I almost choked on my coffee.
National cycle to school day and what is the AA traffic news telling us?
Nicola Hudson from AA Roadwatch at 7.30 this morning saying "Play your part as a safe road user, don’t cycle on footpaths and don't weave in and out of slow moving traffic."
I'm all in favour of encouraging road users to comply with the law, but it's not exactly great encouragement to head out the door with your kids and their bikes on the day that's in it. Anyway, I rang up RTE's Morning Ireland who told me that that what AA Roadwatch says is a matter for AA Roadwatch. Interesting, I'd have thought that RTE would have some editorial control over travel news, and maybe they do, but I was swiftly sent off to talk to the AA.
Soon afterwards I was talking with Nicola Hudson from AA Roadwatch who told me that they were rotating their messages and had other messages that were aimed more at drivers telling them to be 'vigilant'. Sure enough, I moused across to their website and there they were telling drivers to "check for cyclists before opening your vehicle door". Fair enough. However they were also telling cyclists that they "are quite vulnerable at traffic lights, so wait until the green light and be aware of left turning vehicles especially trucks and buses."
That's all very well, but on the one day a year when we're supposed to be actively encouraging children to cycle to school couldn't they:
a) encourage it, and
b) ask motorists to slow down.
I've known Conor Faughnan from the AA for over fifteen years, and he carried out decent work in contributing to sustainable transport policy discussions. However I just get a niggling feeling that when it comes down to it, the AA Roadwatch's travel news is more about motorists' convenience than it is about other road users. When it comes to public transport, they're often in favour in theory, but not in practice. His organisation has been a bit like St. Augustine, erring on the side of 'not just yet' when it came to Quality Bus Corridors and the Bus Gate in Dublin City Centre.
When you look up policy on AA Ireland's website you find that "the AA’s policies on the environment are based on the need for balance in the transport system and a belief that, where it is available, everyone should try to use the most appropriate form of transport for every journey". You can't disagree with that, can you? However on the 30kph limit in Dublin City Centre Conor described the limit as "absurdly slow", and "social engineering". He also said that "In road safety terms Dublin City is one of the safest places in the country". Twenty people, almost all pedestrians have died on the roads in the 30 kph zone in the last 10 years for which figures are available. Ironically the title of the AA's press release was 'Dead Slow'. One man's balance is another man's bias I suppose.
Speaking as a motorist, I'd appreciate if the AA concentrated more on doing something about criminal price-fixing within the car sales sector. Nicola Hudson did actually tell me though on the phone this morning that it IS all about advice for motorists, so I guess that settles it. Sadly however, their advice does send out subtle messages - cycling is dangerous, motorists should be 'vigilant' but not necessarily slow down.
Maybe I'm being ambitious in suggesting that AA Roadwatch should give greater encouragement to people to walk, cycle or use public transport. I treasure one of their tweets from during the snow in early January when they suggested that "Anyone travelling is advised to use the train, DART or Luas". It doesn't happen that often, and maybe its expecting too much from an organisation that describes itself on its twitter account as "Ireland's leading Traffic and Travel provider".
However, if that is beyond the remit of AA Roadwatch, then perhaps Morning Ireland should think about how to best encourage more sustainable transport and travel on a consistent basis to balance the voice that they give to the main pro-motoring organisation several times in each programme.
Looking ahead, one of the key objectives in the National Cycle Policy Framework is to provide National Cycling Training Programmes for School Pupils. Dublin City Council is doing good work with their 'Bike Start' Cycling Training Programme, but as Minister of State for Sustainable Transport and Travel I want to ensure that we roll this out nationwide as soon as possible.
I had a good chat with Conor Faughnan earlier. He did concede that they had perhaps got the tone wrong and Conor tweeted mid-morning that "Bikeweek continues, and it's cycle to school day for national school kids. Great weather for it, but motorists must take extra care!". He also points out that they have promoted Bikeweek in their magazine and on their website. Just now the AA has also taken off their traffic summary the advice not to weave or cycle on footpaths. I think that better reflects the tone that's required this week. I'm happy to acknowledge those changes, and I'm sure we will continue to find common cause in many areas. I'm sorry I didn't ask Conor and his team along to the "Dublin Cycle Chic" fashion show in Dublin's City Hall earlier this evening that was opened by the Danish Ambassador. I'm sure they would have enjoyed it!