Ireland’s Department of Transport has issued guidelines which firm up and clarify the legal powers that local authorities can use to quickly implement cycling and bus priority measures using Section 38 of the Road Traffic Act.
The guidelines outline how the definition of “traffic calming measures” is “very wide” and includes “measures which facilitate the safe use of public roads by different classes of traffic (including pedestrians and cyclists)”.
The guidelines outline measures which come under Section 38 as including roadway alterations to enhance safety, re-allocation of street space, junction enhancement schemes to improve safety, filtered permeability / filtered one-ways, provision of bus lanes and bus gates, bus facilities such as lay-bys or accessible bus stops and bus shelters, construction or enhancement of footpaths, pedestrianisation of sections of public roads, construction of pedestrian and/or cycle crossings, installation of cycle tracks, cycle facilities, such as cycle stands, bike stations or bike parking.
It also outlines how the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, exempts works within the existing road which is under a value of €126,000 or which is primarily to “enhance public bus services or improve facilities for cyclists” from the requirement of obtaining Part 8 or other planning permission as long as the works are within the boundary of a public road or do not trigger full environmental assessments.
The term ‘public road’ also has a broad definition, and is not confined to just the carriageway, which is legally referred to as the roadway.
A ‘roadway’ is a place primarily for vehicles, while a ‘public road’ includes footpaths, squares, lanes, alleys, passages, bridges, underpasses, and overpasses etc. It also includes elements of roads including margins, verges, islands, medians, hard shoulders, roundabouts etc.
The guidelines also outline that public consultation is not required ahead of trial schemes going ahead where the consultation should be part of the trial process. It is also not required for emergency works and “works of a very minor nature”.
The guidelines cover Section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1994, as amended by Section 46 of the Public Transportation Regulation Act 2009. The ministerial are referred to in the primary act but were never issued until now.
The failure of successive Ministers for Transport to issue guidelines came under sharp focus by the Court of Appeal Justices when they heard Dublin City Council’s appeal against the High Court’s judgment on the Strand Road case. The Court of Appeal in February reserved judgment and — nearly 10 months later — it has yet to issue a written judgment.
The current Minister for Transport had, before February, outlined the intention to issue guidelines. A circular on the new guidelines was issued on October 12 and informed councils, the National Transport Authority and Transport Infrastrue Ireland of the changes.
The circular also firms up the procedure to be used by councils to record decisions made to proceed — what the Court of Appeal referred to as poor administration practice by Dublin City Council around the recording of its decisions under Section 38 was also criticised by the Justices.
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The new guidelines however seem to broadly back Dublin City Council and other councils in their use of Section 38 for projects such as the previously proposed Strand Road cycle route trial.
In the circular, John McCarthy, the chair of the National Guidelines and Standards Group at the Department of Transport, said: “I am directed by the Minister for Transport to inform you that The Guidelines on Traffic Works were published by the Department for Transport on 12 October 2023. These new Statutory Guidelines, in accordance with Section 38 of the Road Traffic Act, 1994, as amended, apply to all works undertaken under that Section.”
The guidelines also outline which processes need to be looked at and, if Section 38 is to be used, which complementary legal provisions are also to be used. For example, to give signs legal effect.