— Objections centre on emergency access, but campaigners and experts say emergency access can be catered for.
Gardai have denied going against Government on road safety, healthy active travel and climate change by objecting to a 6 months trial of a cycle path in Salthill planned by Galway City Council.
The public consultation submissions from emergency services are among the reasons why 14 Galway City councillors are expected to “backpedal” their support for Salthill cycleway trial when the issue is raised at a council meeting on Monday.
Minister for Transport and Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan, yesterday said: “We can’t keep our heads in the sand and continue to let cars dominate our public spaces. The cycle track in Salthill is a critical opportunity to demonstrate that safer roads and alternatives to cars are a priority across parties in Government.”
In a statement released yesterday on general objections to the cycle route trial, he added: “While Salthill is a very popular destination for families and tourists, it is actually too dangerous for children and families to choose to cycle there at the moment. Galway deserves better. Communities across Ireland deserve better.”
The Government’s Road Safety Strategy — published only two months ago — states that “During 2021–2025, construct 1,000 km of segregated walking and cycling facilities to provide safe cycling and walking arrangements for users of all ages.” While policy on health and climate is also to enable more people to cycle by providing segregated cycle routes, even where that has an impact on motorists.
Gardai told IrishCycle.com that its submission was in line with other emergency services. But at the time of publication the force has not respond to a question on if Gardai accept that it is a legal and common practice for Gardai vehicles to use cycle paths in emergency situations.
A submission from the Galway County Council-run fire services centred on implying that staff driving fire engines in emergency situations cannot use cycle tracks — this is factual incorrect. Use of cycle paths by the emergency services in emergency situations is common practice when needed in Dublin, especially on the DLR Costal Mobility Route.
Gardai and the Dublin Fire Brigade regularly use segregated cycle routes when they need to in emergency, such as this example to bypass cars and buses on the Quays in Dublin:
IrishCycle.com asked if Garda Commissioner Drew Harris’s office could please explain why his senior officers in Galway are attempting to undermine national Government policy on road safety, healthy active travel and climate change in relation to the decarbonisation of transport.
The Gardai Press Office yesterday said: “Galway City Council held a public consultation in respect of a proposed cycle route along the R336. An Garda Síochána as a stakeholder with statutory responsibilities would be negligent in not making a formal submission(s) during such a public consultation.”
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“An Garda Síochána submissions were in respect of this public consultation and the design of this particular cycleway only. The submissions are self-explanatory,” a spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said: “An Garda Síochána’s submission was not in relation to Government Policy or the National Road Safety Strategy and does not undermine, nor should be construed to undermine such policies, which An Garda Síochána fully support.”
The Garda Press Office added: “An Garda Síochána submission is similar to that of submissions from other statutory emergency services. The final decision on the design and construction of this scheme is a matter for Galway County Council.”
Last year Gardai distance itself from a submission made under the impression it was a Garda submission in Cork on the Passage West section of the Lee to Sea Greenway.
At the time, the Garda Press Office told this website that: “Formal submissions in relation to this are submitted through the Office of Chief Superintendent, any other submission is deemed a personal submission. An Garda Síochána does not comment on any personal submissions.” The Garda Press Office today did not directly comment on a question of if this policy still applies.
Similarly, in 2012, a senior Garda officer made a submission about cycling infrastructure in Cork City — the claim “This is a Dangerous proposal” was repeated and that the projects “severely hinders the passage of the Emergency Services across the city”, however, a decade after the cycle paths were built, there’s no known issues for emergency access caused by Cork’s cycling infrastructure.
There were four emergency services submissions to the Salthill project, including two different Garda submissions.
One of the Garda submissions came from the regional Chief Superintendent on the Dublin Road in Galway, and one from the “Garda Community Engagement Section” at the office of the Superintendent at Salthill.
The regional Chief Superintendent is only seeking that “emergency access without any restriction on a 24 hour basis must be a priority to service the area when required”, similarly a HSE West submission was in a similar vain is seeking “further consideration and discussion is required prior to implementation.”
Both of these requests are in line with the views of experts and campaigners, who maintain that provision can be made for two-way emergency access along all of the cycle route as happens in Dublin and elsewhere.
However, the “Community Engagement Section” from Salthill Garda Station said of both options for the trial that “An Garda Siochána feel that this option cannot proceed” — which is much stronger than the Chief Superintendent’s response.
The Galway County Council fire service claims that “Both proposals put forward would lead to unacceptable delays in reaching incidents where lives are threatened and significantly increase the risk to members of the public and Fire service personnel. Therefore Galway Fire and Rescue Service cannot support
either proposal put forward to date”, but this is based on analyses which implies that fire engines would be not be legally allowed to use cycle paths on the route.
Under the heading “Forced use of cycle lane”, the fire service submission states that “it is known that it has been mooted that Emergency Services could utilise the Cycle Lane to access the west side of the city. In the interest of clarity, it would be important to point out that the Fire Services, in the course of carrying out their duties in attending to emergencies are subject to the Road Traffic Act.”
But the Road Traffic Acts has a wide-ranging provision for emergency responders that means the “requirements, restrictions and prohibitions relating to the driving and use of vehicles” in the Road Traffic Acts do not apply to Garda Síochána, ambulance services and fire brigades “in the performance of the duties of that member”.
Robert Burns, is now director for housing and community development at Fingal County Council and he headed up Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County’s cycling infrastructure over the pandemic. Speaking about the Galway project he said last month that change is hard but emergency access can be provided for “if there’s the will” to do so.
Burns said: “Change is difficult, but shift to more sustainable modes like walking and cycling is change we need to make. No scheme is perfect, but option 2 for Salthill Temp Cycleway is viable.”
He added: “Concerns about emergency access, business and traffic impact can be resolved, if there’s a will.”
The issue of emergency is a recurring claim used by cycle route objectors, while still working for DLRCC, Burns said last year: “We have worked closely with stakeholders including Gardai, RNLI and others in putting in place the Coastal Mobility Route. There is no substance to suggestions of adverse effect on response times. Actually, the 2-way cycle lane acts as a quick response lane for emergency services.”
Burns has tweeted about the issue several times, including examples of how emergency services can use pedestrian streets and cycle paths:
The issue of some fire services not backing safer roads and streets infrastructure can also be seen internationally.
Jeff Speck, an expert in safe and sustainable urban spaces, in his book Walkable City, outlines how cities should “rewrite the fire chief’s mandate to optimize public safety, not response times”.
He said: “Perhaps the most ironic day in the life of every city planner is the one on which she discovers that her greatest opponent in making her city’s streets safer is the fire chief. How this bizarre circumstance has come to occur in city after city across the United States is a veritable morality play on the topics of siloed thinking, the confusion of ends and means, and Murphy’s Law. It goes something like this: A faster response time is good, but not at the expense of life safety.”
Extracts Garda submission on Galway City Council slides:
Fire service submission:
HSE West submission: