CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I was delighted to be asked by Dr. Mike McKillen of the Dublin Cycling Campaign to open proceedings here this evening. I say this because tonight will be remembered as the occasion when a Minister for Transport finally got serious about cycling.
I don't have to tell this audience that where transport is concerned, sustainability is THE keyword. As Minister for Transport, I am stating clearly without ambiguity that sustainability must be right at the centre of my Department's agenda. That's the easy bit.
The hard bit is to make sure that the sustainable transport agenda will become embedded in the consciousness of the wider public. I'm up for that challenge as well.
As most of you are aware, I launched public consultation on the issue of Sustainable Travel and Transport in February just gone.
In the period up to 2020, this country will face ENORMOUS challenges in terms of transport emissions, congestion in our cities and towns and the impacts of these on the basic quality of life of all our citizens. Even when I launched that consultation process, it was clear to me that FUNDAMENTAL changes to travel behaviour are unavoidable.
Bringing about fundamental change will require commitment from all sectors of society. Through the consultation process, I was looking for a significant level of buy-in from day one.
We got that buy-in. In fact, we received well over 400 responses to the consultation document from a wide range of stakeholders. As cyclists, you'll be interested in the fact that a substantial number of these came not only from cycling groups but also from individual members of the public who strongly support the promotion of cycling.
While the Government's Action Plan on Sustainable Travel and Transport that will emerge later this year will include commitments to cycling, it cannot focus on cycling alone.
So, in the clear knowledge that cycling must play a key part in developing a sustainable transport system for Ireland, I directed my Department to commission research into a potential National Cycling Policy, concurrently with work on the development of the Action Plan.
The outputs of this research are VISIONARY, holding the tantalising, yet REALISABLE, prospect of a culture of cycling in Ireland by 2020, with 10% of all trips by bike. I'm committing to that tonight.
Non-cyclists in the audience may not fully appreciate the scale of this vision. So let me expand briefly.
In 2006, the modal share enjoyed by cycling stood at just 2%. Increasing the modal share to 10% would move as many people on to bikes as the public transport element of Transport 21 could accommodate and we are investing no less than €18 billion in public transport.
Achieving a shift to bike of this magnitude will require actions like
Training every schoolchild in the country in safe cycling
Providing safe cycle routes to schools, colleges and workplaces
Re-prioritising existing roadspace in favour of cyclists and walkers and designing new roadspace with cyclists' needs in mind
Rebalancing road traffic law to improve the lot of the cyclist vis-à-vis the motorist
Ensuring that traffic engineers are skilled in providing properly for cyclists on the roads that they have every much a right to use as motorists
Providing decent infrastructure for cyclists including secure parking and, where appropriate, proper and well maintained cycle lanes, unlike some of the shabby examples we all know of.
I would be dishonest if I were to promise the National Cycling Policy in a matter of weeks. Bringing it to life will require agreement between a range of Departments and agencies. It will also require to be explored with the cycling community. On this basis, my intention is to publish the Policy by the end of the year and earlier if I can.
In the context of exploring the draft cycle policy with the cycling community, Mike McKillen mentioned to me that the various cycling campaigns around the country are forming an umbrella organisation. I want to warmly welcome this development. I'll need all the help I can get if I am to overturn the prevalent view that cyclists are second-class road users. You are not and a powerful cyclists' voice is needed to counter the vocal motoring lobby groups.
At this point, I want to extend a special Céad Míle Fáilte to Dr John Parkin from the University of Bolton who is, correctly, the main attraction tonight.
As I understand it, Dr Parkin's presentation will touch on the factors that affect bicycle use and policies for creating bicycle networks. He'll also be dealing with the concept of permeability of areas to cyclists. These are all issues that will be listened to very attentively by my Department's representatives here tonight because they'll be crucial in the work that remains to be done on our National Cycling Policy.
Before I end I want to talk to you briefly about an issue unrelated to tonight's topic - the upcoming Lisbon Treaty referendum.
The Government is supporting the Lisbon Treaty, with its focus on reform of this Union.
The Treaty states that one of the Union's objectives is to work for the sustainable development of Europe based on a high level of protection of the environment.
The Treaty also reinforces and better defines the objective of sustainability. Sustainable development is also affirmed as one of the fundamental objectives of the Union in its relations with the wider world.
We believe that the reform proposed in the Lisbon Treaty will enhance the Community and leave it better equipped to meet the challenges of the future such as tackling climate change.
Specifically this Treaty will:
Make the EU more democratic
Give it a better and more effective system of making decisions
Ensure that the rights of EU citizens are better protected
Equip the EU better to meet the global challenges that the Union faces
Protect the interests of smaller states.
I am asking each of you to vote "YES" on June 12th.
Finally, I'd like to thank the Dublin Cycling Campaign for organising tonight's and, indeed, previous years' events. These events are hugely important as we ensure that cycling the green and efficient travel mode strengthens its position in the hierarchy of travel options.