Why did some Dublin councillors vote against a cycle route?

LONG READ: More people commute by bicycle in the South East area of Dublin City than any other part of the city, so, why on Monday did local councillors vote against public consultation for a walking and cycling route proposal? This is a summary of what councillors said in a debate before the vote:

The route named the South Dublin Quietway was at expected to run from Terenure to Ballsbridge. The main measures used in Quietways are traffic calming and bollards or planters to stop rat running motorists while allowing access for residents’ cars. Quietways only include small sections of cycle paths, usually where the routes intersect with larger roads to allow for safe crossing of such road.

At the South East area committee, council official Alec Dundon said the point of the meeting presentation and vote was not to approve or reject the route but to approve or reject the council going ahead with street audits, a type of local consultation.

Dundon said at a meeting earlier in the year, which all councilors were invited to, it became apparent that it would have been a good idea that consultation with residents should have been included as part of the feasibility study which the council commissioned.

He said what was at issue yesterday was to get the councillors’ approval to “advance the street audits or not.”

Local area committee chairman Cllr Paddy McCartan (FG) said: “I think that is reasonable”, before an interjection from Cllr Mary Freehill (Labour).

Cllr Freehill said: “No, it’s not. There’s a very serious issue which has just been raised [pointing at the officials].”

She said: “Where did the idea of a street audit come from, it never came from this committee, we have never had a street audit. I actually have a motion on the agenda that if we were to proceed with this that we actually have a plebiscite of the residents along the road and the perhaps the adjoining roads, and that we have a series of meeting along the route arranged by the city council. I don’t know what street audits are and, quite frankly, the way this report was carried out, I would be very unhappy if street audits were given to consultants to carry out.”

“And I am dead against it, it’s not something that was agreed by this council. And I just want to point out to my colleagues that that’s not the way we are going to go,” said Cllr Freehill.

Cllr Claire O’Connor (FF) said she agreed with Cllr Freehill and was nervous to move ahead.

Cllr Mannix Flynn (independent) said that the presentation by council officials should not go ahead, there was a lot of confusion and it would be “wrong” if the presentation went ahead.

Cllr Patrick Costello (Green Party) said the presentation would likely clear at least some of the confusion, and that point was echoed by Cllr Paddy Smyth (FG) who also agreed with the plebiscite proposal by Cllr Freehill.

Cllr Ruairi McGinley (independent) said the entire proposal is “somewhat strange and has being going on for a couple of years”. He said the issue was very divisive and he “was not in favour of spending money of Dublin City Council on proposals that were going to divide communities.”

A previous report recommended that the route should not proceed that the time as it was “low priority”, said Cllr McGinley.

Council official Chris Adamson said: “Just to explain what a street audit is: It is about getting the views of the local community, to capture proposals, issues and concerns that they may have in order to come up with viable solutions.” A consultant would be contracted and they would develop the exact format.

Adamson said the proposals that the feasibility study came up with was two wall openings, six traffic restriction points by use of bollards, and seven crossing of main roads. He said that all of this would be up for discussion after the street audits.

He said that the council executive views that a Quietway would increase walking and cycling safety, enable children and more nervous people to cycle and reduce rat running.

Adamson said that street audits would look at the preferences of the local community and would be estimated to cost around €15,000 to be carried out and that a traffic assessment would follow.

Cllr Mary Freehill said: “I think the first thing we must do is to design for movement that is in everybody’s internist. The basic issue with this route is that it moves in a east-west and west-east direction, there is no public transport that goes east-west except the 18 bus which has a major problem at Clareville Road which I still have not managed to get resolved. So, from that point of view, I don’t see how we can actually proceed with this because the first thing we have to do is take cars off the road. The only way you can take cars off the road is by offering them public transport.”

Cllr Freehill said: “I’m a long time on this council and we always accepted and recognised that the first principal in any civilised city is that you provide public transport. For me [this project] is putting the ‘cart before the horse’, or, in this case, the bicycle before the bus.”

She said references were made to London for example of Quietways but that London has orbital public transport that Dublin does not have. Cllr Freehill added: “It would not make the cars disappear, it would just cause rat running in a lot of other roads.”

Cllr Freehill said that street parking for residents could not be dismissed and that the proposals for the Cowper Luas stop was “absolutely dangerous”, but did not elaborate why, and said that proposals in Terenure beside a creche on a small narrow road was “very dangerous”, but also did elaborate why.

Cllr Anne Feeney (FG) said that she had complaints from both sides and that she could see positives and negatives about Quietways. She said: “The street audits can’t be a tick box exercise and is the start of public consultation, not the finish. On the bases of strong demands for greater public consultation, I’ll be supporting the approval of this spend alone to allow people to have their say.”

Cllr Claire O’Connor said that the feasibility study did not look at the wider traffic impact and that an internal council review gave that project a low priority and that it should not proceed at that time.

“But even if you’re not with me on that point,” said Cllr O’Connor, “this is redundant, why? Because of MetroLink. The MetroLink will overshadow what we agree here. It is going to fundamentally restructure that area, including Dunville Avenue being closed. So, this  feasibility study can’t continue, so, why would we spend money on something that can’t actually happen.”

Cllr O’Connor added: “I also want to make the point that this is a divisive issue in the community and I think we have a responsibility as councillors not to buy into that divisiveness. I do appreciate that we got emails on both sides but I think the community in general isn’t even aware of it and aren’t at the point yet where they have been consulted.”

She said that she disagreed with the council officials and said that she thinks that the route would “put children in jeopardy, because of rat runs and speed perhaps. She added: “In terms of protecting cyclists, in terms of protecting children, and that’s why we’re all interested in.” She said that that would include getting motorists to obey the 30km/h limit.

Cllr Ruairi McGinley said that the proposed route was ill-conceived and “a bit mad really”. He added: “The general idea of improving cycling facilitates is something totally different…. the idea that you can take a straight line from Herbert Part to Kimmage and knock everything in-between has not been properly thought through.”

Cllr McGinley said the money should be spent on the Dodder Greenway and that the proposals are very divisive, mistaken and he “cannot overstate how much that they are at variance with what this are committee should be doing”.

Cllr Paddy Smyth said: “There has been considerable lobbying on both sides — those in favour who want to see better infrastructure for cyclists, walkers, for people with prams… and those who want to see the status quo maintained. It’s not impossible that we can deliver something that can keep both sides reasonably happy.”

“We have the lowest cycling to school rates in Europe and if the status quo is maintained that will continue, with linked health and environmental implications. We had the Green Schools [programme presenting] in here [the council chamber] and we congratulated them on their fanatic initiative it appears that we were paying lip service because we were completely ignoring their recommendations,” he said.

As a doctor he was seeing more obese children. He said that school children are not allowed to cycle to school because of fears from parents and that the route would help make routes to schools safer.

Cllr Smyth said that the main concern so-far was the lack of public consultation, which he said he “shoulders some of the blame”, as the person who first proposed the route.

He said: “That’s why I find it baffling that we now have councillors here — the main cheerleaders for those complaints, people who complained directly to my face that there was not enough public consultation — who are now voting against us providing funds for public consultation.”

He said: “The route is still up for grabs, nothing is sent in stone and we would not be vote for a single road to be closed.”

Cllr Chris Andrews (SF) said: “In theory, the greenway works great” [Neighborhood Greenway is the US name for Quietways]. But Cllr Andrews added: “But in practice, Cllr O’Connor has has highlighted the real practical concerns that people have around traffic and the wider area which will be impacted in terms of traffic.”

He said that residents are not always listened to even after their views are asked for.

Cllr Dermot Lacey (Labour) said: “Councillor Smyth said that this is an issue for cyclists, if it was I would support it. I am a cyclist and I cycle most days of the week.”

He said that there is a school on Marlborough Road — one of the roads on the route — and that the parallel roads can’t deal with the extra traffic. He said: “How we deal with that is my particular concern.”

Cllr Lacey said: “I am surprised really that it is being pushed to a vote today because I think one of the great big problems is that there isn’t enough information to have a public audit. I’m all in favour of involving the communities but until we’re at a point where we can say where the displaced traffic is going to go, say where the cycle lanes are going to be and so forth, I don’t think there’s a point in having an audit.”

He said it would be premature and a waste of money. He said: “And I’m sorry for doing that because I am pro-cycling.”

Cllr Claire Byrne (Green Party), said: “We need to get children cycling to school, a series of governments have eroded the funding for safe routes to schools. We have an obesity problem in this country, children are currently spending less time outside than prisoners in this country.”

She added: “Also if we are to move towards a low carbon city, which we are legally blinded to do so by international commitments, we have to move towards more sustainable transport systems. We have to make brave decisions.”

“Why can’t we have public consultation. We spend so much time in this chamber giving out about no public consultation,” said Cllr Byrne.

Cllr Patrick Costello (Green Party) said that he feels like he is “reaching in the dark for a Brexit border solution” and asked if resident-controlled retractable bollards were feasible and how much would it add to the cost. He said that the steps proposed would reduce rat-running.

He said: “The idea that we have to provide alternatives [public transport] first has been mentioned, but I think this Quietway is the alternative that has to come first — we have 12 or 13 schools along the route. I have also seen similar solutions with bollarding to reduce through traffic on residential streets in towns like Swindon and [small cities] like Peterborough which don’t have comprehensive buses but still take steps to reduce rat running.”

Cllr Mannix Flynn (independent) said: “I think if you had an ounce of sense you’d withdraw this report and consider what’s happening here today.”

He said food is causes obesity, he said that it is not true that children not being able to cycling is the cause of obesity. He said that there is plenty of places for children to excises and that if the council cut hedges along footpaths it would make a big different for children to cycle on footpaths safely.

He said approving the public consultation would be to give it some sort of “intellectual consent” at a stage which it is not ready.

Cllr Flynn said: “We don’t want to be branded anti-cycling or anti-children or pro-obesity. We’re not like that at all, we’re looking for reason and common sense. I would ask in all due respects, to save the day here, that the city council should withdraw this report and come back to us again, rather than creating more diversity and more camps.”

“There’s nobody here who is anti-cycling infrastructure, but we want to get this right and we want to get the balance. Not at the expensive of this or the expensive of that,” said Cllr Flynn.

Cllr Frank Kennedy (FF) said he would have “great respect and sympathy, for the most part” for cycling campaigners but he was uncomfortable with what he sees as an imbalance between council areas.

He said: “The anomaly I’m uncomfortable with is that the overwhelming majority of the affected areas are in the Rathgar-Rathmines ward, for which for example Cllr O’Connor is a representative of, and the fact is that they have six councillors here where as Pembroke-South Dock has eight and apart from half of Marlborough Road and a bit of Herbert Park, every resident who has contracted us is from the Rathgar-Rathmines ward.”

He said that “it’s obvious how divisive this issue” and when there’s abnormal division at the area meeting, he has “to defer to his colleagues in the Rathgar-Rathmines ward”.

Council official Chris Adamson said that while MetroLink and Bus Connects might affect the route, what they were doing yesterday is looking to go ahead with public consultation.
He said: “This is very much a draft proposal, it’s all up for change, but to continue [the project planning] we would like to get the views and opinions of the local residents in order to proceed.”
Cllr Andrews objected that what the official had said was “very vague”.

Alec Dundon said that it would be up to consultants who work in the area of consultation to develop exactly how the street audits would work.

Cllr McGinley interjected: “On Garville Avenue we do know, 99% of residents are opposed.”

Cllr Smyth said: “A point of order on that — they are opposed to parking to be removed and cul-de-sac-ing… the petition mentioned removal of parking and therefore the validity is in question.”

With people talking over each other chairman Cllr McCartan said that he was not opening up debate again and pushed a vote on the issue.

The following councillors voted against the public consultation: Councillors Chris Andrews (Sinn Féin), Mannix Flynn (independent), Frank Kennedy (Fianna Fáil), Dermot Lacey (Labour), Sonya Stapleton, Mary Freehill (Labour), Ruairi McGinley (Independent) Claire O’Connor (Fianna Fáil).

While councillors Claire Byrne (Green Party), Paddy McCartan (Fine Gael), Patrick Costello (Green Party), Anne Feeney (Fine Gael), and Paddy Smyth (Fine Gael) voted to support public consultation. Cllr Kieran Binchy (Fine Gael) abstained.

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I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

11 Comments

  1. What a shambles. Can we have a direct elect Mayor please and powerful transport authority, such as Transport for London, who get things done.

  2. I’d like Mannix Flynn to give an example of a cycling of pedestrian friendly plan that he has been in favour of. It seems to me every time something that would improve things for people who choose not to, or can’t for some reason, drive a car he is against it.

    I note the type of straw man argument that would get you laughed at on an internet message board in “take a straight line from Herbert Part to Kimmage and knock everything in-between”. Weird, I thought this was just about making a few roads no-through.

    I see the expected claim that it wasn’t a proper consultation if the complainants didn’t get what they wanted. It’s obvious of course, that listening isn’t the same as agreeing but people don’t see that if it doesn’t suit the narrative they want. If you didn’t get your way (no restrictions on me and my car) then you weren’t _really_ consulted.

  3. So what were they actually voting on exact wording?

  4. To approve the council’s report / presentation which recommended which spending €15,000 on the consultation as described above.

  5. thats not the exact wording

  6. @dublinstreams it wasn’t an official motion or bylaw that they voted on. They were voting on whether or not to proceed to the next stage.

    You can watch it here. There was no ‘official wording’:
    https://dublincity.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/348496

  7. @dublinstreams
    If you already know the answer to your question, why ask?

  8. Fianna Fail and Labour and Sinn Féin voted against funding a public consultation. Fine Gael and Greens voted for…

    The funding would have been €15,000, to ask local residents their opinions and give them a chance to point out any problems.

    The main point of quietways is to quieten roads by leaving them open to residents, with throughflow for people on bicycles, but none for rat-runners and fly parkers.

    Level of debate:
    ” I don’t know what street audits are… And I am dead against it.”
    “the presentation by council officials should not go ahead, there was a lot of confusion”
    “the route would put children in jeopardy, because of rat runs and speed perhaps”
    “a bit mad really”
    “food causes obesity, it is not true that children not being able to cycling is the cause of obesity”

  9. I don’t know that exact wording, It isn’t what Cian said obviously

  10. Sorry, I wrongly answered your question as if it was “So what were they actually voting on” and missed or saw “exact wording?” as another question.

    I’ve watched a lot meetings and votes and I can only ever remember the actual wording coming up as an issue with councillors’ motions. Where there is a written report / presentation, they are voting on the recommendations in that. So, I think, the “text” they are voting on is to adopt the report or not.

    The more important thing might be what exactly the report said, but I’m not sure that matters now.

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