Further calls from politicians for social distancing space on Irish streets and roads

Following from news that Dublin City Council is to act on making social distancing space from Monday, Green Party TDs and councillors in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area are the latest to call for space to be reallocated for social distancing reasons.

Yesterday, IrishCycle.com reported how the call for action was pushed in Dublin City Council by a mix of Fine Gael councillors lead by Cllr Ray Mc Adam and Green Party councillors, and in Galway City by Cllr Owen Hanley of the Social Democrats.

Cllr Séafra Ó Faoláin (Green) said “Our main weapon in the fight against COVID-19 is space. It must be re-allocated according to changing needs. In light of Dublin City Council’s decision earlier today, Green Councillors and TDs in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council are calling on the Council to implement innovative social distancing measures.”

The call for action to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s CEO is in a letter signed by Deputy Catherine Martin, Deputy Ossian Smyth, Cllr Eva Dowling, Cllr Daniel Dunne, Cllr Tom Kivlehan, Cllr Deirdre Ní Fhloinn, Cllr Séafra Ó Faoláin, and Cllr Una Power.

The letter states: “The response of the county council to the COVID-19 challenge has been excellent, with resources rightly directed to preserving essential services and ensuring the safety of the council’s staff and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown’s citizens.”

It continues: “As movement restrictions continue and car traffic numbers dwindle (to an estimated 25% of pre-pandemic levels on major roads), the council has an opportunity to improve things further and reallocate road space to: a) make social distancing easier for those who walking or cycling to shops or essential work, given that we will have to maintain social distancing for up to a year, b) make local, urban cycling and walking safer for those who are exercising within their 2km zone, especially those with prams or wheelchairs, c) practically trial road measures which may be useful after the pandemic, including for public health reasons.”

It uses examples of Dublin City Council (source), Berlin (source), Budapest (source), Vancouver (source), Calgary (video), Winnipeg (source), Mexico City (source), Washington DC (source), Brookline MA (source), and Hackney in London (source) of councils which have acted.

In the letter, the suggested measures in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, including: “Cones to widen footpaths in town/village centres or outside trafficked shops/queue areas (Dalkey village, Dún Laoghaire Main Street, Blackrock Village, for example), temporary use of cones or bollards to create quietways to stop through traffic in housing estates and make roads for play/exercise (such as in the South Park/Beech Park area), repurposing of full lanes to cycle lanes (such as Seapoint Avenue), and temporary road pedestrianisations (such as the seafront in Dún Laoghaire).”

The politicians also suggested “Signs indicating improved pedestrian priority at junctions, as well as shorter pedestrian waiting times and disabling crossing buttons, reducing risk of transmission via crossing buttons” and “The introduction of a 30km/h speed limit on non-national roads, an awareness campaign to slow drivers down, and strict enforcement of vehicles parked on pavements.”

They said that their understanding is that such measures are allowed on a temporary basis in response to the pandemic, or on longer-term footing under section 38 of the Road Traffic Act, 1994.

The letter states: “These suggestions have come from constituents, who have flagged difficulties and extra needs they have during the pandemic. As social distancing seems likely to continue for several months, such measures could ease these difficulties and frustrations greatly. These are particularly important given the surge in deaths on our roads over the last month.”

The Green Party politicians added: “We fully understand that the council faces huge pressures and financial uncertainty. The first priority must be safety of staff and local residents, followed by financial stability. However, this may be only chance to trial low or zero-cost methods and would dramatically improve the public realm for those who live in the county.”

Last week, Limerick Green Party TD and councillors looked for more space for people to get out into to exercise.

Brian Leddin, a Green Party TD for Limerick, said: “I’m worried, however, that there isn’t enough space given over to people so that they can follow the two-metre social distancing guidelines. South of the river there are two lanes of traffic and a boardwalk: the two lanes of traffic are supposed to be ‘shared space’ but in reality this is a space for vehicles.”

“I’ve been talking about this with my Green Party colleagues on Limerick City and County Council, Seán Hartigan and Saša Novak Uí Conchúir. We’ve come up with a temporary solution that we think can provide a bit more space for people,” he said.

On his website, he explained: “The idea is to take one lane of traffic from O’Callaghan Strand, the Shannon Bridge, and the south quays, and give them over to people. Access by car would not be affected – everyone could still drive to places on the quays. But critically it would give an unbroken wide path from Sarsfield Bridge, over the Shannon Bridge, along the quays and back under Sarsfield Bridge to Arthur’s Quay park. An unbroken path for families to enjoy a bit of open space. There is no reason why we would not allow cyclists to enjoy this space too, as long as priority was given to pedestrians.”

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.

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