Irish Times continues to focus on impacts on motorists — and it matters more than you might think

COMMENT AND ANALYSIS: The Irish Times continues to report any impact on motorists as a negative despite mounting evidence showing giving priority to sustainable transport is a positive for liveable cities, health, pollution reduction, climate change, the ability to grow a city, local businesses and increased mobility.

The latest case is another BusConnects article — a negative version makes the front page and inside comes the “balance”. The motoring-focused article is also defined as a sure thing while the plaza area planned for Stoneybatter is called “‘green’ plaza” with the word green in quotation marks.

The Dublin Cycling Campaign have helpfully posted images of the printed edition of the newspaper today:

https://twitter.com/dublincycling/status/1156120353309155328?s=21

As we have covered before, this is far from a one-off. The Irish Times has a track record of focusing on impacts on motorists. It happened with 30km/h was first being rolled out, with the College Green Bus Gate, with cycle routes, and with BusConnects.

They rarely focus on, for example, the lack of provision of safe and segregated cycling infrastructure or project elements which do not comply with guidelines on pedestrian priority.

The newspaper’s coverage of BusConnects has looked the impacts of car movements, front gardens / car parking spaces and potential loss of trees. But concerns about poor quality or in many places a lack of cycling infrastructure is not on The Irish Times’ radar, and certainly not a priority for them — this is despite the National Transport Authority going against both their own and national policy on giving walking and cycling higher priority than public transport and cars.

Generally putting sustainable transport first is backed by city, regional, and national policy, and all sorts of reports and policies, including by the Citizens’ Assembly. But media outlets hardly try to hold authorities to account on the issue, while focusing on motoring impacts is common place. The Irish Times are far from the only ones at it but they have what seems to be a particular zeal for it when the newspaper’s trust-based ownership should make it better than others.

The newspaper also continues to paint the rejection of the College Green Plaza as just being about the impacts on buses when the rejection was largely based on a highly questionable traffic report from an old-school traffic engineer.

The Irish Times reporting of any possible pro-cycling elements of projects is usually headlined with a price tag linked directly to the cycling elements but usually the price relates to walking improvements too or things like water mains or flood walls.

There has been a slow but steady transformation of commuting patterns into Dublin City centre in the last two decades.

At rush hour in 1997 nearly 90,000 people in cars were crossing the canals into the centre of Dublin. Fast forward to 2018, just 48,820 people in cars are traveling across the canals. In percentage terms motorists went from 50% to 28.3% of commuters, yet, they still get the vast bulk of space in the city centre (defined as the area within the canals).

Most motorists coming into the city centre via Stoneybatter — be they from the Navan Road, Cabra, Dublin 15 or further afield — have a number of choices of alternatives into the city centre. I’m including direct and indirect. The people who really have no other choice are mainly slowed down by people choosing to drive relatively short distances.

Looking at other mid-sized cities like Dublin, there’s ample space for less car use, especially in the city centre. Part of this will be better public transport and more space for cycling, both of which BusConnects is at least trying to address. Can you imagine if an newspaper like The Irish Times kept Governments under pressure over the lack of adequate sustainable transport provision?

Most of the more positive coverage of cycling in The Irish Times is in the feature section. The news section if where the real issue is and the output from the comment section is up and down like a yo-yo.

As with some retailer groups (usually including businesses with an internist in car parks), a number of senior editors at The Irish Times are living in the past. Otherwise the packaging and framing of stories are hard to explain.

Many people commenting on this issue online links it to advertising revenue from car makers and other motoring-related businesses, but that alone likely doesn’t explain it fully.

It’s probably just as likely down to culture — even if the editors aren’t driving daily themselves, they are likely thinking of the image of ‘important’ Irish Times readers the company’s business side feeds them, such as a company executive or doctor or retiree who drives everywhere.

Even many of the most socially liberal people in Ireland have a blind spot to the wide negative impacts of Ireland’s motordom, and locking many people into car-ownership or limiting their mobility without such. So, it’s not a surprise it stretches to The Irish Times.

Why do we keep writing about this? One of the main reasons is that journalists from the newspaper and many readers are blind to the negative focus from the newsroom of The Irish Times. They need to take the blinkers off.

This on-going focus on impacts on motorists rather than the movement of people has to have an effect on policy markers to some extent. When the BusConnects is largely underdelivering for cycling, a heavier focus on motoring will make it harder to get cycling provision right in places.

The odd Irish Times comment article about being pro-cycling, pro-cleaner air or pro-climate action from a newspaper is meaningless if the newspaper’s news section — including the front page takes a pro-motoring stance in its focus and framing. The current editorial and news focus positions are incompatible.

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.

5 Comments

  1. Oisin O'Connor July 30, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    This is why I contribute to IrishCycle but wouldn’t buy the Irish Times if I needed it to hold my chips.

  2. Trying to discuss sustainable transport and the role of motor cars in Ireland is like trying to discuss gun control in the US. Taboo topic.

  3. There was a time when the Irish Times was the only newspaper that seemed to care about livable Cities especially when Frank McDonald was environment correspondent. He constantly railed against the road engineers destroying the City and corpo’s backing of them. Sadly there doesn’t appear to a similar champion of the City in the IT now.

  4. Interesting to see in todays Guardian that Sir Lynton Crosby the brexit and tory party supporter and his dark social media arts company CTF have along with supporting brexit and burnishing the reputation of sheik MBS who is implicaqted in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi have also taken money to run campaigns on facebook in opposition to cycle lanes. If we are attracting enemies like this we must be doing something right.

  5. Oisín O'Connor August 2, 2019 at 3:18 am

    Bigx, yes and there will be a similar element in Ireland over coming years too. Despite some new forward thinking minds in the main parties there is still a bit of left in FFFGLAB, not to mention our newer “politicians”. We can’t be complacent that our view of things is/will become self-evident to the current “middle ground” who think active travel’s grand but never really thought about it.

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