A plan for a new National Cycle Network was launched by the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, this morning who said the project would cost €1.4 billion and that an increase in the walking and cycling budget is needed.
The plan for the network was developed by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) and consultants Aecom on behalf of the Department of Transport — it is separate from Cycle Connects, being developed by the National Transport Authority, which includes wider local networks. The national network will aim to link villages, towns and cities and reach within 5km of 80% of households in Ireland.
It includes building the network in three phases with 330km between 2023-2025, 660km between 2026-2030, and another 2,510km up to 2040. And it is estimated the network will cost between €1,490m and €1,910m depending on what type of route options are chosen. A detailed report has been published on Gov.ie.
The announcement of the national network was made at the official opening of the Grand Canal Greenway between Sallins and Aylmer Bridge — Minister Ryan and local councillors it’s an example of greenways serving local communities. They used the example of the new bridge built as part of the greenway which allows school children to avoid a busy main road.
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Cllr Daragh Fitzpatrick, Cathaoirleach of Kildare County Council, said: “As Minister Ryan and myself witnessed, when we were here very early, we saw that locals are not using the canal [road] bridge up further, they are using this bridge. It’s taking the local school children and bringing them on a safer route to school.”
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Minister Ryan said: “People think greenways are for tourists, they not, they are [mainly] for local people. First and foremost we create a local environment that’s safe, that’s handy, that’s healthy, that’s quick — if we do that, the tourists will come…. yes, it’s for tourists, but it’s also for local people.”
He said the planned cycle network will be good for climate action, road safety, health and fitness and a sense of community.
After the launch when asked by IrishCycle.com about funding, Minister Ryan said in recent years “local authorities were taking time to scale up” the capacity to plan and build projects. So, for the first two years of the Goverment’s term, there was an underspend and the €350 million budget the Government has allocated each year for walking and cycling was not fully spent, but, he said, this is no longer the case.
He said that he allocated an extra around €40 million last year for walking and cycling projects, but that was dependent on an underspend in another area.
The €350 million figure is a Programme for Government commitment to spend that amount for each year of the lifetime of the term of government. He said this should be higher in the next Government.
“I’d be looking to increase the budget [for walking and cycling],” Minister Ryan said, but he said he wouldn’t be able to put a figure on that yet. Construction inflation has also had a sharp impact on how far the funding goes.
Asked about Dublin City Council’s allocation — which councillors have complained has been reduced — Minister Ryan said: “But still is €50 million or so — whatever the exact figure is, it isn’t agreed yet. Three years ago our entire national budget [for walking and cycling] was €70 million.”
“We have to be careful too — we need to get value for money”, he said. But some projects which have been put out to tender have come back with “steep” price tags, he said: “I’ll give you an example, the Fitzwilliam Street project [cost] estimates were very high.”
IrishCycle.com reported over the weekend that funding is “currently unavailable” for the permanent Fitzwilliam Cycle Route. An interim project is already in place which in many ways mirrors the permanent project but the current cycle track surface is poor.
Today, Minister Ryan added: “It was very expensive compared to the benefits that other projects could bring. We will have to prioritise and if something is looking very, very expensive, you cannot sign off on everything.”
He said that the National Cycle Network Plan includes implementing design types “which are not necessarily hugely over-engineering”.
Mayor of Naas Municipal District, Cllr Bill Clear (Social Democrats), said the area has progressive councillors in terms of cycling and that the Minister is “pushing an open door”.
He asked Minister Ryan to make sure that the remaining section between Kildare and Dublin City, which is under South Dublin County Council, is progressed.
After the launch, as covered in a separate article, Cllr Clear told IrishCycle.com that the main issue for the area in terms of cycling is the lack of funding as well as issues with Waterways Ireland delaying progress on a key route.