“Absolutely insane”: Councillors shocked at walking and cycling funding cut for Dublin City

— In 2023 there was funding for 3-4 new pedestrian crossings for the five Dublin City areas, this year it’s down to one.

Councillors have expressed their shock at the expectation that Dublin City Council’s active travel budget will be reduced by as much as 20% compared to last year.

Last Monday, at the city council’s first monthly meeting of 2024, Cllr Naoise Ó Muirí (Fine Gael) raised the issue and said it was missed at the December council meeting.

A report from officials issued to councillors — as this website reported at the start of December — outlined how the cut is expected to be around 20% and said that the works programme will be adjusted in line with that.

Cllr Ó Muirí said: “This is very surprising to me… I just want to surface it here so councillors are aware. We’ve only just really in the last few years ramped up on our ability to do active travel work and to be facing into an up to 20% cut in capital funding from the NTA I think is a real issue.”

He added: “I would like that you would write to the NTA and ask them why we are facing if it’s not [a cut of] 20% how much is it, and why are we facing this at what is a critical juncture in terms of all these projects.”

The heads of the active travel and traffic and transport sections of the council outline how the 2023 funding of around €60 million had been relatively high and that included extra funding for pedestrian crossings which they said was a considerable increase on the previous year.

Andy Walsh, director of the active travel office in the council, said: “We’ve only got indications yet on a draft basis of funding for next year, it’s not finally confirmed. But I don’t think we’re unique in this local authority that there will be a reduction on last year’s funding. So it’s disappointing, however, you know it doesn’t mean we don’t keep going back and pursuing throughout the year which we did last year for additional funding.”

He said: “And the key thing as well is that we’re building momentum on the actual construction front we’re we’re also ensuring capacities being developed on the design front and that’s where we’re doing a lot of I suppose kind of behind the scenes work at the moment building our team is building well, the design people have come together.”

“So we’ll have a lot of green shovel-ready projects always at hand if additional funds become available through the annual an annual source or indeed maybe some of the rainy day funds which were mentioned in the budget which would be might be coming on stream in 18 months or two years,” said Walsh.

He said that the reduced funding has “essentially delayed our pushing ahead with the interim” walking and cycling route from the city centre to Ranelagh, which is part of the wider route to Sandyford, but that his team are continuing to go through the process on the permanent scheme.

Another of the projects affected is the more permanent Fitzwilliam Cycle Route which is just 1km but the received tender price was around €10 million which was deemed to be excessive and not funded for that reason.

Projects are delayed and not abandoned he said.

Brendan O’Brien, who heads the traffic and transport section of Dublin City Council, which is separate from the active travel section but has overlap, said: “On pedestrian crossings, so, at the moment, we’re still unsure of funding.”

“Last year we managed to receive funding of about six million from the NTA and undertook about 17 crossings. The early indication at the moment from the draft allocations is that our allocation will be about 1.4 million this year so that works out roughly about a pedestrian crossing per area,” he said.

He added: “There is some funding though DCC funding which we’re in discussion with [the council’s] Finance [section] just to get allocated so hopeful that we’ll have a little bit of a better program than that but at the moment you know what we’re doing is we’re looking at how to prioritise that in terms of cost and so on and as we said we’ll come back to the area committees and let you know once we’ve got a clear indication of what the work program looks like.”

Cllr Damian O’Farrell (independent) said: “That’s a drastic reduction in funds regarding pedestrian crossing. They’re probably the single biggest issue around the area now for councillors and everyone…”

He added: “Do you know why it’s been reduced so much is there a reason for that? Is there a political reason? Is there anything we could do?…”

O’Brien said: “The six million that we got last year was considerably up from the previous year and it was a result of us making quite a case to the NTA that we had a significant backlog of pedestrian crossings which were approved.”

Cllr Janet Horner (Greens) said: “If we do see a reduction of budget we know we can deliver zebra crossings a lot cheaper than we can fully signalised ones. We have one in Sandymount now we had 10 that we provisionally agreed, where are we at we’re pushing ahead with them how many more do we see rolled out?”

She said: “It has been far too slow to get to this point so how are we going to accelerate that process? Because we can do a lot more to make our junctions safe if we use zebra crossings as an alternative to signalise crossings where appropriate around the city.”

“On the budget as well I just wanted to ask if we have a breakdown of the spend for 2023 and if they’ll be presented to the next [transport committe]. I think it’s really important that we interrogate how the money has been spent that we have been allocated and that we look at where if there are any issues where we are spending and not getting a proper return,” said Cllr Horner.

She added: “We definitely see some schemes that are not delivering on the level of quality that we want certainly at junctions people are still experiencing a lot of conflict and there’s just remains a horribly high level of injury and in some awful cases death on our streets and we need to be looking at how we can really make safe the where the danger is which is the junctions and not just make safe the places that are the easiest.”

O’Brien said that junctions need work and that the council were looking at the possibility of advancing BusConnects projects at junctions ahead of the main works once the projects were approved. He said the council would also look to roll out more zebra crossings.

Cllr Catherine Stocker (Social Democrats) said: “Funding cuts both in terms of active travel and pedestrian crossings which to my mind and that of fellow councillors seem absolutely insane frankly in our capital city in the context of the climate crisis.

She said: “I would ask that we write to the minister and the NTA and ask them to meet or do a workshop with the transport and traffic [committee], the Lord mayor and relative relevant Dublin City Council staff so they can see where we’re at.”

Cllr Ó Muirí again pushed for Lord Mayor to write to the NTA, which there was vocal agreement by councillors.

It’s understood that councils nationally are still working with the National Transport Authority to see where the bulk of the €350 million allocated to walking and cycling from the Government. A chunk of the funding is also allocated via Transport Infrastructure Ireland to greenways and safety improvements such as those around national roads.

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