Dublin City Council axes Ireland's only local authority cycling officer post after funding cut

Backward step for Irish capital named earlier this year as one of the world's most bike-friendly cities

by Simon_MacMichael   December 17, 2011  

Dublinbikes.jpg

As of next Friday, there will no longer be a single local authority in the Republic of Ireland that employs a dedicated cycling officer following Dublin City Council being ordered by the Department of the Environment to discontinue funding for the position. The news comes at the end of a year during which the Irish capital was named one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities.

The Irish Times reports that the current occupier of the post, Ciarán Fallon, has confirmed that he will leave next Thursday and will not be replaced. Cycling campaign groups are using Facebook to try and get the issue reconsidered, adds the newspaper.

Mr Fallon started working at Dublin City Council in January 2009, with his contract lasting three years. Funding for the position was given by then environment minister John Gormley, who in so doing acted against official advice, according to the Irish Times.

Mr Gormley had made his decision to authorise the post following an approach from Labour Councillor Andrew Montague, who has since become Lord Mayor of Dublin.

A departmental spokesman told the newspaper that it had “advised Dublin City Council that it would be more appropriate if the post was filled internally via redeployment or through the reorganisation/reallocation of work to meet requirements.”

Mr Montague, however, has said that he is “hopeful that we might get this resolved,” adding that he has spoken to Phil Hogan, the Minister for the Environment, as well as other politicians from the ruling Fine Gael party.

According to the Lord Mayor, there are “more trips made every day in Dublin by bicycle than Luas [Dublin’s light rail system].”

He added that he believed it was “really important that we have a cycling officer” able to argue the case for cycling with those who design the city’s roads. “When we’ve got someone of that ability, we can’t afford to lose him,” he explained.

Mr Fallon himself, a co-author of the Irish Cycling Design Manual and member of the steering committee of the Irish Manual for Streets, which is being co-ordinated by the Department of Transport and Department of the Environment, said: “The city needs a dedicated cycling officer. I don’t believe it necessarily needs to be me, but it does need someone forceful and effective who actually wants to make things better.”

He added that the decision to order the termination for funding for his post comes at a time when Dublin City Council is formulating plans to make improvements to the city’s cycleway network, backed by the National Transport Authority, and that the Dublinbikes cycle-sharing scheme, launched in September 2009, makes “in excess of €400,000” annually for his employers.

Mr Fallon was involved in writing the 2011 Irish Cycling Design Manual , which set new standards, and is a member of the steering committee for the Irish Manual for Streets, a joint initiative by the Departments of Transport and the Environment.

Dr Mike McKillen, who chairs the Irish cycle campaign group Cyclist.ie, described the news that the position was being terminated as “an appalling decision, at a time when we need to ‘up our game’ in light of the National Cycle Policy Framework of having 10 per cent of commuting journeys nationally done by bike by 2020.”

He continued: “We should be overseeing the creating of cycling officers in each local authority to meet this target. All successful bike-friendly cities of Europe spend many millions more than Dublin in bike promotion and facilitation. Staff complement is a necessary part of this spend.”

The National Cycling Policy Framework, drawn up by the Department of Transport, requires “each local authority to assign an officer at an appropriate senior level as a ‘cycling officer’ [to] establish a cycle forum and be responsible for overseeing the formulation and delivery of… policy.”

Earlier this year, Dublin featured in the top ten of the inaugural edition of the Copenhagenize Index of the world’s most bicycle-friendly cities.

The urban transportation consultancy said that the Irish capital had achieved ninth spot due to “a wildly successful bike share programme, visionary politicians who implemented bike lanes and 30 km/h zones, and a citizenry who have merely shrugged and gotten on with it.”

It added: “The leading bicycle city in the Anglo-Saxon world got to where they are because of ballsy political decision-making. A bridgehead is established.”

But a note of caution was also sounded, with Copenghagenize saying: “It will, however, require further intense infrastructure implementation to return Dublin to the heady days of last century. The new cycle track along the canal is brilliant, but now Dublin needs to find the funds for more.”

Reacting on Twitter to the Irish Times article, Copenhagenize said: “SOS in Dublin. For all their cycling progress THIS is madness. Three steps forward, two steps back.”