the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 again on Wednesday 28 February. On 26 February the amendments to be discussed were published. In addition to the minimum passing distance law amendment, Deputy Troy included – as he had said he would – an amendment that would legally oblige people on foot to wear high-visibility clothing on “unlit” roads.
Observers noted that the phrasing of Deputy Troy’s high-visibility clothing amendment seemed incomplete and would need further work. Such work is the purpose of structures like the committees on transport, who have the “power to draft recommendations for legislative change and for new legislation”. Such recommendations might well include extending the measure to other groups, such as cyclists.
There is already a wider political context of Garda Síochána management actively lobbying for compulsory high-visibility clothing for cyclists and pedestrians. Various other interests are known to be lobbying for compulsory high-visibility clothing.
This immediately created a situation where a local ECF member group and other campaign groups were publicly and undisputedly associated with a political effort to impose a measure on pedestrians that the ECF opposes for cyclists. Further, this support was given in a political context where mandatory high-visibility clothing could end up being recommended for cyclists as well.
Silence from those groups, given their prominent public association with Deputy Troy, would mean effective consent on this measure. The best way for the campaign signatories to the passing distance law submission document to retain credibility would be to publicly disagree with Mr Troy’s clothing proposals, actively campaign for him to withdraw them, and lobby the other committee members to reject them.
In the end, those involved were rescued by an unexpected hero in the form of Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, when the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker of the House) rejected the proposed Traffic Bill amendments as “out of order”.
The following day the Minister offered an alternative legal pathway in the form of a Statutory Instrument or addition to the Traffic Regulations (sometimes called the “Rules of the Road”). Minister Ross would normally be excoriated by the same cycle campaigners, so there is irony in the fact that he stepped in to save them from destroying that trust and solidarity, which had been built up over decades with the very people they are meant to represent – the ordinary people of Ireland who walk and cycle on a daily basis.
This article is presented as the view of the Galway Cycling Campaign, it is published here in the interest of open debate — alternative views are also welcomed in the comment section below or in reply articles.
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- Road Danger Reduction Charter
- Galway Cycling campaign MPDL briefing document: http://www.galwaycycling.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Briefing_document_re_MPDL_proposals_final.pdf
- European Cyclists Federation: https://ecf.com/sites/ecf.com/files/ECF%20comments%20for%20EC%20Road%20Safety%20meeting_26_10_2016_plus%20addendum.pdf
- European Cyclists’ Federation input for Commission Workshop in Preparation of High-level Road Safety Conference in Malta European Cyclists’ Federation Ceri Woolsgrove, Policy Officer firstname.lastname@example.org 07/11/2016: “Plans should adopt the common hierarchy of transport users based on safety, vulnerability and sustainability with pedestrians at the top, followed by cyclists and public transport users.”
- ECF and Reflective vests: https://ecf.com/news-and-events/news/serbian-cycling-community-unites-against-mandatory-reflective-vests
- About changes in the law in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they said: Ceri Woolsgrove, expert on traffic safety, the European Cyclists Federation, Brussels: “European Cyclists Federation (ECF) believes that cyclists should be able to choose whether to wear or not to wear helmets and reflective vests. We do not agree with the mandatory use of helmets and reflective vests.
- For a wider discussion of high-visibility clothing, see the Road Danger Reduction Forum: https://rdrf.org.uk/2013/10/31/hi-viz-for-cyclists-and-pedestrians-sensible-precaution-or-victimblaming
- Cycle helmets: An overview of the evidence: https://www.cyclinguk.org/sites/default/files/document/2017/11/helmets-evidence_brf.pdf
- Role of the Committee: https://beta.oireachtas.ie/en/committees/32/transport-tourism-and-sport/our-role/
- Link to proposed amendments to Traffic Bill: http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=37944&CatID=85
- Terms of reference: http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/media/committees/transport/Committee-on-Transport—Terms-of-Reference.doc.docx
- Function powers and scope: http://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/parliamentaryBusiness/termsOfReference/2017/2017-03-30_functions-powers-and-scope-of-departmental-committees_en.pdf