Closing Address by the Minister for Transport, Mr. Noel Dempsey, T.D. on the occasion of the Joint Cycling Seminar organised by the Embassy of the Netherlands & the Department of Transport

27 - 01 - 2010

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 Check against delivery 
 Ambassador and friends,
At the end of what I’m sure has been an excellent day, let me reflect, briefly, on the big picture. 
What is the key to delivering a culture of cycling in Ireland?
Most politicians hope to leave a legacy and to change society. They’ll often harbour grand plans that will fundamentally alter the direction of their countries and secure their place in the history books. In my experience, it’s not the grand plans you’re remembered for. What seem like the small changes are what you are remembered for because they affect people’s lives for the better. They also make big differences. Sometimes unexpected differences.   Example of plastic bag tax, smog free fuel, smoking ban...etc.
I confess that for a period there I was concerned that the only thing I would be remembered for was plastic bags...but because of the ripples of environmental consciousness it caused in the Irish psyche, that helped contribute to Ireland being top of European recycling leagues, it’s something that we can all be proud of.
The challenge
I believe that the single most important factor in generating a cycle culture in Ireland is to engender mutual respect on our roads. Ireland’s roads have to be democratised! To quote our French cousins Irish roads should be paved with Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. A walk, drive or cycle through rush hour traffic will tell you we have some way to go to achieve this ideal. 
We are all aware that some motorists assume primary ownership of the roads they happen to be on. 
But the right mindset is not confined to motorists. Cyclists can also act in a totally unreasonable manner. Some cycle on footpaths –Others are the equivalent of boy racers in cars – they treat their fellow cyclists, and pedestrians with a level of intolerance that defies belief. This can lead to accidents.
So let’s all calm down a little. Someone once said that before you criticise someone you should walk a mile in their shoes. Well in transport terms, before we criticise a cyclist or motorist we should travel a mile using their mode of transport. Motorists would see how their oblivious intimidation terrifies cyclists. Cyclists would realise how weaving can frustrate motorists. 
The Seminar
I’m greatly heartened by the level of attendance at this seminar. I am told that it has been oversubscribed. I’m not surprised – it reflects a new appetite for travel by bike.
On a personal level, I have felt that new spirit as well. Inspired by the National Cycle Policy Framework and our first National Bike Week last June, I’m happy to report that I returned to the bike and enjoyed many kilometres of cycling in France on holidays last year. I even brought back a few ideas how we can do things better for cyclists here. 
Key Messages in Creating a Culture of Cycling
Although you have listened to many speakers today I want to offer my key messages on the future of cycling in Ireland.
Firstly, cycling and, indeed, walking need to be seen as serious transport modes in their own right. The 2006 census tells us that no less than 420,000 workers and students travel – by car – less than 4 kilometres to their destinations each day. 
On an annualised basis, this is the equivalent of all the numbers carried every day on Bus Éireann, Irish Rail and Luas taken together. So, even if a percentage of these can shift to cycling and walking, we can make a dramatic impact on travel patterns in Ireland.
Secondly, creating a culture of cycling in Ireland will take time. I hope you have heard from our colleagues from the Netherlands that the exemplary cycle statistics from Holland did not happen overnight. It took decades of persistent effort to get to the present levels.
Thirdly, the challenge is a lot more complex than building massive infrastructure networks, be they motorways or Metro. I am not trying to underplay the effort and commitment we are making to deliver better infrastructure in Ireland. But creating a cycling culture not only involves investment in infrastructure but it also needs much more, ranging from programmes to change behaviour to a new approach to how we plan and manage our urban spaces.
The National Cycle Policy Framework
What we have in the National Cycle Policy Framework is a strategy to create that culture. We have learned from others in drawing up that strategy and I want to acknowledge the work of two consultants who helped draft the policy, Damien Ó Tuama, who is with us today, and André Pettinga from Holland, who unfortunately cannot be here. 
André brought very valuable advice on cycling practice rooted in Dutch society to our policy work and the team in my Department who worked on the policy learned much from him.
It’s no disrespect to those who worked on developing the Policy to say that the easy stage is over and that implementation is more difficult. Following on from Ronnie Devlin’s presentation earlier this afternoon, there may be some among you who expected that progress would have been made by now on each and every one of the 109 actions in the Policy. That is simply not practical.   The steps to be taken will be progressive and we will achieve the target we have set ourselves to increase the modal share of cycling from 2% in 2006 to 10% by 2020. 
This is ambitious but in keeping with the incremental rise in other European countries. In referring to the figure of 10% I might emphasise that this is for the whole country. Local Authorities will need to set specific targets for their areas and I expect that the targets for core urban areas will be much higher than 10%.
Another way of expressing the increased levels of cycling we are aiming for is to say that it is equivalent to the total number to be carried under all the investment public transport projects under Transport21.                                                                                                        

Commitment to Promoting Cycling
While this event is about cycling, it is also a component of the wider Smarter Travel agenda. 
Smarter Travel is a key priority for Government – with the aim of delivering a healthier, more environmentally responsible and economically advantageous vision for our travel and transport future. ACTIVE travel, and particularly walking and cycling, is key to healthier lifestyles for the nation. It is for these reasons that I have ensured that the expenditure for Smarter Travel initiatives will be treble that of 2009, notwithstanding the deep cuts we have had to make to public expenditure.
I will continue to fight for a bigger budget for cycling but I believe the key issue is not money but one of changing mindset so that cycling as a mode is not seen as a frivolous add-on but a very significant component of how we will travel in the future.
To this end, I’m happy to formally announce today that our second National Bike Week will take place this year in the period 13 to 20 June. We are already in the process of developing our programme of events – and details will be announced on bikeweek.ie as they become available.
As well as an expanded, all-island Bike Week, 2010 will see –
Ø      completion of many cycling infrastructure projects;
Ø      ongoing work on cycle certification for national school pupils;
Ø      further changes to the legislative framework as it relates to cycling;
Ø      continued support for, and further expansion of, our association with An Taisce’s GreenSchools Travel module;
Ø      an unprecedented level of engagement with motorists in relation to their interaction with cyclists; and
Ø      the finalisation of the long-awaited revised National Cycle Manual.
2010 really will be a very good year for cycling.
In conclusion, I’m very grateful to the initiative of both the Embassy of the Netherlands and to the staff in my own Department who co-operated in organising this seminar. I foresee many more partnerships between organisations to develop that active culture of walking and cycling in Ireland.
My final message is that I hope that nobody leaves this event thinking that it was an “interesting” day. I hope it has been an inspiring day – and that you will take some of the lessons you have learned here back with you and see how they can be applied in your area of interest.


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