The statistics are stark. So far this year, six cyclists have been killed on Irish roads and many more injured, some very seriously. Last year, 15 died as a result of collisions with motor vehicles, more often than not on high-speed open roads, and hundreds more were injured. "One fatal road tragedy is one too many," Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said. However, apart from introducing legislation to provide for minimum passing distances to protect vulnerable cyclists from reckless motorists, Ross cannot claim to be a champion of two-wheelers when his own department's allocation for cycling infrastructure fell from €19 million in 2015 to €10.5 million in 2016 and just €7.5 million last year. These figures, which amount to less than 2 per cent of its capital budget, are so pathetically inadequate that they put Ireland close to the bottom among EU countries in this area.
Given that the number of cyclists in Dublin city has more than doubled over the past six years, with an estimated 95,000 people using bikes every day, there is a moral onus on the Government to invest in protecting them – and, by doing so, encourage even more to take up cycling. It is not as if there is no money available. For example, €550 million was spent on a full-scale motorway between Gort and Tuam in Co Galway that is anticipated to reach a mere quarter of its design capacity in 2030. By prioritising road investment, the Department of Transport has obviously forgotten about its own Smarter Travel strategy, unveiled in 2009, which promised to support more sustainable modes, including cycling. Bureaucratic inertia, misguided notions that we must go on catering for motorised traffic and the absence of a strong political commitment to make this happen are all standing in the way of progress.
Seville, in the south of Spain, where hardly anyone used bikes, invested €32 million in an extensive network of cycleways between 2006 and 2010 that now caters for 70,000 trips per day. "Build it and they will come" was the motto. And they did, in great numbers. Perhaps Ross should take a trip there to see what can be done.