How we move affects everything in life — Limerick’s transport strategy needs to reflect this

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Cities are living, breathing organs — non-permanent, ever-changing and importantly non-hierarchical. It is true that some of what we build now will not remain in 100 years unless its purpose serves the needs of future generations.

Armed with this insight, should we organise our city with a view to ensuring its viability for generations to come? Is that a duty our city planners and engineers should consider when designing transport strategies for the decades to come?

A strategic partnership of Systra and Jacobs have also designed transport strategies for Cork and Galway in the last couple of years. Did they give this duty some thought when designing the Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (LSMATS) in 2019?… Did they give a nod to the future?… was that part of their modelling structure when they went through the process of designing the city’s transport blueprint for the next 20 years?

The question for citizens of Limerick and Shannon is whether LSMATS fits the purposes for which we need it to now — six months into a global pandemic, an economic recession looming, and our city centre increasingly ‘‘hollowed out’ as a result of hospitality industry closures, and increasing quantities of people working from home. On top of that, Limerick has a legacy of building offices and motorways through our city centre core, and a lack of housing in many areas of the city.

For others in our community, the future of their communities depends on this transport strategy tackling the inbuilt generational disadvantage directly experienced due to where they live and their community’s isolation from the city centre.

In Limerick City and County Council’s document ‘Design and Public Realm Code for the Limerick Regeneration Areas 2015’, the local authority sets out their ambition to ensure that design codes play a key role in the development of Limerick City, in particular the regeneration communities including Southill, Ballinacurra-Weston, St Mary’s Park and Moyross. The document sets out that poor accessibility with adjacent neighbourhoods has resulted in Southill becoming physically, economically and socially isolated.

In Ballinacurra-Weston there is poor accessibility / awareness of routes to key locations due to its layout and over-dominance of hard surfaces, poorly overlooked pedestrian routes and a significant amount of vacant land. The report calls for a green route for pedestrians and cyclists to be developed in the short to medium term from Byrne Ave to Clarina Ave as well as a new local park, providing a prominent through-route for walking and cycling.

In Moyross again we see poor accessibility with adjacent neighbourhoods which has resulted in Moyross becoming physically, economically and socially isolated. We also we see recommendations for a pedestrian / cycle green route through the new park linking Moyross to the Cratloe Rd and Sarsfield Gardens as well as connection to the Northern Distributor Road.

But it is in St Mary’s Park where the real impact will be felt. St Mary’s Park is currently ranked the most deprived area in the country due to high levels of poverty, unemployment and early school leaving. The Design Code points to poor transport connections in and out of St Mary’s Park leading it to being disconnected from the rest of the city.

St Mary’s Park is designated as a special area of conservation as well as having significant architectural and heritage value, yet it has poor accessibility which has resulted in this community becoming physically, economically and socially isolated. Unattractive public realm and an over-dominance of hard surfaces prevails.

The report calls for an upgrade of the pedestrian and cycling linkage towards Thomondgate, improved lighting, better quality surfaces and traffic management measures. It also recommends that a strip of demolished housing to the east of St Munchin’s Street is developed incorporating a north-south pedestrian / cycle route.

To ensure the viability of local authority commitments made to regeneration communities, as set out above and in many other documents over the last 15 years, the Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy must include how connectivity and accessibility will be achieved in St. Mary’s Park, Southill, Moyross and Ballinacurra-Weston. For example, are there targets for reversing the ‘physical, economic and social isolation’ that it identified exists, and meaningfully supporting communities that have been underrepresented and under served for so long, to develop better transport connections.

Unfortunately, the only reference to regeneration in LSMATS is of the city centre.

Transport affects us all – where we live, how we move, how we learn, how we meet and build relationships, how we make money and what we spend it on.

In her influential work on town planning, Jane Jacobs asked the question if “we have become so feckless as a people that we no longer care how things do work, but only what kind of quick, easy outer impression they give…”.

60 years later, many would argue that Limerick now needs to ask that question and in doing so reflect on the role transport and how we move, impacts the way in which all the citizens of Limerick progress, regardless of what community they live in.

Anne Cronin is Vice Chair Limerick Cycling Campaign and Housing and Homeless Advocate.

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