One small upside to the last year was local authorities in Irish cities implementing COVID-19 mobility measures making it safer and easier to cycle, but Galway City Council has just installed a new one-way system making it harder to cycle.
It is a common feature in European cities to have two-way cycling on streets which are one-way for motorists, otherwise know as providing for contra-flow cycling. This can be done using contra-flow cycle lanes or without any cycle lanes on smaller low-speed streets. Contra-flow without lanes is rare in Ireland, but has been done on a small number of streets in Dublin — it is understood the main blocker to wider use is a lack of national guidance on the issue.
Overall, Dublin City Council implemented a long-awaited contra-flow project last year and is in the process of implementing another. While when Dún Laoghaire made streets one-way streets aimed at reducing car dominance on shopping streets, it also included contra-flow cycle lanes.
Galway City Council said on its website that the changes were “mobility improvements”, it said that the changes involved reversing the existing traffic flow direction along Abbeygate Street Lower (between Merchants Road and Middle Street), Cross Street (Upper and Lower), Flood Street and Middle Street.
The council said: “In conjunction with the successful measures implemented along Cross Street in 2020, the changes are expected to significantly reduce the volume of vehicular traffic along Middle Street and the adjoining sections of Abbeygate Street Lower and Cross Street Lower. In turn, this will support safer pedestrian and cyclist access, with more space to facilitate social distancing and support local businesses.”
When asked by members of the public on Twitter, Cllr Niall Murphy (Green Party) said: “Bicycles are not exempt. They must follow the one-way, same as cars.
Kevin Jennings, chairperson of Galway Cycling Campaign, said: “Neither Merchants Road nor Dock Road are suitable environments for children to by cycling nor are they attractive for people who want to pootle around town by bike getting the messages or meeting friends or doing business. These are 2-lane high speed high volume roads.”
He said: “We welcome these moves by Galway City Council to make the city centre a more liveable space and reduce circulating motor traffic. We believe more ambition could be shown in re-imagining our public spaces and making our streets safe, quiet and pleasant for everyone, not just those in vehicles.”
“We understand that motor traffic is getting used to these changes but cannot see why the Council have waited to make the streets 2-way. The late Bobby Molloy in 1998 has put all the legal framework in place to realise 2-way cycling on Galway’s narrow one-way streets,” said Jennings.
This isn’t a new issue for the city. Local campaigners point out that a report in 1979 highlighted that Galway’s one-way streets were an issue for cycling.
Galway City Council has take exception to the issue being raised again and again in the city. As IrishCycle.com reported in 2016, “Or you could walk that distance” was the response from the official Twitter account of Galway City Council’s Galway Transportation Unit after a long detour for cyclists who want to obey the law was highlighted on Twitter at the time.
Galway’s one-way streets are also cited as one of the reasons Galway Bikes has lower use than other bicycle share systems. Local campaigners have outlined that one-way streets as a barrier to cycling was highlighted in initial feasibility study for the bike share scheme. It described the city as “awkward to navigate by bike” and recommended providing two-way cycling on one-way streets.