Dublin City Council hasn’t had a cycling and walking promotion officer since last summer, but that’s about to change.

The new job listing is supposed to go live this week on 2 May, according to a spokesperson for the council, but no details about the post are available until then.

It’s a good time to fill the position, says independent Councillor Ruairí McGinley, who’s on the council’s transport committee.

The council has a list of cycling infrastructure plans on its agenda, including the Sutton-to-Sandycove Greenway, the Royal Canal Greenway, the Dodder Greenway, and the Fitzwilliam Cycle Route.

“It’s going to be a more high-profile position than it was in the past,” McGinley says. “The officer wouldn’t have executive power but could be a key influencer, with direct access to the head of the transport committee” and senior-level council staff.

McGinley says person who fills the post will be a formal contact within the council for cycling and walking advocacy groups. Their role would include communicating with those groups, but also bringing messages back to the relevant council departments.

“[The officer] is coming into a busy job, I would think,” McGinley says.

Cycling and Walking Officers Past

This isn’t the first time the council has hired a cycling and walking officer. There was an officer before 2011, but the position was cut during the recession. The council got permission to hire another full-time staff member for the post in 2015.

Early the following year, Sarah Scannell took up the post. During her tenure, Scannell worked on promoting cycling and walking in the city through events such as Bike Week and an initiative to promote smarter travel called “Hike It, Bike It, Like It, Dublin”.

But Scannell left for another post last summer, and even though a member of staff has been filling in on a temporary basis, the position has been officially vacant since then.

According to the central government’s 2009 National Cycle Policy Framework, there must be someone responsible for overseeing cycling policy in each local authority. That person “must be a figure at an appropriate senior level in the organisation”.

“The appointment of a ‘Cycling Officer’ at too junior a level in the organisation may reinforce the idea that cycling is a separate, more marginal, mode,” according to the document.

Back in January, a motion on greater investment in cycling, put forward by Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy TD, was agreed in the Dáil.

That motion included a request to put cycling infrastructure “at the heart of” transport planning by appointing a cycling officer to every local authority “at an appropriate level of seniority”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said it works with designated officials in all 31 local authorities to coordinate and provide funding for cycling promotional activities such as Bike Week.

“The formal designation and/or employment of officials within local authorities is a matter for each individual local authority,” the spokesperson said.

Slow progress

Paul Corcoran, chairperson of the Dublin Cycling Campaign, says he worked with the council’s last cycling and walking officer on a few projects: the speed-limit campaign Love 30, removing abandoned bikes from bike stands, increasing the number of bike stands in the city, and improving road markings for cyclists.

Corcoran says “progress was very slow”, but not due to a lack of effort. “I’m sure some of that was funding,” he says.

“We’re hoping it is a more senior role in future,” Corcoran says. “If it’s a bigger, senior management role, there will be more impact.”

Donna Cooney, who was nominated to be Dublin’s first “bicycle mayor” – a symbolic position with a two-year term – by Amsterdam-based, cycling-focused social enterprise BYCS, says she hopes to work with the council’s future cycling officer.

Cooney has been working with the Dublin Cycling Campaign to increase participation in cycling. She is slated to receive her title at the upcoming Velo-city Conference, with bike mayors present from other cities around the world.

Cooney, who is also a Green Party candidate running for a seat on Dublin City Council in the local elections, agrees with Corcoran that the cycling and walking officer should be a more senior-level role within the council in the future.

Something Cooney would like to see is an earlier consultation process with the public on major pedestrian and cycling infrastructure plans, “instead of presenting a complete plan” at the outset.

While the cycling and walking officer would be paid, “The rest of us are doing this in a voluntary capacity, and it would be much better if we didn’t have to do it,” Cooney says.

“We’d still be there as cycling advocates, and we could be included in the consultation. But it would be much better if they get it right in the first place, and we can say, ‘That’s a brilliant plan,’” she says.

What about Walking?

McGinley says group walks are something the council does a good job supporting through its community officers.

In the south-east area of the city, for example, there are about eight walking groups that meet on any given day of the week.

But there’s more that the cycling and walking officer could do on this front, says Neasa Hourigan of the Irish Pedestrian Network (IPN), who is also a Green Party candidate for Dublin City Council in the Cabra-Glasnevin local election area.

For a start, they could “recognise walking as a primary strand within active travel,” she says.

Rambling through leafy parks is lovely, Hourigan says, but walking is also an important mode of transport. It should be right up there with cycling as an option for commuters, she says.

“And just like cycling, if we want that to happen, we need to fund the infrastructure,” she says, adding that the officer could help make that happen.

The IPN would like to see improved footpath surfaces, widths, and access; a reduction in street clutter; and better signage and natural “wayfinding measures”. Hourigan hopes the officer could push for all these things.

Erin McGuire is a city reporter. Her stories often offer an intimate window into the lives of those we share the city with. You can reach her at erin@dublininquirer.com.

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