Why is the South East Area of the city getting so much more money in grants for cycling and walking projects from the National Transport Authority than its neighbour the South Central Area? councillors want to know.
The South East Area has gotten €7,825,000 for projects within its boundaries, while the South Central Area has received €550,000, says Labour Councillor Darragh Moriarty, who drew up a tally.
This doesn’t count the money for projects that could be scattered anywhere in the city, such as school zones or cycle-parking at sports clubs.
And it doesn’t take into account projects that straddle the council’s five areas. But even with those, the South East Area still comes out on top, while the South Central Area falls to second to bottom of the table, above only the North West Area.
“There’s an absolute imbalance in how Dublin City Council executive[s] are looking at the city,” says Moriarty. “They’re being a bit blind to the needs of communities that are most disadvantaged.”
In the west of the city, there are people completely reliant on public transport or their own cars to get around the city and they only live a 15- or 20-minute cycle away from town, he said. “They could be on their bike, they could be encouraged to walk, if the investment was there.”
There are important projects looking at that west-east travel, he says. “But I think the figures broken down by area speak for themselves.”
The NTA has granted €52.81 million to Dublin City Council this year for active travel projects, spread across 85 cycling and walking projects and programmes.
Big-ticket items include €7.5 million for the Clontarf to City Centre cycle route, €6.5 million for a cycle and walking scheme for Belmayne Main Street, and €4.5 million for the Dodder Greenway at Herbert Park.
By area, there are big differences.
For projects contained within one area, South East gets €7,825,000, North Central gets €7,300,000, Central gets €3,750,000, North West gets €1,625,000, and South Central gets €550,000.
When projects that straddle areas are included, then South East gets €15,575,000, North Central gets €15,050,000, Central gets €14,650,000, South Central gets €8,050,000, North West gets €1,825,000.
Says Moriarty: “You can clearly see there’s a massive swathe of investment going in in coastal areas.”
“And then further out into Inchicore, Ballyfermot, Crumlin, are being completely and utterly ignored or forgotten about altogether,” he said.
Vincent Jackson, the independent councillor who chairs the South Central Area Committee, says there are other existing inequalities in transport infrastructure too, like how the DublinBikes doesn’t reach Ballyfermot.
How Were Projects Prioritised?
A spokesperson for the National Transport Authority said that it and councils work together, looking at cycle network plans and pedestrian movement plans, to work out which projects to fund each year.
“The process of determining the allocations to each local authority does not operate on a competitive submissions basis where applications would be accepted or refused,” the spokesperson said.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries sent Monday as to the metrics it used to determine which projects to press for funding for this year.
On 26 April, South Central Area councillors co-signed a letter to the council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, saying they weren’t getting their fair share.
“We ask that, as a matter of urgency, you identify and prioritise additional projects in the South Central Area to correct this inequality and imbalance,” they said.
They haven’t had a response yet, says Moriarty, who was among them.
Area councillors don’t know what evidence the council has used to decide upon projects but it’s something they would like to see, says Moriarty. “That hasn’t been forthcoming, that hasn’t been shared with us so far.”
Jackson, the independent councillor, says he thinks council management will likely have an internal logic for how they have prioritised projects. “But they should explain it,” he says. “It’s totally out of kilter.”
Much of the funding is for stretches of the city’s cycling network, the web of routes through the city that the council has pledged to make safer for cycling. Parts of that does run through Ballyfermot.
At the February meeting of the council’s transport committee, Brendan O’Brien, the council’s acting executive manager for traffic, gave a rundown of how it planned to build out the core of that cycling network, with a list of upcoming projects.
O’Brien said it’s important to understand that listed projects are those kicking off or funded this year. But “as we got through his process there will be more projects that start to come in”.
The council plans to deliver all of the city’s core cycle network before 2028, according to a February council report.
Jackson, the independent councillor, says he expects if council managers come back to area councillors about the active travel grants, they will say that projects in their areas will come in the next phase. “But when is the next phase?”
“It’s not fair,” says John Kelly, not long down from the bus on Ballyfermot Road, and walking westwards by Countess Markievicz Park under the green leaves and morning sunshine on Tuesday.
The council wants people to leave their cars at home, but then the neighbourhood isn’t getting money to help them to do it, he says. “If they want people to follow the rules, they have to see that people are treated fairly.”
Over the road is a strip of red cycle lane bollarded from the main traffic lanes. That has been put in since the pandemic, he says, and he welcomes it.
It’s helped people leave their cars at home, says Kelly, who walks or gets the bus mostly himself. Driving around and parking is just so expensive, he says.
Kelly wonders, he says, if the area is victim to a lack of government TDs.
In May 2020, Social Democrats Councillor Tara Deacy raised the idea of equity budgeting: that the council should have to consider how its budget allocations sit with existing inequality in the city.
Says Moriarty: “I would definitely have a wider concern around that spending equity.”
There may be issues with how councillors aren’t empowered enough when it comes to the budget for capital projects, he says. “Councillors get some kind of signing off, waiving through power.”
But they don’t engage enough with the meaty issues, he says. “With where the money goes and what it gets spent on.”
Each year, the council’s chief executive sets a report before councillors of all the big projects the council plans to spend money on over the following three years, including cycling and walking schemes.
Councillors aren’t allowed to vote on that programme, though. They get to vote on individual projects, once the designs have been drawn up and they come before the council as part of what is known as the Part 8 planning process.
Moriarty says it is too late for councillors to intervene in this year’s round of funding for cycling and walking schemes. But next time they need to break them down and consider them by council area, he says.
“We should be conscious of that going forward,” he said, “of the need to have a more equitable approach across the city.”