COMMENT & ANALYSIS: In Dublin, last year one city councillor who objected to the Strand Road cycle route trail was accused of “Olympic levels of gaslighting” after he called cycling campaigners “not pro-cycling”. But, after voting down the Salthill cycle route trial, some Galway councillors are taking gaslighting campaigners to a new level.
Some councillors approved the trial before doing a U-turn on the cycle route.
This was a populist reaction by councillors to normal and expected bikelash. All the main claims made against the project are some of the normal ones you can be heard around the world — emergency services would be affected (it could be designed so this would not be so), it would damage business (national and international experience shows this isn’t the case), and disabled people would be blocked from accessing the beach (more disabled parking was planned and yet more could have been added).
There’s been a bit of coverage of Salthill in the local media as well as TheJournal.ie and by The Irish Times this week — this was after a woman was knocked off her bicycle into traffic when a car user opened a door in Salthill.
According to the Times, Cllr Donal Lyons (Independent) said: “There could be an accommodation though there are some people in the cycling community who, instead of working with people, they are driving people against them.”
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In the words of Irish Times journalist Harry McGee, Cllr Lyons along with Cllr Alan Cheevers (Fianna Fáil) “say that cycling lobbyists in Galway have been, at times, too militant and too assertive”, but we’re talking about volunteer campaigners and not “lobbyists”, and — more importantly — the Galway Cycling Campaign are a mild bunch and their campaigning around the Salthill project is in the same vain.
Was there some people annoyed? There sure was. But these vague claims from councillors are designed to deflect from their shortcoming, their inaction.
This line about supporters of the cycle route being too assertive, “militant” and aggressive is a common enough thing to be heard against any campaigners pushing for anything which can be seen as a type of social change.
It’s stunning in the case of Salthill one of the anti-cycle route people on social media who is really pushing this claim against campaigners are themself displaying far more clear examples of — often crass — name calling and aggressiveness.
Cllr Lyons, according to McGee, said that it is possible that a two-way bike lane could be up and running within two or three years as part of the development of the new sea defences — for this to be true these new sea defences would have to be planned and built faster than any known project in Ireland before.
It’s just not true and Cllr Lyons is around long enough to know it’s not true.
A similar tactic is being used by cycle route objectors in Sandymount in Dublin and then adopted by councillors who support them — ‘we want a proper cycleway with coastal defence’ etc.
When voting against the Salthill trial, councillors claimed that a solution for the area would remain a priority. As Gráinne Faller, a local campaigner, wrote in theJournal.ie this week: Galway councillors promised us a cycling solution months ago — nothing has happened.
Spurred on by this, Cllr Cheevers took to Twitter this week to have a good go at gaslighting campaigners. He quote tweeted people 8 times in the last week alone on the issue of Salthill and didn’t directly reply to a single one.
It’s worth looking at how flawed his arguments are — from not actually getting the point being made to being just incorrect.
He’s been at this type of thing with quote tweeting rather than engaging normally on Twitter for some time. Before looking at the tweets this week it’s worth looking at this one from the end of last month after somebody posted a video of an amblance using a cycle path in the UK.
The background to this is that the emegency services in Galway used what can only be described as bad faith arguments against the Salthill project and councillors who wanted to be populist rather than brave and show some leadership latched onto this.
If Cllr Cheevers bothered to watch the video, he would have seen that that was the point of him being tagged in a tweet of the video to show that two-way cycle paths can be built so they can allow for emergency services access. This could have been achieved in Salthill if councillors had wanted to compromise:
This week, Cllr Cheevers started with Faller for daring to tag him a link to her article and ask: “What will be enough for you to act?”
Basiclly, his reply is saying nobody is allowed to question councillors and, if you disagree, you can run for election. This is always an option for anybody but it’s not really how representative democracy works — holding repseeetives to account is not just done at election time. This attitude is somewhat undemocratic as it reduces democracy to just elections.
Next up, according to Cllr Cheevers, the plan developed by council officials was “terrible”. He says councillors voted on a trial based on the idea they would be given a “proper plan”. But it’s now up to volunteer campaigners to meet with officials and develop a proper plan?
Should that not be the job of councillors? Are they not to be involved at all, only to again act populist when there’s a bit of bikelash?
(For clarity: Kevin Jennings, who is being quoted here, is the chairperson of the Galway Cycling Campaign)
Cllr Cheevers has previously called then Mayor and fellow councillor Colette Connolly, “like Mussolini” for the way she was running a meeting.
In the now deleted tweet quoted here, a memeber of the public called Cllr Cheevers a “Muppet” for telling people to “just go down the prom last evening and see the reason why” which the person viewed as meaning time travel. Cllr Cheevers was clearly not saying such but he also was not really expanding on what he was saying.
Anyway, which is worse a TV puppet or a fascist dictator who allied with the Nazis and was responsible for killing around executing an estimated 22,000 people in Italy?
Here’s the acting powerless thing again — for me, after reporting on walking and cycling issues in Ireland for over a decade, there’s nothing more paradoxical than councillors claiming they are powerless yet seeing, again and again, the direct blocking or indirect chilling effect they have on any project that might affect cars users.
Even progressive officials are affected by this chilling effect, and time and energy are often wasted on the smallest of things because councillors have heard a bit of backlash from a few motorists. Officals are not blameless but councillors who vote down a project that officials were recommending to proceed with are acting a bit cheeky to say the least.
And here Cllr Cheevers says it’s “Very easy [to] be on a keyboard” as if typing messages to councillors via email, text, Whatapp or social medai aren’t the main ways most people — espically younger people — interact with politicians these days.
Again, lines like the “executive in [the] council are responsible” for delivering does not really wash when councillors voted down a plan that the council executive proposed for Salthill:
“If you think you believe you can do better job that[‘s] what you need to do so” also doesn’t wash as an excuse to tell people to run for election themselves if they want to see change. People are entitled to try to hold councillors to account and ask them to act.
And again: It’s up to everybody else to meet. Not councillors…
Below is yet another example of vague claims of being targeted… he has so-far not bothered to quote tweet or otherwise reply to people asking what “cycling groups” he’s talking about.
And as one reply to this tweet said: “Why are cllrs so preoccupied with ‘cycle groups’? There are plenty of us who don’t belong to any group that just want to see safe roads, safe cycle paths, safe footpaths and good public transport because they all make sense and would make Galway a more pleasant place to live.”
This is a daft level of gaslighting — “I’m equally frustrated”, as if to say ‘I’m with you guys, it’s just those peasky cycle campaigners not drawing up their own plans with officials and talking to business lobby groups’.
For anybody who wants to see progress on making cycling safe and attractive, offer more mobility, reduce emissions and get more people moving, this is an evergreen point by Simon Munk, a seasoned campaigner with the London Cycling Campaign:
“It is in my opinion stark and revealing that politicians, officers, campaigners who have successfully delivered and kept in schemes talk about weathering storm, folks who have little direct experience talk about rebranding or more engagement etc. More engagement valuable but not main issue.”
Councillors who are real leaders will push projects over the line even when there’s a populist backlash. The backlash will die down. As Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow wrote last year: The bikelash paradox: how cycle lanes enrage some but win votes.