Local and central governments are fond of ‘promoting cycling’. They have been promoting it for some twenty years with grants here and there, photo opportunities at the opening of cycle facilities, giving out hi vizjackets, exhortations to get on your bike, advertisements in the media and so on. In most of this time, cycling nationally has declined. Brendan Behan once suggested that in order to revive the Irish language, books which were banned for their sexual content in English should be printed in Irish. Perhaps local and central government should trying promoting car use – the outcome could hardly be worse!
There is a lack of knowledge of how much Ireland actually allocates to cycling. It is difficult to be precise as cycling infrastructure can be provided by funding from central or local government but can also be provided by private developers in the same way as other infrastructure such as road or sewers. Furthermore, some types of cycling infrastructure such as shared footpaths or greenways are provided to be shared with pedestrians so how do you determine the separate contribution for cyclists from pedestrians?
In most countries the critical figure is the amount of funding provided by central government. In 2014 in response to a question in the Dáil from Deputy Catherine Murphy, the Minister for Transport reported that a total of €11.1 Million was allocated by his Department and gave a breakdown of the allocation to individual local authorities. However, this was only the direct budget allocation from the Department. The National Transport Authority also provided funding of €8.2 Million to local authorities In the Greater Dublin Region and in May the government announced a Stimulus Programme which included funding of €10 million for greenway developments. Finally, in November, a supplementary budget was passed which included funding of €1.6 million also for greenways. Overall it is estimated that funding of €21.2 million was directly and indirectly provided for cycling by central government. With a population of 4.66 million, this equates to an expenditure of €4.55 per person for 2014.
How do we compare internationally? Well pretty badly. The Netherlands spends approximately €30 per person per annum. In the UK, politicians at Westminster estimate that expenditure of £10 per head per annum is required. Norway, with a similar population as Ireland has just announced an investment of almost €1 Billion in cycling infrastructure although it helps if you have extensive oil resources. What is clear that unless spending is increased substantailly, the level of cycling in Ireland (outside of the capital) will remain under 3%.