Tuesday 12 August 2008

Dublin bike scheme billboards threat to drivers

DUBLIN’S “free bike scheme” for its citizens has encountered an unexpected obstacle.

It has emerged that the city council will be liable for accidents caused by the billboards that have been erected on the capital’s streets as part of the scheme, even though the boards are privately owned.

The council has allowed JC Decaux, a French company, to erect 72 advertising panels in exchange for 450 bicycles in a “bikes-for-billboards” scheme. But the panels have been criticised as unsafe by drivers, pedestrians and the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI).

Unlike usual billboards, the advertising panels are attached to the footpath, with edges finished in steel. Drivers claim they block sightlines and could cause accidents.

Legal advice given last year to Jim Keogan, the city planner, from Terence O’Keeffe, a law agent, states that as the council is responsible for all “repairs and maintenance”, it also becomes “responsible for any public liability issues that arise in those areas in the event of accidents etc, occurring”.

The council asked O’Keeffe for legal advice before a hearing into the bikes-for-billboards scheme last October. In Chicago, a similar scheme is on hold because of questions over public liability.

“It’s all about lawyers. That’s the only hang-up,” Chicago’s mayor, Richard M Daley, said earlier this month.

Ian Lumley of An Taisce, said: “It is bizarre that the local authority may be carrying the can of legal responsibility for units belonging to a private developer.”

Lumley’s criticism is echoed by former Lord Mayor and Labour councillor Dermot Lacey, who is calling for the scheme to be “immediately suspended”. Lacey said that it would be “completely, totally, and utterly unacceptable” for the council to be responsible for private commercial hoardings that are “potentially dangerous” and “visually obtrusive”.

In some instances, such as at Synnott Place on Dorset Street, and at Rathmines, billboards were quickly removed after motorists complained they obscured sightlines.

Des Kenny of the NCBI said: “JC- Decaux was offered assistance \ 18 months ago. We were surprised when the offer was not taken up, as it was made free-of-charge.”

He added: “If the company was already aware that it was not legally responsible for the billboards, did it take as much care in its attention to design and location as it would have otherwise?”

The council will receive no revenue from the advertising or rental of the advertising spaces, but 32 panels will carry civic information on one side. However, there is still no sign of the promised bikes. The council said this weekend that they are due to arrive next spring. It has yet to disclose how much it will cost Dubliners to use them.

In other cities where JCDecaux has set up schemes, users pre-register with a credit card, paying about ¤30 a year on top of the charge for using a bicycle. If someone loses a bicycle or fails to return it to a docking station within a set period of time, the replacement cost of a bicycle, about ¤150, is deducted from their credit card.

The company has established schemes in 21 cities, including Paris, Seville, Cordoba, Brussels, Vienna and Lyon.

In Paris, 100,000 people use the 20,000 Velib bikes every day, but vandalism and the cost of spare parts for the bikes cost JCDecaux ¤20.6m in the first half of the year. In the first year, a third of the bikes were damaged or stolen.

Two Velib riders have been killed and the French Cycle Touring Federation said there have been problems with “letting loose hundreds of people who haven’t been on a bike in years”.

Dublin city council said this weekend that its legal department was still examining the issue of public liability over the billboards.

JCDecaux declined to comment.

Sunday Times


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