COMMENT & ANALYSIS: 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 the direct or indirect chilling effect they have on any move which might affect cars.
The issue of Galway councillors has been reported on in the last week, but, while campaigners in the west might look on at pockets of progress in Dublin, the reality is that councillors — and other politicians — delaying progress is a huge issue in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and everywhere else.
In one recent article, this website covered not just one Dublin councillor engaging in hyperbole by calling it “Kafkaesque” for them not to be fully briefed on the removal of 14 parking spaces for bus stops, but other councillors at that meeting engaging in a half-hour discussion on the issue while seeking an even more detailed briefing on it for their next area meeting.
The issue was manly new bus stops for an orbital bus route. There could be better communication from officials to councillors, but this kind of forensic accounting reaction to the loss of so few car parking spaces is a larger issue than others outright objecting to sustainable transport.
In the same area of Dublin, Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik, would-be Fianna Fáil leader Jim O’Callaghan, and a Labour councillor all lobbied against bollards put in place protecting a cycle lane as part of the Safe Routes to School Programme so that SuperValu could have more convenient loading that doesn’t affect motorists as much.
IrishCycle.com also reported recently how the Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy was criticised for a parliamentary question on “road tax” for ebikes and scooters “to enhance ownership and traceability” — it was because a constituent asked, but the phrase “road tax” combined with cycling should ring alarm bells for even a TD who is mildly supportive of cycling.
Meanwhile, slip turns are a design that guidance says results in extra danger to people walking and cycling with little benefit to motorists and shouldn’t be used in urban areas. But Dublin councillors claimed that the closing of a slip turn resulted in people who “cannot get out of their houses” and are “hostages in their own homes” — this was brought up by a Sinn Féin councillor but was supported on one level or another by councillors in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and even the Greens.
The local Green Party councillor described how councillors are hearing directly from residents — that residents are finding it challenging to access their homes or get out of their homes.
So, I visited the road to see what was going on, and why the story of these residents who are now hostages in their own homes was not hitting news headlines. Both at rush hour and around lunchtime when I visited, I was able to record a video of residents in cars who were freely entering and exiting their housing estate with little or no waiting even with rush hour heavy traffic.
Always remember this: Motorists have dominated our roads for so long that even the smallest of changes can feel like oppression for them.
On the northside, this website also reported how groups against the car-free Capel Street are continuing to put pressure on councillors. Most people might think that Capel Street is now car-free, that it’s a settled issue and we should just let them at it. But such pressure — often using bad faith arguments — can have ill effects.
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A Labour councillor claimed the project was supposed to be pedestrianisation when cycling was always planned to be allowed and a SocDems councillor, who is normally supportive of cycling, said that planters could be placed on the street, as if that would help rather than hinder issues at busy times.
These are all examples in just the last month or so. We’ve also reported on issues such as councillors choosing parking over a cycle lane outside a school in Cork and the painfully slow progress across Ireland on making things safe and attractive for walking and cycling. The same goes for public transport projects, once motorists are affected, councillors usually spring into action.
In Dublin, last year one city councillor objecting to the Strand Road cycle route trail was accused of “Olympic levels of gaslighting” after he called cycling campaigners “not pro-cycling”. Last week, this website covered how Galway councillors are taking this type of gaslighting to a new level — sadly, they are only following in the footsteps of Dublin councillors and this type of behaviour can be seen at different levels across Ireland.
There might be an epic struggle to change things so that Irish streets and roads are no longer as car-dominated, but, as I wrote last year, there’s hope in the growing number of people looking for and even demanding change.