Attack on public transport campaigner a step too far in war on BusConnects

— BusConnects isn’t perfect and needs changes, but the full-on protection of status quo of cars motivates too much of the opposition.

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Newly elected councillor Deirdre Conroy’s attack on Kevin Carter, a campaigner for better public transport, has gone too far in the war against BusConnects, a plan to improve bus and cycle routes in Dublin.

Most reader’s first reaction might be to say they don’t know those names — Cllr Conroy is a first-time Fianna Fáil city councillor who represents the Kimmage-Rathmines area and Carter volunteered as public transport advocate, setting up the recently formed Dublin Commuter Coalition.

Although Green Party councillor Patrick Costello topped the poll in Kimmage-Rathmines, to a section of the electorate, Cllr Conroy’s main selling points was her anti-BusConnects stance. Cllr Conroy has claimed a number of times that BusConnects will “destroy” areas of or the full of Dublin City and it’s suburbs.

Since the election she was quoted by the Irish Independent as saying: “My assessment gives a clear picture of how people’s homes will be impacted by the NTA’s proposals. Double-decker buses will be driven right past their windows, and the lack of trees will deface this historic area.”

To me “right past their windows” means at most a footpath away. That’s not planned to happen under BusConnects in many places where it doesn’t already happen.

Cllr Conroy has also mentioned people “trolling” and “attacking” her.

In April, Conroy tweeted: “Hi Kate and Eoghan, I’m getting such aggressive response from your northside colleagues @mariamulvany @naoisemuiri because I support your local residents in their stress over Bus Corridor impact, could you advise if you support them? @campaignforkate @MurphyEoghan @noCBC_here”

The tweet she quoted within the above tweet was from Cllr Naoise O’Muirí (FG). He said: “#BusConnects #Metrolink and all other public transport projects welcome on the Northside as far as I’m concerned – yes various issues to be resolved but nothing insurmountable.”

There’s nothing “aggressive” in that.

Most of the members of the public tweeting her also seem to just have a different view to her — a recurring theme is that there should be more car restrictions rather than trees being removed.

A recurring theme is that she doesn’t like to be challenged even slightly and has avoided moving the discussion into choosing between trees and cars.

In April when a member of the public tweeted: “Cars destroy villages & cities. Humans enliven villages. Please do some research and quit with the ‘we don’t like change around here’. Dublin’s air now stinks,” Cllr Conroy replied: “And double deckers don’t?? You are responding to thousands of local residents. Not just me. I advocate electric underground transport system. To clear overground for better cycle lanes, school buses, park and ride locations for necessary buses.”

The arguments of ‘put it underground’ or ‘we need an underground rail network’ is a common response from people who don’t want to see the status quo of cars changed.

Another excuse is that the city needs congestion charging instead, which many motorists would not be affected by as it would likely only apply to the city centre and would be politically unlikely to pass with the current government.

Congestion charging is also problematic as — like parking is now — it gives cash-strapped local government new revenue which in turn weds them to a higher level of city centre cars than planned by cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht. It also favours the rich and does nothing to make cycling fit for all ages and abilities.

Cutting more cars space rather than trees is a point Carter made when interviewed by Prime Time this week as chairman of the new enough Dublin Commuter Coalition.

Cllr Conroy responses to his Prime Time appearance by tweeting: “Surprised that NTA graphic designer Kevin Carter, the most trolling attacker of people who are affected by NTA proposals is interviewed @RTE_PrimeTime it is his choice where he lives and works, and takes 2 buses, yet demands that people’s gardens and trees are removed for him.”

There’s a lot wrong with that tweet.

Carter has done freelance graphic work for the National Transport Authority, but he has said Cllr Conroy was portraying his relationship with the NTA unfairly and had asked her to stop doing so more than a few times. His freelance work with the NTA was after, on his own bat, he produced better bus route maps than what the NTA had published. The NTA did the right thing in paying him to do more of the same.

Carter also came across on Prime Time as more agnostic than demanding and the idea that he was looking for “people’s gardens and trees are removed for him” and his individual transport needs is a quite astonishing claim by the councillor. Anybody who has even watched Carter in passing can see that his advocacy for walking, cycling and public transport is motivated far beyond making conditions better for him.

It’s also paradoxical that Carter is simultaneously claimed to be motivated by his individual transport needs and pegged to be some kind of NTA shill.

The tweet also pushes the myth that there’s a plan to CPO full gardens on mass when most gardens along the bus routes aren’t effect or are relatively long gardens with just 1-2 metres or less to be removed. On many roads, most of the former gardens have long been converted into paved car parking spaces by their owners.

And what’s further astonishing is that in the middle of a housing crisis a councillor would say “it is his choice where he lives and works”.

While Carter has at least temporarily stepped back from doing PR for the campaign group he founded, Cllr Conroy still owes him an apology.

Maybe beyond that Cllr Conroy could start looking at the option of restricting cars more — saving trees and giving space to sustainable transport? If not, could she please drop the pretence that trees and historic streetscapes are her main motivation?

The status quo (or something mildly like it) might seem attractive to the people who want to cancel BusConnects outright. But cancelling BusConnects would block the city from growing (including hindering the development of housing), and it would slow down the process of making transport sustainable, low carbon and more active.

BusConnects can be an improvement not just buses and their users but also walking, cycling, the public realm, residents and businesses. However, for this to happen, more space needs to be taken from the least efficient use of space and least environmentally friendly option — the private car. Some community and other groups have gotten behind this idea but it needs more support.

CORRECTION: Originally this article stated that “Carter has now left his position as chairman of the campaign group he founded”. This is incorrect. Carter has in fact just stepped back at least temporarily from doing PR for the group. He remains the chairman.

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.

3 Comments

  1. She’s really quite a poor politician. She deems disagreement as being attacked, and clearly has no actual answers to policy other than “save the trees” and giant driveways.

    She also doesn’t think she should have to answer citizens’ questions. She blocked my on twitter for politely disagreeing with her a handful of times. Unbelieve from an elected representative.

  2. You want to use the roadspace for efficient transport options like bikes and buses,let me tell you I and lots of my like have one ton metal boxes which we want to store on the public highway and we demand our right to do so .We reject your plan to use roads for transport .Maybe you might destroy more trees to make more room for our private storage.
    Sarcasm mode off.

  3. @Kevin Cannon
    She may be a lousy politician by any objective measure, but she’s a barrister and she knows exactly what she is doing. There is no need for her to engage on the actual complex requirements that Bus Connects is trying to address; all she needs to do is to present herself and her constituents as the victims in this, paint any critics or supporters of the scheme as aggressors for even the mildest criticism, thus sidelining and ignoring their arguments, while firing off a few vague platitudes in support of general green aspirational goals to give a fake veneer of environmental responsibility.

    Fairly classic populist tactics; keep the opposition on the back foot by misdirecting, evading, consistently misrepresenting and attacking relentlessly, while forcing them to explain their complex case repeatedly which can then be dismissed as boring and “elitist”.

    The public at large, particularly younger people, are starting to cotton on to these tactics and recognize them for what they are; the dirty tricks of a genuine and privileged elite that are doing whatever it takes to hold on to every ounce of their privilege.

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