PART 2: If we want walking, cycling and liveability to thrive, leadership is needed from more of the people we elect

COMMENT & ANAlYSIS: Leadership is bandied about a lot but it is needed in higher volumes if Dublin has a hope to become cycling-friendly anytime soon.

This is part two of this article, you might want to read part one first.

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Cllr Dermot Lacey is the classic example of a councillor who wants to be seen as supportive of cycling, but voted against holding public consultation on one project which would have put school children over rat running (the South Dublin Quietway) because it wasn’t ready, but says on other projects that he “wants all voices to be heard”.

On the South Dublin Quietway, when it’s pointed out that he has voted against it twice, Cllr Lacey keeps calling people liars. Yet the record shows that he and some fellow councillors voted against holding consultation on the route twice, in 2018 and again in 2019. There’s no evidence Cllr Lacey has tried to progress the route since.

He also — with other councillors — has pushed for the council to evaluate “alternative” options for the Sandymount cycle path trial put forward by a group set up to oppose the council’s trial, the latest one which looks close to be literally drawn on the back of an envelope. This is at the more obvious end of the softer type power which leads to cycle routes taking decades to be built. No voting against cycle routes here.

On Twitter, Cllr Lacey has denied the project is a trial and also denied it’s about COVID (as if people don’t need an alternative to public transport in a pandemic). When you deny something is a trial the opponents then have higher stakes to fight against.

He also flings mud at nearly anybody who questions him on cycling — when challenged he calls people arrogant, liars, not willing to listen to the other side, and not able to respect other people’s views. At least some of these things will be said about article.

For the record, it’s worth saying Cllr Lacey cycles himself — but after covering cycling for more than a decade and watching councillors and officials at home and abroad, I can say two things with clarity: (1) that more councillors than most people think cycle for transport at least some of the time, and (2) as an indicator for support of high-quality cycling infrastructure, the person cycling or not is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Cllr Lacey in fairness engages on Twitter, but unfortunately only to the extent that he tries to maintain he’s pro-cycling. Just today for example when asked what on-street cycle route projects he has supported, he said: “Dodder Greenway, Fitzwilliam, Nassau and Lombard, Clonskeagh to City consultation underway but supportive, working with everyone on Strand Road…and Only local Cllr to attend All Dodder Greenway meetings and pushing for implementation.”

This looks ok if you don’t know the history of the projects. On the Dodder, it isn’t on-street and any time I’ve been in contact with Cllr Lacey on the Dodder he seems to be supportive to the idea of shared paths and very dismissive of the need to segregate walking and cycling as much as possible along the route. One of the reason for this is that one of the best ways to segregate walking and cycling on the route includes making Beaver Row one-way for motorists.

On the Fitzwilliam Cycle Route, Cllr Lacey is best described as lukewarm in his support (see below)

He even recently called the route controversial. At its core, it’s a basic parking-protected cycle lane, a design used across the world. It’s only controversial to the type of people who object to most cycling projects (usually while they are claiming not to be anti-cycling).

I find it hard to explain to some readers why some councillors and others are so against basic tools in cycle route design — not only parking protected cycle lanes, Dutch-style protected junctions, etc.

Leaders should try to bring people with them but when people are stuck to the status quo, pandering to them when they are dead set against basic designs only serves to distract away the road safety element of getting junctions design right, which has not been done yet.

The Nassau Street example is as poor of an example as any — it’s a contra-flow cycle lane which took over 30 years and the jumpstart of a pandemic to happen. It’s not a good look pointing to this example, unless you want change to happen extraordinarily slowly (ie the norm for Dublin to date).

And the Clonskeagh to city centre route is still a good bit away from being well-designed for cycling for all.

On the Clonskeagh route he says there’s another phase of official consultation where issues can be fixed. But that logic would bring the Strand Road trial into the next stage — trialing what the council proposed with tweets (not full-scale alternatives) and see how it goes. 

Of course, in his local area, Cllr Lacey is not alone is saying that they are not anti-cycling but at the same time not exactly acting to make the city a better place for cycling. In fact actions like theirs have delayed projects again and again.

A fellow local councillor, Cllr Paddy McCartan (FG) has previously suggested that alternative to the Liffey Cycle Route to get by a pinch point would be to get cyclists to dismount on a narrow footpath for a few hundred meters.

On the Strand Road project, he took issue with the well-proven concept of traffic evaporation, as did fellow local councillor, Cllr Claire O’Connor (Fianna Fáil).

It’s as if places like Amsterdam, and Utrecht  didn’t exist. These are in fact places where  once upon a time more people drove than cycled, and — with leadership — their cities have been transformed to places where more people now cycle than drive. 

Cllr O’Connor said: “If a lane of traffic it’s taken away, it has to go somewhere. It can’t, it doesn’t just simply, you know, revert back and bounce back. It’s like water, you know, it has to find its level.” However, as we have reported previously, sustainable transport experts point out that traffic is less like a liquid and more like a gas, which can evaporate quicker.

Cars cannot change to walking, cycling and public transport, but people can and do change… unless the point is that the residents of south east Dublin are different than people across different types and sizes of cities and they some how won’t cycle more when a safe route is provided? The “we’re different” or “our problem is unique” argument is a common one against changing the status quo of motoring dominance on our streets.

Cllr O’Connor said: “The second thing that infuriates me, and it happens a lot on this council is that if a community takes the position. That they have difficulties with the nuances of a project or specifically that traffic is displacement as a result of a project that they’re then just labeled as anti-cycling.”

Unfortunately, the world over and especially in Ireland, the UK and US, there’s a long list of groups of residents who don’t want to be branded as anti-cycling at the very time when they are objecting to a cycle route.

Traffic being displaced is a common excuse — leaders who truly want places with fewer trips taken by car look to make sure the displacement is of people from cars to sustainable transport and issues with motor traffic being displaced is addressed.

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Councillors or TDs who are truly supportive changing our streets and roads to be people friendly over car friendly know the starting point is accepting fewer trips by cars and planning for such. Helping communities who are understandably afraid of change that projects like this can be made to work without impacting too much on communities.

Leadership on change doesn’t include  pushing ideas from the people who have bought into scaremongering or using it for their own means.

Leadership is exactly that — about leading the change. Not taking actions which stalls and delays — we have have too many crisis on inactivity, climate, pollution and transport to allow the status quo crowd to keep winning. What’s needed now is more quick-build cycle paths and filtering traffic out of rat runs (aka high-quality quietway if done as part of a route or low traffic neighbourhood if done if done on a area-scale).

Trialling suitable projects (not all projects can be trialled), even if that means sometimes moving quickly getting things wrong and fixing them quickly, is the way forward. Waiting years or decades for short sections of cycle routes is not the way to go.

Leadership looks like the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo who is looking to push cars out of her city quickly, or the councillors in Amsterdam doing similar, or the council in Ghent who quickly implemented a traffic circulation plan in its city. Leadership is also the councillors in Dublin who have had legal threats made against but keep pushing for change even where it impacts on motorists.

We need more of that kind of leadership and less of the type of people who look to keep everyone happy. Keeping objectors happy means canning or delaying projects.

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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