BusConnects and active travel need to be implemented faster — Minister Ryan

— Bus gates, one-way systems and reallocation of space should be advanced ahead of the BusConnect infrastructure which requires CPOs, Minister Ryan said.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has said that active travel and some infrastructure measures in BusConnects should be fast-tracked as part of decarbonating transport in Ireland.

“We won’t meet our climate targets even with rail and all the great public transport projects we have planned,” said Minister Ryan.

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Speaking recently at the opening of a new Engineers Ireland series of webinars on the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Street, he said that the rail projects will be delivered but that will “take a bit of time”. He also said that the Government needs to make clear signals about using a transport-orientated development model, “so that housing and planning are around public transport”.

Minister Ryan said: “I think in the remaining years of this Government, our focus is on the delivery of immediate solutions — it’s on delivering Connecting Ireland, the new rural bus system, a fantastic innovation that could transform our villages and towns centred around those new public transport solutions with the Town Centre First strategy, and, secondly, in all five cities, we need to start delivering in the next three year on the key elements of BusConnects projects.”

He continued: “Including in many incidences elements which would have to wait for the full CPO, extensions of the road network and building out. Some of the bus gates, one-way and alternative use of lanes systems can be done quickly and cheaply. In the same way, that in the Covid period with experimental traffic management measures, I believe we should now do the same on BusConnects in all five cities.”

“Thirdly we need to advance our active travel — we have a significant budget, €360 million a year now, we have provided the resources for local authorities across the country to put in road/transport engineers, landscape architects, planners, communications experts… this is a real challenge how we take [road space] in a reconsidered function,” the Minister said.

“This could be really difficult politically, but it’s centred around improving pedestrian and cycling conditions. And we do it with a view to restoring the public realm — making it a beautiful street to walk on, to take time in, to spend time in shops or to live on, not just as a distributor road,” said Minister Ryan.

He said he wants interdepartmental taskforces set up to look at how Connecting Ireland, BusConnects and active travel can be rolled out quickly and “be bold” in “following the same urgency with Brexit and Covid” to make change quickly. “We won’t meet our climate targets if we don’t act fast,” he said.

He said it would need cross-party collaboration in councils as well as at a national level.

Minister Ryan added: “We don’t do that by beating people over the head, or shaming people or wagging the finger at people… we’ll do it because people want to reimagine their own local place. That’s something that came out of Covid.”

Consensus on high-level policy but, on the ground, change is hard locally

Jason Taylor, an author of the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets and now a planning advisor at the Department of Housing and Local Government, said: “DMURS is representative of a change in approach which really was beginning to occur in the 1990s.”

“Compact growth requires investment in a well-designed public realm. Not just public spaces and parks, but also the streets — if we want people to be attracted to denser forms of urban development we have to provide an environment which is appealing to them,” he said.

Taylor said: “We know what we need to do, it’s all there in DMURS. I don’t have to tell anybody listening today who has tried to implement even the smallest of changes just how challenging that can be. It’s a constant issue we see is that there’s a broad range of consensus in addressing climate change, regeneration, public realm improvements, providing better pedestrian and cycling facilities at the high level, when it comes to the implementation of these measures, it can be highly contentious and significant push back from sections of the community and from businesses.”

He said: “This is particularly the case when it involves transferring space from one user to the other, particularly from cars to other modes to public realm improvements.”

“Having over provided for the car for so long now it has become normal, part of the status quo. So, when we try to rebalance the equation and deal with some of these legacy issues, people feel as if you’re taking something away from them,” said Taylor.

He said getting over this can require a lot of work and determination on the ground at a local level. Misinformation about projects can spread fast, said.

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