11 steps to take if you want safer, healthier, greener streets and roads

IMAGE: Change such as proposals to change two-way roads to one-way (as proposed in Sandymount in Dublin) might seem radical, but the evidence shows these result in car traffic reduction.

Survey after survey shows most people want safer, greener and healthier streets and roads. In many places, COVID-19 has resulted in a renewed effort to make that happen. The trouble is that change is hard and others see themselves as having more to loose and they fight against changes big and small.

They are fighting hard for the status quo. Enough people need to fight harder for change.

1. Fight. If you don’t, the status quo wins

You need to fight against the status quo or at least enough people need do. In Amsterdam residents physically fought (see a sample in the tweet below). This article is not asking you to physically fight, but you still need to fight against those who want to retain the status quo. Fight smart….

2. Do more than one thing

Some people cannot get involved with full on campaigning for better streets and roads, but, please, don’t just do one thing. Some times people think “sure I’ve signed the petition, I’ve done my bit.” That’s a good start, but change needs most people who want change to do more.

People have busy lives, sure and it wouldn’t suit everybody. But try to do more. For example send an email off to councillors or respond to consultation while you’re sitting down watching TV. If you’re able to get this far in this article, you’re likely able to follow one or more of the following…

3. Never mind the scaremongering

Right now in towns and cities across the world where changes are happening or suggested there are people using fear to keep the status quo of the dominance of cars on our streets and roads. We need to fight scaremongering on the beaches, in the fields and in the streets… and, of course, on Facebook, Twitter etc.

Once perverse argument against changes is the claim that change cannot happen — we hear it all the time, arguments which dismiss evidence and claim there cannot be a reduction in car use. It’s as if places like Amsterdam and Utrecht don’t exist or as if they always had  50%+ of commuters cycling. Just for clarity: These cities used to be dominated by cars.

Often there’s some genuine concern. Change is hard, solutions will not magically work overnight, and everything cannot be done at once. But more often the claims are nonsense, sometimes people cannot help when perception bias creeps in. For example, from yesterday alone to people here’s two examples of people countering false claims that different projects have caused more traffic elsewhere nearby, one in London and one in Dublin.

No doubt that for example Dublin has made progress — with the number of cars crossing over Dublin’s canal cordon in AM rush hour down from 89,506 in 1997 to 46,388 in 2020, while numbers of commuters has increased and city centre residents has increased too. There’s now the chance to speed up change and do so beyond city centres.

If a start is not made quickly, there’s a risk progress will fall back to the previous snail’s pace.

4. Respond to public consultation

IMAGE: A clip from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes, yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

Public consultation has generally moved on from what was described by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But it still sounds boring, right? It can be. But often now councils will have quick surveys on their consultation pages or you can just send in a one or two line response saying how you support projects or how you support them but want the design made as good as possable.

Showing your support via public consultation and the likes of petitions shows council officials and politicians that there is support to move away from the status quo.

Some opponents of trial COVID mobility projects complain that there isn’t enough public consultation — but consultation isn’t just about should something be done or not but rather sometimes it’s to ask how it might be done in the best way. The trial process is then to see if it works in practice.

IMAGE: The reason to fight for change isn’t just to fight for what councils are proposing but look for better. Quick-build routes need to be good enough to attract new people to cycling and many are too narrow or not continuous enough. .

5. Contact your local politicians

Especially if there’s a vote coming up or controversial project contact them by phoning them or texting them. Don’t look for templates, keep it personal and give them your reasons why things need to change.

Ask them to act now not in years to come, ask them to be brave, and, if they reply with excuses, tell them you’re not buying it.

6. Join your local cycling or walking campaigns

There’s likely a cycling or walking campaign in your area already — Google it and find them. Don’t be put off, most active travel and livable city campaigners are volunteers who started off the way you will. Joining a formal campaign isn’t for everybody but they need help at all sorts of different levels.

7. Watch out for people who claim “I support cycling but…”

And also phrases like “I’m a cyclist too”… No offence, but if somebody is saying things like “I support cycling but…” and “I’m a cyclist too” it is not relevant to the debate. What is said or what’s not said about the project at hand is the important thing, not what mode of transport people use.

Many of the people who say “I’m a cyclist too” seem to be happy with the status quo, but changing streets gives more people of all ages and abilities the chance to move about in other ways than just cars. And it’s not just about cycling:

8. Spread the word

Try not to preach, but it is important to spread the word to like-minded people that changes are happening and they too might think about fighting the good fight. Make a fact-based case to them as to why they should also do something, but also don’t loose sight of the goal of a more livable town or city where people are safer and healthier.

Might be best advised to avoid overloading people on the likes of Facebook but when something is importation, try to share it on your social media pages. If you think something is to friends then tag them, message or email them about it.

9. Focus on physical changes

IMAGE: Modal filters calm streets and make them safer for all road users. These make residential streets dominated by traffic back into places for residents while enabling walking and cycling.

Don’t waste time or energy trying to shame or convince individuals to change their transport habits. Only infrastructure will change habits in a substantial way — focus on infrastructure.

10. Remember: It’s about more than just movement

Traffic flow isn’t everything. The dominant ideology is movement trumps livability. People need to rail against this mantra. A lot of change would come quickly if people applied a changed perspective on space.

11. Be proactive

Do you want to suggest a quick-build cycle route? Removal of barriers? Somewhere where which needs a safe crossing? Do it. Don’t wait until somebody else does.

Even outside of cycling campaign groups… can you also get local groups or your residents group interested?

Most councils have a traffic or transport department email address that you can use to sent suggestions to, some have email addresses just for COVID-19 mobility measures. Also email the suggestions to you local councillors.

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.

4 Comments

  1. #12. How pro-active is your roads policing service in making traffic conditions safer for children to cycle to school?
    The key metric is children out and about on local roads going to school and socialising around their neighbourhoods by bike.
    Roads policing needs a re-boot in Ireland!

  2. @Mike, it comes after all of the above… when you build decent infra, even decent quick-build routes, there’s far less change of them being abused by motorists.

    At school gates, there’s school streets (which solve the problems at school gates) and the new school zones (which have yet to be evaluated).

  3. Number 1 step to take: Leave Ireland. Vote with your feet and head to livable countries in continental Europe. Spend your whole life fighting or just get on a plane to where the battle has already been won.

  4. @Michael M — “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

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