Oranmore Cycle Path: Which side are you on?

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: People in and around Oranmore have been welcoming some investment in cycling in the area which was announced this week. Whatever the events in the Dáil over the past few weeks and however this came about, it is a very positive step for Oranmore and the East Galway coastal region.

The statement, from TD Hildegarde Naughton reads:

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“Very happy to have secured €200,000, the largest single award in Galway, from my colleague Minister Michael Ring ,for Oranmore under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme. This funding will provide a new footpath and cycleway that will link the town to the train station and improvements in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure at Deerpark Industrial Estate. Also included will be pathways on the old Limerick road. Funding is also provided to redevelop a green space in the town centre.”.

IMAGE: The platform at Oranmore train station.

For those of us who’ve been cycling in Oranmore for years, this is good news, but my real hope is that it is also good news for those who don’t cycle in the area, or would like to now and then, or like to walk, jog, or use a wheelchair, a scooter or a mobility scooter. The details of what is planned have not been revealed yet, so before the contractors move it’s worthwhile to spend a few minutes thinking about what the best and worst outcomes could be.

There are essentially two types of cycling infrastructure, one type is a safe segregated route that makes no contact with the car or pedestrian traffic unless there is a requirement for an intersection, and the other is a couple of buckets of white paint on the side of the road which is slapped down a few months before an election which offers no safety for the cyclist and seems to look a lot like a parking space to the average driver.

If we want Oranmore to be somewhere that a novice can just hop on a bike on a sunny Sunday morning for a safe seaside spin, we very much need the first of these options.

The picture above is the route to Almere, Netherlands. Almere is a town that is almost younger than me. The first building was erected in 1976. The entire town was built as a population relief to Amsterdam, and those familiar with the coast road in Oranmore will know immediately the comparison I am drawing here.

The coast road population is rising in the hundreds every year as more and more developments spring up. It is fulfilling the exact role for Galway City as Almere does for Amsterdam and without intelligent infrastructure options in place the only option this will present will be traffic followed by more traffic.

Opting for white paint based infrastructure might make for a few good ribbon cutting moments heading into a general election but as anyone who is commuting by Oranmore railway station will know, the cycle lane (white paint) is already filled with cars every day, and more white paint is just going to be more parking space for people who have 2-3 minutes to get rid of their cars before the train comes. I understand and I’ve done it myself.

I’d wager that a few people don’t know the cycle lane actually exists because it is filled with parked cars from around 8am to 6pm every day. It’s not too important in any case as it has only ever extended 40 metres from the rail station before it forces you into traffic travelling in the region of 40 – 80kmh. In short, it will look good temporarily and then it will lead to conflicts and possibly tragedy.

IMAGE BELOW: The cycle lane at Oranmore train station, filled with cars is highlighted in red at the top of the image:

These are the documentable negative outcomes of bad infrastructure, so what are the positives we should be hoping for?

The first would be safety. This route is already popular with cyclists, walkers and joggers, so segregated lanes with well defined space for all would serve the community best. The interactions with the housing developments are going to need something like a raised table junctions at the very least if the path does end up on that side of the road, which it shouldn’t.

The interaction with the major junction at Oran town centre will need serious thought, it’s one of those places that at least once a week you question the very fibre of civilisation as a driver seems to think the way to get past a bike is slightly faster and directly through. 0/10 would not recommend.

The second consideration really should be value, and to my mind the value of the cycle path entirely hinges on which side of the road it is built on. If the path hugs the inland side of the road, it will be path. People will use it and the goal of building a path will be achieved, however if the path hugs the coast side, then it will be a more greenway than path.

The best moment of the cycle to the city every morning is the moment the coast opens out to your left, you see out the bay, the little stony islets in the low tide, Co Clare on the horizon, fresh seaside air in your lungs, the yellow flowers in spring and the castle framing the panorama, rain or shine the world comes alive.

€200,000 isn’t much money once you start paying wages for hard labour and planning; unfortunately I suspect that white paint and ribbon cutting will all it will cover in the end, but if there is one decision that is got right in this process it will be which side of the road it lands on, and hopefully that will be the one that gives the people of Oranmore an amenity as well as a path.

*note to readers – I didn’t cover the Deerpark area in this as it is not my daily commute – can have a look if you like

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