Ross says “difficult decisions ahead” as 22 greenway projects seek slice of €53m fund

IMAGE: File picture of the Great Western Greenway in Mayo.

Transport minister Shane Ross has said that there will be difficult decisions ahead as his department has received 22 applications for a fund of just €53 million over three years.

The funding call came at the publication of the Government’s Greenway Strategy. It defines national greenways as off-road routes which are at least 100 kilometres long and a regional greenway is “at least 20 kilometres in length, but preferably closer to 40 kilometres long, or which can be extended to connect to a longer strategic route”.

Minister Shane Ross said: “There will be difficult decisions ahead given the high quality of the applications and the number of projects seeking funding but I look forward to being in a position to announce the successful projects next year.”

“It’s heartening to see so many applications received today and the national interest in Greenways. I’d like thank the local authorities and state agencies for the hard work that has gone into preparing them. It is wonderful that people all over the country appreciate the enormous benefits that Greenways give to local communities through better health, sustainable transport, recreation and tourism.”

He added: “This is an opportunity to build on the success of the Waterford, Great Western and Old Rail Trail Greenways in the years ahead. By following the steps outlined in the Strategy for the Future Development of National and Regional Greenways we can look forward to new Greenways all around the country.”

Routes are supposed to follow agreed standards and aim to form part of an strategic greenway network. The national funding is usually complemented by ‘match’ funding of some level by the councils involved.

Government’s Greenway Strategy criticised 

The Galway Cycling Campaign has criticised the Government’s Greenway Strategy as “treating greenway provision as exclusively involving the construction of new roads”.  Claiming it is “inherently unlawful” because it does not have a focus on designing “reasonable alternatives” to building new paths, such as “low traffic roads”.

On its website, the Galway Cycling Campaign said: “A central problem remains an apparent focus on the construction of new roads. In the published strategy the authors use the words like ‘built’ or ‘construct’ where a credible and environmentally defensible strategy document would use words like ‘designate’, ‘adapt’, ‘create’, ‘provide’ or ‘develop’.”

“The authors do acknowledge the Eurovelo guidelines and the use of low traffic roads. However, the authors appear to frame this as something that is mainly suitable for experienced cyclists which suggests the authors have an incorrect understanding of cycling policy and cycle route provision.”

They added: “It acknowledges that motor vehicle access might be permitted to these greenways but not the opposite; that restricting motor vehicle access is an effective, established, way of creating a greenway-like experience on existing local roads. For local roads the strategy merely refers to traffic calming rather than roads management or traffic restriction and diversion. The document acknowledges that low traffic local roads have a role in cycling networks but frames this merely providing links to the greenways (new rural roads) constructed under this strategy.”

The Department of Transport did not reply to requests for comment on the Galway Cycling Campaign position.

Under the header of “Lower-Trafficked roads” the Greenway Strategy states: “We have an abundance of lightly trafficked roads in Ireland. Some of these may prove suitable to provide links from Greenways to places of interest, viewing points and towns and villages. However, traffic counts and speed surveys will have to be carried out if they are to be used to direct potentially inexperienced cyclists from a segregated Greenway to a regional or local road. Traffic calming measures including road narrowing, chicanes and lower speed limits may be required to make such roads suitable for family cycling.”

It continues: “In that regard, many local authorities have already created cycling routes around their county. We have one of the most extensive road networks in Europe per head of population and many of these roads are very lightly trafficked. As part of the funding call following the publication of this Greenways Strategy local authorities seeking funding will be required to provide routes within their county of lower-trafficked roads that can provide access to places of interest and links to their proposed Greenway route, thereby placing the proposed Greenway within a broader infrastructural context.”

“In this way we will be in a position to map out a more extensive network of routes around the country. Such routes should follow the criteria laid out in Eurovelo, that they have fewer than 2,000 vehicle movements per day and preferably 500 per day. Traffic calming measures and speed limit reductions may be required and applicants should set out how they would develop such routes and the wider cycling and walking infrastructure.”

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.

7 Comments

  1. Having read the various arguments presented on the Galway cycle site, I would agree that if traffic calming measures and speed limits were an option, then maybe a cycle network based on low-traffic roads could be feasible. However, I personally suspect that because of our obsession with one-off housing, there are not enough areas that are sparsely populated enough for a coherent network to be feasible,

    In the age in which we live there would be likely to be considerable resistance to any effort to curb peoples ability to drive without restrictions. Every boreen in vast tracts of the countryside have multiple houses and it only takes one resident to voice an objection for the whole thing to become nonviable.

    That said, it could work in certain areas, and indeed has already been implemented on some sections of the Eurovelo 1 route in Southern Wexford:
    http://www.eurovelo.com/en/eurovelos/eurovelo-1/countries/ireland
    https://www.wexfordcoco.ie/roads-travel-and-parking/cycling-and-public-transport/eurovelo-cycle-route
    https://outsider.ie/ireland/euro-velo-wexford/

    Surely, it would be worth getting some feedback from visitors and users of this route to give a better indication of whether it is a viable option further afield?

  2. I suspect that aka is right any efforts to restrict motorists even on quiet roads will be met with resistance, but one off houses and motorists are not the real impediment to using quiet roads as cycle route. In farming country many of these quiet back roads are transformed into very busy highways when the harvest is on. There is no rush hour, it runs all day and in some cases 24 hours a day.

    Modern farm machinery is huge, a modern tractor and a twin or triple axle silage trailer is as big as a bus. Imagine an endless string of Dublin buses roaring up and down a boreen at 50 kph all day and you have some idea of the scale of this. Most farmers cut silage twice and sometimes three times a year. After the silage is cut come slurry spreading. If the weather is wet and the soils sticky, the road will be a mess with muck.

    Farmers don’t like greenways on their land, I suspect they will like this idea even less. Harvest is a time of serious pressure in the farming community, people and machines are being worked hard, there is always the fear of the weather or machines breaking and time is everything. Any proposal that might impeded the harvest will get a very bad reception from farmers.

  3. The harvest problem would not exist in areas that have large tracts of marginal agricultural land, like a lot of the west of Ireland. The use of quiet roads might be a good fix for specific local projects.

    But it fails to confront the real impediment to building a greenway network, the point blank refusal of farmers to accept new greenways on their land. Farmers have reasonable concerns about farms being divided, but these can be addressed by bridges and underpasses. But farmers objections go way beyond this, they have a host of unreasonable objections, that cannot be appeased. The only easy way would be a big pay off.

    It’s nearly 12 years since Failte Ireland highlighted the potential of cycling tourism as a lucrative market and the need for long distance, good quality off road routes. Then came the GWG, and all the ambitions it stoked, then came plans for national networks, then the farmers objected and that it seems was that. Maybe it time to start a debate about the cost of buying off the farmers.

  4. @Kevin with regret you are fundamentally misinformed. The 2007 Failte Ireland strategy was focused on using the large network of minor country lanes not on constructing new roads through farms. The 2007 strategy was endorsed by the 2009 National Cycle Policy framework. If we had followed this strategy we would now have the makings of a national network of routes around the country without alienating farming interests. With regret the main impediment to rural cycling is the unreasonable attitude of people such as yourself who want new roads constructed around the country.

  5. @Kevin Sweeney
    Ultimately, Shane makes a reasonably good case for considering using local roads in areas of genuinely low traffic, and clearly that option should be taken into account where possible and should be part of the design options available to greenway planners. However, it is very unlikely to be an acceptable solution in the epicenter of farmers objections to greenways which is the East Galway section of the National East-West greenway. This is good farmland, not marginal land, and it is not particularly sparsely populated.

    The other greenway flashpoint in South Kerry is really a test case which the IFA and other lobby groups have thrown their weight behind in an attempt to preempt any similar CPO actions elsewhere. In this case, while much of the land traversed by the proposed greenway may be marginal, there are geographical restrictions that make the former rail line the only real option for much of the route, short of moving it many miles inland:
    https://i0.wp.com/irishcycle.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Overview-map.png

    I am not clear whether the ultimate aim of the South Kerry protests is to block the greenway altogether, to have it moved, or to obtain more money for the land, but the general public and local business community in Kerry, by and large, are in favour of continuing with the greenway along the old railway line as planned, so it is really only the landowners holding this back. There is also the fact that the railway line is a continuous route that was once state land. The exact circumstances of how it came to be in the hands of the current landowners is not clear to me, but surely there is some moral imperative to restore it to state ownership for the common good?

  6. @Shane
    My argument is not based on the Failte Ireland strategy, which I believe is flawed and lacking in ambition, but on my own reading of the research on which it was based. I believe the key to bringing in big numbers of European cycle tourists is to build a world class greenfield national greenway network.

    I say this as a lifelong cycle tourist, I’ve done tens of thousands of kms of fully loaded cycle touring in Ireland and about 1500 km in Britain, in the last three decades. People like me in Germany are not going to get excited about the Failte Ireland strategy, even if implemented in full.

    It would take about 400 hectares of farm land (or the equivalent of 13 average sized farms) to build a 1000 km network, at current prices about 10 million for the land. Farmers objections are irrational, they placidly accept motorways through their land. They are also sociopathic, they object in spite of the economic and social benefits greenways would bring the wider communities in which they live. They moan about lack of investment in rural Ireland yet object to greenways.

    You seem to think I’m an advocate of road building and an” impediment to rural cycling”, your entitled to your opinion, even though you don’t know me. Just for the record, I’m a non car owning, rural commuter cyclist and public transport user, and as stated earlier a life long cycle tourist. I ride bikes on rural roads for business and pleasure almost every day of the year and have done so for many years. I also worked full time in farming for many years and am still a part time farm worker. I worked three seasons drawing in silage, I’ve driven huge tractors and silage trailers down narrow roads at speed. My doubts about this idea are not based on academic study, but years of experience. I also have close friends who are farmers.

    This is the viewpoint that shapes my perspective, and even though we disagree on this matter, I assume your views are genuine and sincerely held. I did not dismiss your views as “the unreasonable attitude of people such as yourself” just because I disagree with you. I believe you are wrong, but I’m aware that I might be wrong and am open to changing my mind. Perhaps my worries are irrational and the harvest would pose no problem, or is not as wide spread a problem as I fear, or perhaps the problem could be easily solved, but I would need to hear a credible counter argument to change my mind and you did not even attempt to make one.

    I advocate for investment in all forms of walking, cycling and public transport and believe every cent invested in roads is wasted. I also believe sustainable transport advocates are crippled by a lack of ambition and a propensity to turn on each other and fight over crumbs.

    @Aka
    I conceded in my second post that the harvest is not a problem on marginal land and this idea could work in such places.

    Kerry is for sure an important test case and your right we have yet to see what the objectors real bottom line is.

  7. Still not sure if GCC are not distinguishing correctly between a cycling _network_ which could use minor roads and greenways which would’t.

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