Transport Minister Shane Ross requested €45,000 worth of research from the Road Safety Authority, second-guessing the division decision of former transport minister and now Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s decision to remove the requirement of cyclists to use cycle lanes.
Freedom of Information documents show that Department of Transport officials under Minister Ross were aware that it was the intent of Leo Varadkar as transport minister to remove mandatory of cycle lanes use when he changed the law and that it was a commitment in the Government’s National Cycle Policy.
Leo Varadkar as transport minister in 2011 told the Dail: “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.”
Varadkar 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.”
Department of Transport officials originally denied the intent was to remove mandatory use, and Road Safety Authority denied that it had changed the Rules of the Road booklet twice to reflect this.
However, in a 2016 email to officials in the Road Safety Authority, released under Freedom of Information, Nicola Hayes, assistant principal officer in the road safety division of the Department of Transport said: “It has come to light that the Department’s intention in 2012 when drafting the amending the Regulations was to remove the mandatory use requirement and only provide that they be used where a contra-flow cycle track is provided and any cycle track in a pedestrianised area.
She added: “This is a reflected in the commitment in the National Cycling Framework Policy 2009 – 2020” The policy outlines that “it is clear that the cycling infrastructure that has been constructed to date is often of a poor standard and is poorly maintained” and that the requirement can put cyclists inside of left-turning vehicles.
The department told the RSA that a risk assessment was completed at the time when Varadkar changed the law in 2012, but the department told the RSA to continue with the fresh research and tendered for the research work in 2017.
The Department of Transport has repeatedly refused to clarify what what was wrong with the 2012 legislation which Varadkar signed off on. Varadkar has previously told this website that he was not made aware of the issue.
It is understood that that the apparent error was found by the Director of Public Prosecutions when a review of legislation applying to cyclists was conducted before Paschal Donohoe as transport minister introduced on-the-spot fines for cyclists. It has claimed the a missing comma is at the centre of the issue.
After the research was conducted the RSA switched their position from disagreeing with the removal of mandatory use of cycle tracks to agreeing with it. The research found cycle lanes are not always the safest place to be, especially at junctions.
The research included a literature review of research by Seetrue Ltd costing €17,589, an ‘observational survey of cyclists use of cycle lanes’ by Tracsis Plc which cost €15,252, in-home survey of cyclists also by Behaviour & Attitudes costing €8,523.90 and ‘stakeholder interviews’ by Behaviour & Attitudes which cost €3,690.
The literature review was not tendered for because of a “derogation requested due to specifics of work” and the in-home surveys were paid for as part of an existing contract.
Commenting for this article, the Department of Transport said: “Given the statutory role of the RSA in advising on and informing policy, it is both necessary and appropriate that their views be sought on changes in road traffic legislation – including, where appropriate, views informed by relevant and updated research so that, as far as possible, policy is evidence-based. Given the recent trends in cycling usage and traffic congestion more generally, updating research is not a notable matter in this context.”
The research was deemed required despite the results being the same as campaigners have been telling ministers since the 1990s for free.
Shane Foran, a seasoned cycling campaigner with the Galway Cycling Campaign, said: “The ‘campaigners’ who made observations in many cases were already professional academic scientists and engineers who referenced their sources.”
He added: “Those sources were readily found in the international literature and could be accessed by anyone who cared to walk from Kildare Street to the library at Trinity college.”
Foran said there is a general issue with the Department of Transport’s attitude on cycling and the law.
When Bobby Molloy was transport Minister in 1998 a legislative framework was put in place to allow contra-flow cycling without lanes on narrow one-way streets.
The permeability measure is widely used in the Netherlands, London, Paris, and elsewhere, but only used on handful of streets in Ireland, all in Dublin as far as this website is aware. Examples from the Netherlands pictured above show that just ‘except bicycles’ plates are used on the one-way and no-entry signs.
Foran said: “It is now 20 years this month since Bobby Molloy TD published legislation providing legal arrangements for two-way cycling on one-way streets and separate traffic signals for cyclists. There may have been limitations with those regulations but nothing legal that would explain the general failure to apply them.”
He added: “Somebody at state level is choosing not to apply well understood and long established provisions for improving safety and access for cyclists sometimes in defiance of consultants recomendations.”
He pointed to a report by consultants Jacobs which recommended two-way cycling on one way streets in Galway to support the Galway Coke Zero bike scheme, which “did not happen.”
TIMELINE: Mandatory use of cycle tracks