Dear Minister Ryan,
Thank you for your letter of September 24. There are some promising detail in your letter on the actions you are taking, but there’s an overriding issue of concern that overshadows your plans. This was raised in the original CyclingForAll.ie letter to you, but you did not address it directly in your reply.
As well as the 28 cycling and related groups who signed the original CyclingForAll.ie letter to you in August, over 150 politicians — including 86% of your own party’s elected representatives — have signed up to CyclingForAll.ie.
A part of the problem is that too many officials are now using the phrase ‘Cycling For All’ when referring to planned infrastructure which is clearly not suitable for cycling for all ages and abilities. On a national level, the overriding issue is that while officials in the National Transport Authority might say that they support Cycling For All, their continuing actions do not reflect this.
This is a clear example of co-opting language without backing that up with action.
A recent prime example is the NTA’s ‘Preliminary Design Guidance Booklet for BusConnects’ — this guidance was only published by IrishCycle.com after a member of the public obtained it using a Freedom of Information request.
Yet, some of the low-quality designs within this Preliminary Design Guidance are already appearing in non-BusConnects projects in both Cork and Limerick.
The guidance includes overengineered designs for where there is a bus stop along a cycle route. If you want safe cycling for children going to school, retirees going to the shops, and workers going to work, there is no alternative to having a segregated cycle path at bus stops.
Where there are high-quality segregated cycle paths, these are also used by people with disabilities, on a mix of normal bicycles, adapted bicycles, wheelchairs and other mobility devices. And there are already people with disabilities in Ireland who cycle, some less visible than others. This is clearly lost on some people who call those seeking better and segregated cycling infrastructure “ableist”.
This is always a balance to be struck in the design of our streets and roads, London for example added raised crossings areas and changed regulations to allow zebra markings to be used across cycle tracks without Belisha beacons.
The current bus stop cycle path solutions by the NTA and councils are likely to add risk rather than remove it. The additional risk will especially be on those who use large cycles with the extra risk of clipping kerbs and getting knocked off their bicycles — that includes people using adapted cycles, groups such as Cycling Without Age, and parents carrying children, as well as people who are older or others on normal bicycles who might be unable to navigate as easily.
Overengineered designs could risk more pedestrians-bicycle collisions too because sometimes more is not better and overly complicated designs are less likely to be understood or obayed.
There is also evidence that some disability groups are being influenced by a small group of people pushing scaremongering — usually, it is hard to prove ill-intent in these cases, but one person involved has publicly made commenting laughing at a TD who was cycling being injured in a collision, endorsed footpath parking despite its effect on many people with disabilities, and does not seem to mind restrictive barriers blocking wheelchair users as long as people who are cycling are blocked even on routes designated for cycling.
When councillors, campaigners and others raise the issues of designs with the NTA, they are often fobbed off with sweeping claims that Dutch designs are anti-pedestrian or not suitable for people with disabilities — which are quite sweeping generalisations when the NTA still promotes and funds shared footpath design which mix walking and cycling at junctions or elsewhere.
Shared paths have a role to play, but that role is should be far smaller than its currently envisioned. These shared designs are generally disliked by people walking and cycling, especially in busy urban areas. The shared designs are far worse for creating conflict between walking and cycling than the standard Dutch designs.
The NTA also continues to use experimental junction designs in planning for BusConnects and for projects ahead of it — this “Dublin-style” “protected” junction design is problematic and all of the problems stem from the NTA not following the best practice in the Netherlands (as opposed to pointing at when the Dutch do it wrong as a reason not to implement a tried and tested design).
And the NTA continues to promote other unsafe designs — such as what campaigners internally call “murder strips” where cycle lanes are placed between a turning lane and straight-ahead lane at junctions.
Some in the NTA also continue to hold outdated views about Dutch cycling infrastructure, such as on two-way cycle paths to the point of claiming that the Dutch rarely use two-way cycle paths in urban environments. It is true that there’s a minority view held by the city of the Hauge and some other Dutch local authorities against two-way paths, but cities such as Utrecht, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, etc are still building them as parts of their urban cycle networks when it makes sense.
I’m mentioning two-way cycle paths as another example of where the NTA seems to have a very narrow interpretation of Dutch design. The key is often the detail of the designs which keep these cycle paths both safe and attractive — the NTA is missing many of these details not just on two-way cycle paths but on all types of cycle routes.
I do not have all the solutions. But what is clear is that if you are on board with Cycling For All (and I think and hope you are), the senior officials at the NTA are not, their policy is not, and their design guidance is definitely not.
I know as Minister in two Departments with massive challenges that you have a lot on your plate, but I would urge you to please act on this issue urgently to help get a vision for Cycling for All realised across Ireland.
- Cycling to get squeezed at bus stops in Ireland (October, 2021)
- NTA BusConnects designers want to institutionalise loading across narrow footpaths and cycle tracks (October, 2021)
- BusConnects drawings show cycle track widths are narrow… but how bad is it? (July, 2021)
- Review of Ireland’s bicycle route guidance in question after NTA defends existing designs (March 2021)
- Campaigners skeptical that Dublin’s new experimental junction design will be safe (March 2021)
- Many BusConnects cycle track sections still of sub-standard widths (December 2020)