Limerick has 11 lanes crossing the Shannon, some councillors want the one given to cycling back

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Much debate has taken place between following the installation of a segregated cycle lane on Shannon Bridge, as part of Limerick City and County Council’s temporary COVID-19 Mobility measures. The debate has intensified in no small part, due to the lack of any plan by the local authority to once and for all dedicate one of the 11 lanes that cross the river, exclusively to cyclist and pedestrian traffic.

Many traffic reports and audits have come and gone, the last one being the Limerick Metropolitan Cycle Network Study, commissioned by Limerick City and County Council and designed by Arup in 2015. This report identified that the bridges crossing the Shannon from the northside of the city into the city centre, were hostile environments for cyclists and unsafe. Five years later, no plans to remedy this hostility have been forthcoming, that is until Covid came along.

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After weeks of living in lock-down, different interest groups began campaigning including the #WeNeedSpace group to see more space segregated for pedestrians and cyclists. The requirement to keep 2 meters apart and to safely physically distance from others, was becoming impossible to maintain on many of the city streets and routes. Pedestrians including people in wheelchairs, people with buggies, children, etc were stepping out onto the road to keep the required distance apart. Equally children could no longer cycle on footpaths and had to cycle on the road to keep their distance from the increasing number of people walking. We simply needed more space for vulnerable road users, ie people not in cars.

In the previous months, before COVID-19 became a feature of daily life, cycling advocates in the city had been applying pressure on decision makers to consider putting in place a cycle lane on Shannon Bridge. This pressure intensified significantly once the Limerick Cycle Bus began posting pictures online of their daily commute with up to 20 children, navigating traffic on the Bridge each morning beside HGV’s, buses and many, many cars.

Once the National Transport Authority publicised their national call to all local authorities to put in place measures to support the increasing numbers walking and cycling, the #WeNeedSpace campaign set out its list of priority works that supported cyclists and pedestrians. The main one being a safe crossing of the river, ie a cycle lane on Shannon Bridge. The lane was put in place on a temporary basis on July 16 and is set to be removed on August 28 — one day after the children return to school.

The Limerick Cycling Campaign, the Limerick Cycle Bus and the Limerick Pedestrian Network came together once more to push the local authority to make this temporary measure a permanent one, especially as children had yet to return to school and Covid remains in our community.

A petition was set up and signed by over 1,150 people – requesting that the local authority maintain the lane. The numbers using the lane have been steady and those using the lane have been interviewed and their data recorded. Many of those using the lane are commuting and using it to get their daily exercise. Many of those using it do not have a car and live in the city. Many of those using it are young people and people that heretofore felt unsafe to cycle into the city centre.

Last Thursday as the debate reached fever-pitch and political parties officially came out in the Limerick newspapers asking for the lane to be removed, this writer decided to tackle some of the confused positions put forward by Fine Gael, Aontu, the Labour Party and others.

One Fine Gael member said that whether to keep or ditch the cycle lane was one of the biggest challenges facing the executive and that “…a lot of people coming to the city’s schools will be using that bridge to access schools… the bridge is quite difficult to navigate as a cyclist but its equally difficult to navigate for people trying to get to work or school in a car with just one lane.”

An independent councillor who has been very vocal in his opposition to any enhanced cycling provision stated “Given the nature of the environment we have, the continual rain and our transport policy, I cannot see young mums and dads dropping their kids to school on a bike every day.”

An Aontu representative claimed that the delays due to the cycle lane would “…impact the environmental quality of life by delaying buses and hindering emergency vehicles.”

The Aontu rep also spoke about the removal of a bus lane on Shannon Bridge to cater for the cycle lane when a bus lane never existed on the bridge. He also called on the local authority to put in place “…immediate plans for a pedestrian and cyclist footbridge… with a shared pathway for cyclists and pedestrians in the short-term, like Dublin.”

In the same paper another Fine Gael rep spoke of the five disability schools in the city that people from the northside access via Shannon Bridge and this led her to state that “…children with disabilities who are unable to use a bicycle should not be discriminated against by Limerick City and County Council when they’re exploring new transportation infrastructure, in fact they are a key stakeholder and should be consulted.”

In an effort to quell the growing confusion around some of these topics, I tweeted a thread that called out the inaccuracies in these articles including the following irrefutable and universal truths;

  1. Cycle lanes do not take space away from older people or people with disabilities, they give space back.
  2. Two out of every three cars crossing Shannon Bridge turns right onto the Dock Road. Traffic targets for the Limerick Tunnel have never been met due to the ease at which traffic can go over Shannon Bridge.
  3. The taxpayer is paying for the lack of traffic using the tunnel – as estimated €28 million over the next 5 years. This arrangement is in place until 2041.
  4. Putting a third lane of traffic back on Shannon Bridge will not ‘enhance the environmental quality of life’.
  5. There was never a bus lane on Shannon Bridge.
  6. A dedicated pedestrian and cycling bridge will take a minimum of 5 years to agree and complete.
  7. Emergency services operate on Sarsfield Bridge and every other bridge with one lane in either direction. Why can they not on Shannon Bridge?
  8. Establishing cycle lanes does not discriminate against children with disabilities. It is there for their use too.
  9. The installation of the temporary lane on Shannon Bridge was driven by public health concerns, not political agendas. However, it has since become politicised.
  10. Shannon Bridge is infinitely more difficult (and more unsafe) to navigate as a cyclist than a motorist. 100%
    Young and not so young, mums and dads drop their kids to school in Limerick each day by bike, regardless of rain or snow. Just because councillors don’t see it, doesn’t mean its not happening.

The Limerick Cycle Bus delivered its petition to the Council last Thursday as the media frenzy over the cycle lane continued. Their hope being that when the management team in Limerick City and County Council meet to make a decision on the cycle lane next week, safety is at the forefront of their decision making.

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