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Here’s why the Galway Ring Road will never be built

COMMENT & ANALYSIS / LONG READ: Sadly ‘carsick’ as a phrase is already used. Because it should have a similar meaning as ‘dope sick’ — as with addiction of any type, our society is stuck as a car-sick world in which too many of us cannot see that the issues will not be fixed by more of the problem. Put simply, more roads won’t solve the problem.

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The people who are addicted to drugs in this analogy isn’t motorists or any one person, it’s society. We have a car-sick society. We need to look at the approval of the second Galway Ring Road in this context.

More roads will only be a temporary fix. Like a drug addict wanting more, the high is usually short-lived. We know this from evidence in Ireland and around the world which shows that building more roads actually increases traffic congestion.

But that’s the goal anyway, growth? And you need more roads for more growth? Sustainable transport alternatives to cars can allow for growing cities. Sure, you need a level of new road access, especially if there are confined city or town centres roads which have yet to be bypassed. That’s not the case in Galway — the existing N6 Ring Road in Galway is four lanes wide and there’s nothing west of Galway City that justifies a motorway-like road that is expected to cost €1 billion.

Just take this in for a second: The road will cost €1 billion for a city with a population of around 80,000 people. Clifden, the only urban centre west of the city, has a population of not much over 2,500 people. And only 3% of the traffic crossing Galway at peak times is bypass traffic:

IMAGE: Data from the councils’ Executive Report for the project showing volumes of motor traffic around Galway City, including how just 35% crosses the River Corrib and just 5% of the total is bypass traffic. Graphic by Limerick Cycle Design.

But even leaving all of the above aside — which should not be done — think about this for a second: With all of the other transport and infrastructure demands around Ireland, if €1 billion was spent on one road in Galway, what are the changes that a propper bus service or high-quality cycle routes will be funded?

The traffic modelling predictions for Galway’s modal share in 2039 shows more people will get around by car, only 5% will get the bus and share or people walking and cycling will drop. CORRECTION: The above are the figures with the “integrated transport strategy” that is the Galway Transport Strategy — the main report just doesn’t list them:

Climate impact dismissed

On top of the destruction of 44 homes, cutting off communities, and have significant biodiversity impacts, An Bord Pleanala’s inspector’s report outlines how: “The proposed road development, individually and cumulatively with other identified projects, is likely to result in a significant negative impact on carbon emissions and climate that will not be fully mitigated.”

To override this, the An Bord Pleanala inspector relies on policies that have not been climate-tested in terms of emission budgeting, questionable claims of strategic importance even at European-level, and 1970s/1980s thinking that new roads of this nature will have a “role in alleviating congestion”.

It’s been known for decades — and even back as far as 1925 — that expanding motorways and building more roads, especially around urban areas, actually makes traffic worse.

IMAGE: The Galway Advertiser in 1992 — just 4 years after the first Galway Ring Road opened.

The inspector claims that new road would facilitate “the implementation of active travel and public transport measures, as set out in the Galway Transport Strategy, and its role in supporting the compact and more sustainable development of the city.”

It’s worth pointing out that the M50 in Dublin was built and upgraded between 1987 and 2010. Three decades on from the start and one decade on from the finishing of the upgrade, there still isn’t a single continuous segregated cycle route from any suburb to Dublin City Centre. The first one is years away and looks to be delayed again.

BRT changed to BusConnects and delayed, Dart extensions promised for decades are only going to planning again soon, and a single Metro line has been delayed again (yes, it has been delayed again).

But the inspector concludes that “it is not considered that the proposed road development would undermine or be contrary to Ireland’s climate obligations given that climate action requires a broad
sectoral and economy-wide approach.”

The inspector said that the project only “equates to approximately 0.1% of lreland’s 2030 obligations, can be mitigated through reductions in other areas as mechanisms, such as carbon tax and carbon budgets, are developed and will be increasingly mitigated in the operational phase as electric vehicles are adopted.”

Does the 0.1% bit of that sound familiar? It does to me.

It took me all of a few seconds searching to find a tweet outlining how “Ireland is responsible for emitting less than 0.1% of the world’s emissions” and then going on about China, India, and America etc. There’s loads of similar tweets. Inaction has long replaced climate denial as the main problem, we were just distracted by the denial.

For the record 0.1% is accurate according to thejournal.ie’s fact check — it sounds low, but isn’t when you think that Ireland has only 0.063% of the world’s population. We’re a country the size of a small or mid-sized city really. If every city and every small country took the same approach we’d get nowhere on climate inaction.

To be clear: It’s a coincidence that both figures are 0.1% but the parallels here are striking. Shifting the blame while agreeing it’s a problem but saying look at that over there. Will the planners at An Bord Pleanala be adding up all projects it has approved and will approve?

Talk of requiring “a broad sectoral and economy-wide approach” sounds like farmers or others saying the Government should focus elsewhere for emission reductions and putting all of our bets on electric cars is a noted problem around the world when decarbination needs to happen quickly.

The Green Party is planning “carbon budgeting” which is claimed will stop projects like the ring road which will have significant impacts on carbon emissions or leave the Government making even harder decisions. But it’s still unclear how effective the Greens will be on this… and, if they don’t get what they want, will they threaten to leave the Government?

Under EU law alternatives have to be examined

The An Bord Pleanala inspector outlines how they think that it is “clear that a significant amount of work has been conducted over the duration of the project with respect to alternatives following on from the legal judgements relating to the 2006 GCOB”. The Galway City Outer Bypass (GCOB) project, which was the first attempt at a second ring road.

After being referred from the Supreme Court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that the alternatives were not assessed as required under European law when projects are destructive in nature.

The inspector has a number of strange statements peppered through the sections on alternatives. Such as “I concur with the applicant that the transport solution must address the existing road network capacity in support of an efficient public transport option” as if this can only be done by more roads. The vision of 1970s roads engineers lives on at 64 Marlborough Street in Dublin, An Bord Pleanala HQ.

A lot of phrases like this indicate that the inspector is of the opinion that you can never reduce traffic — this is clearly wrong. Joking aside, it is toxic to the goal of having sustainable and liveable cities that the country’s top planners are still at this. And it’s far from the first time.

The inspector also notes:

It is stated that through consultation with key stakeholders including TII, NTA, Galway County Council and Galway City Council, it was agreed that a wider integrated transport strategy was required for Galway to identify the level of service requirements for each mode of transport; including walking, cycling, public transport and private vehicle.

The Galway Transport Strategy however is mainly greenwashing to support the planning for the new ring road. As we’ve already seen in two projects on the Galway Cycle Network billed as “scary, dangerous, not appropriate for children”, but yet Galway City Council is to spend millions on these two projects.

Despite the current ring road being within a 2km radius of Spanish Arch, the main Galway Transport Strategy map for the city centre shows the main route for public transport (in blue) which will be a through route for buses and it shows the main circular route for cars (black) but it also shows another car route (in purple) and it fails to show that existing car access is maintained on most or all other roads (this is shown on another map).

IMAGE: Galway Transport Strategy map.

The inspector’s acceptance of the authorities commitment to alternatives alongside the road is only surpassed by their acceptance of the alternatives to the road.

As part of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report, the alternatives were only looked at in the “Do-Something Traffic Management” section, an option which “seeks to maximise the value of existing infrastructure without construction of major new infrastructure.”

Why would you only make an assessment of sustainable transport options in that context? We’ll build a €1 billion second ring road when only 3% of trips are bypass traffic, but only compare it to minimal sustainable transport measures. Does that sound like an extensive examination of the alternatives?

The inspector wrote that:

“It was concluded that the ‘Public Transport Only’ alternative does not provide an adequate transport solution as it does not reduce congestion levels in the city when considered in isolation. Therefore, the ‘Public Transport Only’ alternative does not represent an effective ‘Traffic Management Alternative’ that responds to transportation problems as it does not resolve these problems in isolation. Analysis on the Public Transport Only Option demonstrated that it does not provide a solution in isolation, however, it does form part of the overall holistic transportation solution and is included in the GTS.”

Of course the public transport option isn’t good enough, it’s designed not to be. The Environmental Impact Assessment Report explains why. In a very roundabout way the report said that nothing can be changed with our the new road first:

“It should be noted that the Galway Public Transport Feasibility Study from 2010 assumed that the Galway City Outer Bypass (GCOB) as proposed by the 2006 planning application was in place, thereby making it possible to consider reallocation of road space on the Salmon Weir Bridge. However, this Public Transport Only Alternative as modelled in the initial studies on the N6 GCTP does not include for the 2006 GCOB.”

Translation: The public transport only option only looked at providing public transport without reallocating space.

Light rail

It is claimed that Galway could not support light rail and the planners accept this while also accepting that a road that likely going to cost €1 billion will be worth it. It will be claim that costs are not the planners business, but at the same time the planners accept loads of claims about value for money.

Just to be clear: Light rail in Galway should only be looked at based on the Luas system with, as the planners would say, a holistic vision for both densification of the city and park and ride for Galway. Claims by the authorities that no corridor would be able to support trams sounds like they are applying bus-thinking to trams.

The reality is people travel further than planners allow for to get to tram stops, this can be seen in Dublin. With a bit of vision there’s a few tram routings which could taken in most of the trip attractors and cover a huge percentage of residential areas with just one line — Galway’s east-west development is suited.

The trams might not be as long as in Dublin, which have some of the longest in Europe. But if people are still suggesting mini-Luas, which are the size of buses, you might as well go with buses.

Car sick

Dopesick is a mini-series on Disney+ telling the story of how OxyContin, marketed as a wonder drug, special labelling approved the the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but how it actually destroyed lives. The facts were twisted and it took years and years for the system to wake up to it.

The tale of the N6 Galway Ring Road project is part of the story of how planners are still making excuses and putting their own special labels on unsustainable projects. Like the FDA with OxyContin, some will plead that they are doing nothing wrong. We’ll likely get to see if Irish or European courts agree.

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7 comments

  1. cian i often dont like mincing words but in your piece above if in future you stop using the term drug addict it would be appreciated as it is a deogratory term that is not a part of todays society .if you contact the department of health or uisce they will give you better terminology as a reporter.i agree that car usage will increase with extra roads and we should really be decreasing roads and increasing rail bus cycle lane and pedestrian pathways instead.

    Reply

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