The Republic of Ireland has a public road network in excess of 99,000 km. Of that figure 5,400 km of that network are national roads with the remainder being regional or local roads. In November 2016, the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport addressed the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism & Sport in relation to the state of the road network in Ireland.
State of Disrepair
According to the statement to the committee from the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport, expenditure on regional & local roads has reduced from over €600 million in 2008 to less than half of that amount in recent years. The more frightening figure is the statement from the Department that the backlog of repairs has increased from €3 billion in 2005 to over €10 billion in 2016. Not only are we not looking to be ambitious with our road network to develop it to allow safer cycling & walking, we are as a country letting the road network rapidly deteriorate to a point where it is beyond economical repair. The Journal.ie has an interesting article highlighting some pretty bad examples of roads in disrepair.
Will this affect safety?
Lately in the media, there is a lot of talk about road safety & people needlessly dying on our roads. Given the car centric policies followed by national & local government in Ireland, having uneven & poor road surfaces seems to be a mere discomfort for the motorist. As many a cyclist will contest, such uneven surfaces & dangerous potholes can cause severe injury or worse if a cyclist hits these in a bad way.
Regrettably the Road Safety Authority (RSA) appears to err on the side of caution when it comes to criticising or addressing the potential safety issues from roads with potholes & uneven surfaces.
More cyclists & pedestrians can slow further deterioration of our roads
If in the space of a decade, the estimated cost for the backlog in road repairs has risen over 3 times, then this figure will continue to accelerate as road surfaces will deteriorate at a faster pace if left in a state of disrepair. We need to make our roads safer for all road users.
The reality is that it was difficult during the Celtic Tiger boom years to raise €3 billion to spend on road repairs back in 2005. In these more chastened times, it is certainly going to be difficult for government to raise €10 billion+ for such repairs. The repairs will continue to happen piecemeal but Irish authorities can slow the pace of disrepair by encouraging more people to cycle & walk. The fact is, a cyclist on a bicycle will not cause pressure on the road infrastructure compared to the damage caused by a single car. According to an article on the Pedal Fort Collins site, in their estimation “it would take 17,059 trips by bike to equal the damage caused by an average car.”
The Irish Government’s Capital Investment Plan for 2016-2021, allocates €10 billion for transport investment. However investment in the active travel (encompassing walking, cycling and other such measures) is allocated just €100 million. We are not investing anything needed into our road infrastructure to halt the state of disrepair let alone actually develop it to support cycling or walking as alternative travel modes. By investing more in our infrastructure now & encouraging more cycling, this in turn will reduce the pressure on our existing infrastructure through a reduction of car use.
More cycling helps all of society – not just cyclists
Advocacy groups for cycling such as the Dublin Cycling Campaign are calling for the government to invest 10% of the transport budget towards cycling. The potential return to the public finances & society as a whole if we build proper infrastructure for cycling would include:
- Healthier Public: Healthier public through exercise e.g. safer roads can lead to increased use of bicycles by children to go to school, thereby encouraging aerobic exercise in younger generations early in life.
- Fighting Obesity: Improving the fight against serious diseases such as diabetes & obesity. This in turn can substantially reduce the public health costs the HSE requires to treat these types of diseases.
- Reduced Traffic Jams: Reduced congestion on our roads through reducing the number of cars.
- Improved Environment: Reducing our transport related emissions caused by motor vehicles. This not only helps Ireland get back on track with it’s international obligations to reduce emissions (they are currently increasing), but as a society we get cleaner air which benefits our health.
- Healthier Government Coffers: Government finances can be improved in the short term through encouraging more safe trips to shop by bicycle. This could lead to increased business for small local businesses, helping to keep towns & cities in good shape economically as well as contributing to increased tax revenues through VAT, rates, corporation taxes etc. In the longer term, the points above show the potential benefits to government finances if less is spent & lost through fighting health epidemics that can be tackled through getting people active through more cycling, walking etc.