Active Travel funding is just bikes claims some, but that doesn’t add up

— Of course, pedestrians and cycling have different requirements but there’s a lot of overlap.

Comment & Analysis: Some people claim that no Active Travel money — or a negligible amount — is being spent on pedestrians and there are no pedestrian improvements to be seen. To be fair, there are some understandable reasons for people to think such, but the claim is just not true.

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After years of underinvestment, there have been (somewhat understandable) delays around ramping up staff and planning projects. The Government’s promised spending of €360m on walking and cycling is also spread across the whole country, including urban and rural projects.

Another issue is that rampant construction inflation means that in real terms the promised €360m is worth significantly less than it was when the Government parties signed their Programme for Government with the promised spend.

The above issues — funding spread across the country, inflation, and the process of ramping up Active Travel teams — mean a similar frustration is clear for people who are mainly focused on progress on cycling.

I should also say that in many places in Ireland, there will have been some improvements such as footpaths or crossings but no signs of cycling improvements. That’s especially so outside of cities.

The 2022 funding spending details, released to IrishCycle after a Freedom of Information request, shows a notable number of projects across Ireland which mainly relate to footpaths, crossings, and the likes of pedestrian streets etc.

Over 160 projects mention footpaths alone and around 40 more mention crossings. But, given the back log caused by under-investment and the geographical spread of the funding, there could be many more such projects and many people around the country could still find it hard to notice improvements on the streets they use daily.

A lot of the larger projects have solid pedestrian improvements — for example, the Clontarf route in Dublin which is largely (wrongly) seen as a cycling project alone includes repaving of all footpaths, continuous footpaths at minor side streets etc and the McCurtain Street project in Cork includes a large spend on footpaths.

Of course, there are a lot of projects listed on the spreadsheet released after an FOI request which have benefits for people using wheelchairs, mobility devices, their feet, prams, bicycles, and, in some cases, public transport too.

With many projects, it’s hard to separate out who is benefiting the most. There are some cycling projects where there have been huge benefits for pedestrians in terms of the provision of safe crossings, speed tables, side road narrowing, improved footpaths, etc.

The classic example of this is the Canal Cycleway project along the Grand Canal between the Rathimines Road and the Docklands — before the cycle route was installed, pedestrians used to have to run across the road where busy arterial routes cross the canal.

It was madness — crossing five or more lanes of traffic such as at Leeson Street with no crossing. This was repeated at different junctions along the canal.

Now that’s all forgotten and all some people can think about is how cyclists run red lights at the junctions.

As an aside: If you spend any time at the junction — as I have while taking stock photographs — you realise that all users run red lights at the junction. The setup at the lights along the route doesn’t really account for human behaviour very well, but, that’s especially so, where pedestrians and cycling crossing phases are separated out at the other junctions (Leeson Street includes green for pedestrians and cycling at the same time).

Pedestrian crossings can be disruptive to motorists, for safety that’s often needed especially in cases where pedestrian safety and priority were neglected in the past. Some people (usually motorists, but also some non-car drivers) claim otherwise, but a rebalancing of inevitable priority means taking away from motorists. At least that’s true in a busy city which is not in decline.

And there are examples where a number of projects which are seen as cycling or even labelled as cycling projects have delayed motorists but the main delay has come from the addition of new pedestrian crossings at junctions while being blamed on cycle paths.

A prime example of this is the Griffith Ave project in Dublin where it meets the Drumcontra Road where there was no crossing on one of the four sides of the junctions — people used to have to run across or, if they were not able to do that, circle around the three other sides of the junction. If you were slow walking, you also might have had to stop six times because the crossings were all staggered ones.

So, while a lot of work is needed to make our towns and cities pedestrian-friendly, the Active Travel budget is funding pedestrian projects and mixed projects which pedestrians clearly benefit from.

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