— Church car park left empty with illegal parking on the street outside it.
LONG READ REPORT: A motion to “remove the bollards for the segregated cycle lane between Howth Presbyterian Church and Corr Bridge, Howth” was rejected yesterday by a majority of Howth/Malahide area councillors in Dublin.
Cllr Aoibhinn Tormey (Fine Gael), who tabled the motion, said: “I’m really concerned with the impact on the Presbyterian Church.”
She said that in other consultations councillors were invited to the meetings with the residents and they “hashed out a lot of the issues”.
She said reports she heard were “not complementary” about how meeting with the church went, without elaborating what she was referring to because she didn’t want to go into detail because it was “secondhand information”.
“I’m not against this cycle lane at all, but I think we need to go back to the drawing board… not the drawing board but we need to go back and open up the discussion a little bit more with the church in terms of supporting them a lot more,” said Cllr Tormey.
Cllr Jimmy Guerin (independent) said: “I’m amazed by this, this is populist politics on the part of Fine Gael — they did the same in New Street [in Malahide], they were concerned about the plight of the disabled getting access to the health centre. Now Fine Gael want to bring in a motion which will do nothing but impede wheelchair users and cyclists, and will be a danger.”
Cllr Tormey interrupted and said that it was not the only issue she had with the New Street pedestrianisation.
Cllr Guerin provided photos he had taken last Sunday morning of illegal parking on the road outside the church — including of cyclists going around the illegal parking and a motorist trying to then overtake the cyclists, and of a car parked where he measured the distance and a wheelchair user would not have enough space left on the footpath.
He said: “I cannot believe that that is subject to a proposal from a councillor in our area saying ‘let’s allow this to continue… The most interesting part of it is there was not one car in the car park. Now we have a motion where we are looking to not to proceed with bollards”.
“It’s very close to a corner, so, the cyclists then have to pull out suddenly [when they see the parked car] and cars coming around might miss them… It’s more like something you’d hear on Callan’s Kicks than an area meeting.”
He said “Fine Gael are looking to support it on side of their mouth and oppose it on the other side. It’s a dangerous and a terrible motion.”
Cllr Anthony Lavin (Fine Gael) said he seconded the motion to allow debate, but said that he is not going to support it further.
“I think the photographs for me speak volumes,” said Cllr Lavin. “I would like an umbilical solution to be found if possible… but, again, there’s a car park there that’s not being used at all, that to me is something that needs to change as well.”
He said: “I support the initiative of the active travel department in this instance.”
Cllr Joan Hopkins (Social Democrats) said: “I cannot support the motion which is to remove the bollards and allow people to illegally park on a footpath and a cycle lane. I cannot understand how a motion like that can be brought…”
Cllr Tormey interrupted again with a point-of-order and said her motion was to remove the bollard, not to have illegal parking.
Cllr Hopkins said: “Ok, but to what purpose would that serve other than allow people to continue to illegally park.”
“I’ve had a lot of people contact me and the easy thing for us to do is say, ‘look, we’ll make an exception here and put in a motion to say bollards should not be in particular places’. But if we go down that road, where will we have our cycling infrastructure? Where will we have our safe footpaths?” said Cllr Hopkins.
She said when people contact her she talks about alternatives such as carpooling, using the car parks already available.
Cllr David Healy (Green Party) said: “We’re taking it seriously now about protecting people. There’s been some reference to ‘all the cyclists going to Howth are sports cyclists’… that’s the whole point, other cyclists are afraid to use this road. Kids from Howth are afraid to cycle to school and their parents are afraid to cycle with them.”
He said there is parking at the church and on-street parking about a six minutes walk away outside another local church.
Cllr Healy added that he knows of a parent who tried to walk their younger child to the Montessori at the rear of the church but opted to drive because they found it so hard to cross the busy road. He said that this also affects bus users and it needs to be looked at again.
Cllr Eoghan O’Brien (Fianna Fáil) said that while Cllr Tormey’s motion does not directly support illegal parking and blocking of access to people with mobility impairments, that is in effect what voting for it would support.
He said: “The idea is that we should compromise the safety of vulnerable road users for, from various emails I’ve seen, a suggestion of a 150 metres stretch to leave unprotected by bollards.”
“We have to get this idea out of our heads that cyclists are all middle-aged men in Lycra on €3,000 pieces of carbon fibre at 40-50km/h, that’s not it. This infrastructure is what provides safety for children and people who are extremely vulnerable to safely cycle and their right to do so trumps all others,” Cllr O’Brien said.
He called a statement made to The Irish Times “ludicrous”.
The Irish Times quoted church elder Michael Sparksman as stating: “We support cycleways, but the right to worship is being overtaken by the right to cycle.” This was then used in the headline of the article which featured on the newspaper’s front page.
Cllr O’Brian said: “I’m sorry because when I see a statement like this it gets my back up, you want these issues to be dealt with as much as possible with consultation and trying to find solutions to problems, but… I’ve never heard such a ludicrous statement,” he said.
He said that the councillors passed a motion last year supporting a safe and segregated cycle network within the Howth / Malahide area. He explained that he called a roll-call vote because he was aware that “the age-old tactic is that you support something in theory and then as soon as it comes to implementing it’s ‘nah, forget about it and appease this group’,.”
CllrO’Brian said that it was populist and should not be entertained when it comes to infrastructure which aims to save lives.
Cllr Tormey said that she wanted more consultation but Cllr Guerin said that there was ample consultation and the church was clear that they didn’t want the bollards so that people could illegally park.
Andrew Nolan, senior executive engineer with Fingal County Council said that illegal parking as an issue county-wide and it was something that they have to try to get people out of doing.
“If we look at the hierarchy of road users, pedestrians are at the top and cyclists are just below them and car drivers are at the bottom. We need to prioritise those soft squishy things that are people.. we have to provide the necessary protection,” he said.
He said leaving gaps in bollards is a continuation of providing for illegal parking and said officials will continue to engage with the church.
Cllr Tormey said: “My values very much guide what I’m doing… if people raise concerns with me I’m obviously going to listen to them, I’m obviously raising them, I’m obviously going to represent them and do my absolute best to do so.”
“Regarding the Fine Gael thing — yes, I’m raising concerns, a TD has raised concerns and there’s been concerns raised from a Minister as well. Because, again, we’re trying to listen to people and listen to this issue of what’s coming up,” she said.
“There are people in those cars, there are people who want to attend the church as well. It’s not just people as pedestrians. These cars are not just driving around on their own, ok? So, it’s people that are being affected across the board and I’m just trying to do my best in representing them and I make absolutely no apology for doing that at all,” Cllr Tormey said.
Dave Storey, director of services for the environment at Fingal County Council, said that he usually does not speak at motion but defend the level of consultation to date.
“In fairness to the staff involved, they have met the church on two separate occasions in person and obviously we wrote out to the stakeholders when the scheme was being proposed. We suggested a drop off service for both the church and creche, and we have not received a positive response to any of those options,” he said.
Storey said that while the council don’t get everything perfect and that he accepts that people can query the council on issues, various stakeholders have to accept their responsibilities too.
“We have engaged with them, we have made suggestions around some of the things councillors have said… we have also noted that they have a climate change plan that they have mentioned about reducing the number of journeys and encouraging walking and cycling, however, that has not been identified as one of the things they are willing to do,” he said.
Cllr Tormey said she was not aware of all of the options put to the church, that she had heard only one side.
A roll-call vote was held because Cllr Guerin said he wanted to record his vote against it. The result was five councillors against and just one for it, Cllr Tormey.
WATCH: Item discussed from around 1:21:00 on this video at fingalcoco.public-i.tv.