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Could ‘Pathfinder’ programme fund walking and cycling demonstration towns?

COMMENT & ANALISIS: Yesterday, this website reported how Minister Eamon Ryan is seeking what is termed as ‘Pathfinder’ transport projects to “demonstrate a pathway to achieving climate goals”… this should be an opportunity to revive the idea of walking and cycling demonstration towns.

Walking and cycling demonstration towns don’t have a great record on outcomes in Ireland, partly due to the scope and funding allocation of the past — to make it worthwhile, significant levels of focus and investment would be required in one or two locations, be they a town or section of a city.

The ‘Mini-Holland’ schemes in London have proven successful as walking and cycling demonstration areas and have helped spur on more progress in London.

Isn’t it about time Ireland tried the same? To be clear: The Department wouldn’t reveal the budget of the Pathfinder programme, so, we don’t know if it can even support the investment needed for proper demonstration areas.

Community and political support would be needed from the outset. If most of the below-mentioned buy-in isn’t possible, then the town or area should not bid for the programme. The town or area having input and making the bid — not just council officials doing so — would be vital.

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There must be a general acknowledgement that there will be opposition to different parts of the project, but the climate, health, safety, accessibility, tourism and business benefits are greater than the downsides.

If mention of relocation of space, traffic calming, making some streets one-way or making other access-only for motorists scares off all the local councillors, then there’s no point proceeding with a bid.

Before any such ‘bid’, it would need at least most of the following:

  • A cross-party political agreement, not on every little detail but at least to the extent that there most councillors/TDs will not be objecting to every single thing or second thing and will have to show leadership and have some “weathering the storm” moments.
  • A serious communications effort.
  • Strong community buy-in and input.
  • Schools, doctors, the hospital, health centres, sports clubs etc on board.
  • Buy-in from as many businesses as possible.

Maybe some or all of the timeframes I have listed below are optimistic (this is me thinking out loud, not an actual briefing or request to bit), but I’d expect this level of intensity to make the bid and programme a success:

Pre-bid to 0-2 months and onwards

  • Communications/community office in the town/urban centre. 
  • Open community consultation — from asking about the gaps in the current walking and cycling network (ie where are the roads you find it hard to cross or cycle on? ) to asking about how the changes are affecting people and how can things be done better.
  • Website portal.

Infrastructure measures within 2-8 months:

  • Walking and cycling crossings, especially ‘missing links’ on main roads within the urban area.
  • New footpaths and/or cycle paths, especially on higher speed roads with missing links to estates etc.
  • Quick-build measures to make cycle routes safer in the short term.
  • Upgrading existing in/formal permeability access points, including, where needed, new or renewed surfacing, lighting, attractive fencing, crossings etc.
  • Routings to schools — helping people access what’s there now and plan for what’s needed.
  • Bicycle parking (ie outside all supermarkets).

Infrastructure measures within 8-16 months:

  • Continuation of walking/cycling route upgrades, including moving to construction on at least two cycle route upgrades on existing roads.
  • Improving low-traffic routes, both urban and rural — linking up, signage, resurfacing, markings and traffic calming (included, if needed, filtering out through motor traffic).
  • Relatively short links of greenways/cycle paths on main roads or partly cross county to get cycling quite roads to work — potential to be inter-urban / urban to the hinterland in scope.
  • Bicycle parking within disused or underused buildings (ie secure, limited access in town centre or near transport stations/stops/hubs or venues etc).
  • Town centre street renewal, if including clear active travel improvements.

Infrastructure measures within 16-24+ months:

  • Continuation of walking/cycling route upgrades.
  • Greenway or other longer sections of inter-urban routes that cannot be built quickly.
  • Elements such as high-quality walking and cycling underpasses and other main road crossings to enable safe inter-urban routes/routes to hinterland areas.
  • Bridges or other structures that are needed for key links.

Supporting measures

  • Localised bicycle hub — workshops, bicycle lending ‘library’ and try it before you buy it ‘library’ etc. as offered by thebikehub.ie in Dublin and by directly/indirectly councils in the UK etc.
  • Electric bicycle demos.

Would your town or area be up for it?

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