COMMENT & ANALYSIS: When setting up CyclingForAll.ie — a blueprint for cycling for all ages and abilities in Ireland — one thing was central: getting politicians to sign up to the principals and to remind them action isn’t always easy.
There’s a line expressed by councillors which goes something like: “cycling is great and everyone supports cycling”. It is now regularly heard by groups of people who have somewhat or highly conditional support for cycling.
Another version is “I support cycling,” and this is quickly followed by “but…”.
That’s not to say nothing should be questioned when it comes to cycling plans and projects which are to change our streets and public spaces. But if every opening in a fence or wall becomes a war, and every cycle path becomes battle, the path to making Ireland safer and more attractive for cycling and pedestrians will be a long one.
The problem is that too many politicians — mainly councillors — agree loosely to pro-cycling policy but balk at action. Some campaigners think the hardest thing is taking space for cars but often what’s slightly harder is opening holes in walls in urban areas or adding links like greenways in rural areas.
We have a bit of a castle mindset — walls around everything: our houses and estates. It’s pervasive. It needs to be reversed in many older areas and new developments need to be made with permeability walking, cycling and mobility devices.
There’s no shortage of examples of sets of councillors going against policy on pedestrian and cycling permeability. The latest is Carton Avenue in Maynooth, leading from the Carton estate to the town centre.
A private developer is currently building an access point from a new housing development to the avenue and councillors are rallying against it. Kildare County Council are clear that the link was provided for as a planning condition of the development. This is in line with local, county, regional and national policy.
Taking the lead against the active travel link is Labour Cllr John McGinley — he and his fellow councillors are doing the usual thing of flinging any muck at a thing they don’t like.
Cllr McGinley’s bluster includes the usual threats of legal and claims that officials have not followed the right process.
According to the Leinster Leader he said permission allowed for an access point but not one so wide — is that isn’t a prime example of admiring that you haven’t a legal leg to stand on, I don’t know what is.
If there’s permission for an access point, then there’s permission. Councillors being shocked that pedestrian and cycling access should be wide and unimpeded except for planned bollards doesn’t change that.
Bollards are about the only control measure used across the whole of the Netherlands and the sky had not fallen in. And I’m not the one being overly dramatic — all of the local councillors seem to be backing those objecting to active and sustainable access. Some of the strongest reported comments Sinn Féin Cllr Reada Cronin, who said she was “horrified” by the constriction works.
The Leinster Leader quotes Cllr Cronin as stating: “The idea of people coming from McDonalds and Tesco with trolleys of beer and giving parties (at the Avenue) has frightened the life out of them We will fight this on the Avenue as well as in the courts. I will man the barricades. This won’t happen.”
Just a reminder here: This is a pedestrian and cycling access point from a new housing estate to an existing pedestrian and cycling route.
There were fears that the famous Drumcondra bollards would lead to all sorts of issues, farms feared that greenways would mean more crime, and there’s active fears that the Fitzwilliam Cycle Route is anti-pedestrian (it’s not). Such fears rarely come to pass and, as the Drumocondra example shows, people change their minds and often it’s a vocal minority making noise.
And even even issues do arise is it worth putting in sub-standard solutions which are not suitable for mothers with children on their bikes or people with disabilities with bicycles that help them keep active and mobile? Are sub-standard solutions which will most effect those people worth keeping middle Ireland happy?
The Leader quotes Peter Minnock, the council’s director of services for the area, as saying councillors had agreed the Local Area Plan but they “didn’t really didn’t mean it.” This is key.
Councillors have to not just agree to policies and principals but they have to mean it — when it comes to any change that means councillors have to show leadership and vision. They should bring the community along with them — not be leaders of bandwagons against walking and cycling access.
So, some might say that writing articles like this might not be the best way to win councillors over to the CyclingForAll.ie principals. They would be right if it was a pure numbers game — it’s not.
If we want cycling for all in Ireland we need to get councillors and others beyond light support of cycling and pedestrians improvements — we need to ask them to first understand the change, and then to be leaders of change, to explain to people, to address fears and to bring their communities along with the change. This conversation has to happen publicly for more people to understand that their issue isn’t new or unique.
Cycling has a huge range of benefits from health to environmental to giving teenagers and their parents independence — however, all of those benefits will stay unlocked potential without action that will often annoy some people.
“We can be heroes just for one day” said David Bowie. We need to councillors and other politicians to be heroes — leaders — for ever and ever. Even ahead of an election year.