— Consultation process for quick-build cycle routes questioned by Dublin councillors.
Dublin City Council’s consultation process for quick-build cycle routes was questioned by a number of Dublin councillors at a meeting yesterday — looking for earlier engagement. However, some international professionals and campaigners point to issues around the question of “weathering the storm” vs “rebranding and more engagement”.
The issue of the consultation came up when the draft 3km interim Clonskeagh cycle route, which includes Ranelagh Village, was presented to councillors at the South East local area committee meeting. Public consultation is due to start on the project at the end of the month, but a number of councillors questioned the process being used.
The consultation was mentioned by more than three councillors, but three of them used most of their speaking time to talk about the issue. All three have a record of being supportive of cycling projects.
Cllr Carolyn Moore (Green Party) said that while councillors are starting to see the plans for the routes and so are communities. They have questions and want to get involved in public consultation, but she said that “that consultation doesn’t seem to be happening.”
“By not involving people at an earlier stage we run that risk that there’s a lot of fearmongering, there’s a lot of genuine fears about how it will impact their ability to get around their community. We could put a lot of those fears to bed if we had a decent consultation process,” she said.
Cllr Moore added: “That gives the impression that it’s a done deal and that the consultation is a formality. We are getting as councillors involved with very protracted processes and anxieties from people who just want to know what’s going on… Why are we consulting with communities after we tell communities that the scheme is finalised?”
The Clonskeagh scheme is not finalised and Dublin City Council has made changes to other interim schemes based on consultation.
Cllr Pat Dunne (Independents 4 Change Councillor) said he agreed with Cllr Moore that there needs to be earlier public consultation.
He said he would not be focusing on the Clonskeagh route and instead mentioned a proposed route via Eamonn Ceannt Park and said that it would be more beneficial for the Active Travel section of the council to sit down with community groups before coming up with plans.
Cllr Tara Deacy (Soc Dems) said she agreed with Cllr Dunne and Cllr Moore that more consultation was needed, including with groups like cycle buses that use routes daily.
Niall Kinsella, an engineer in the Active Travel section of the council who is focused on interim cycle routes, was presenting to councillors yesterday.
He said that the consultation does happen with disability groups, cycling campaigners and other community groups.
Kinsella said that the Active Travel office would try to take the comments from councillors about public consultation on board, but that, with interim projects, they prefer to have some kind of a proposal before going public with it.
He said that the council is not obliged to run public consultation under Section 38 of the Road Traffic Act as amended, which is the process used for quick-build projects, but the council is eager to consult.
Open-ended early consultation
The normal process for public consultation is that it starts after councillors are briefed — other councillors have complained when projects have gone to public consultation before they knew about it.
It’s even a recurring issue that some councillors complained about when the media reports on details of projects included in information packs, which are published online ahead of council meetings. Officials have been asked why were projects mentioned in a newspaper before councillors were briefed. The actual issue sometimes is that some journalists read the information packs ahead of meetings while some councillors don’t.
(The following two paragraphs were added after the article was first published. Unknown when this article was first written, what’s described in the last paragraph, also happened later in the same meeting when the Ballsbridge route was discussed.)
After councillors were briefed on the TCD to Ballsbridge route, Cllr Danny Byrne (FG) said: “Were the artists consulted in advance or, like the rest of us, did they have to hear about everything from Dublin City Council in The Irish Times?”
As well as Cllr Byrne, a number of councillors complained that the artists who sell works at Merrion Square had not been consulted. In reply to this, Kinsella said: “In terms of consultation with other groups, again, we like to brief yourselves first. I don’t think we’d get any thanks from the area committee if groups were coming into [officials] talking about schemes that you were not even aware of. Our goal is to keep you in the loop first and then to engage with others.”
While earlier consultation, before proposals are worked up, is often seen as best practice, IrishCycle.com has covered cases where elements of open consultation were used to spread misinformation — it’s becoming a regular feature on greenway projects.
It’s a major issue with the Fingal Coastal greenway in Skerries where the council wants to work on a solution with the community, while some of those opposing the project are using the lack of firm details to claim things such as a loss of parking when no such solution has been decided on.
The same issue can be seen on more rural greenways at the route selection phase where councils are looking at a wide corridor — the lack of firm detail is again used by objectors who are set on derailing the project.
Open-ended early consultation was also used for the College Green Plaza in Dublin, which was bitterly opposed by some groups. This is despite overwhelming public support for the project, the same is still happening with the car-free Capel Street project — a determined few keep trying to get cars back on the street despite a huge level of public support shown for the project.
The majority of people support changes to our streets to enable sustainable transport and liveability, opinion polls show that is the case even when reallocating space is mentioned. A poll by RedC — a well-respected polling company — found that 66% of voters support “fewer car lanes and increased pedestrianisation”. This was the same for a majority across all age group, across party supporters, and social classes.
34% of people are a minority but, still, quite a large group and they will be able to make a lot of noise opposing any project.
“Weathering the storm” vs “rebranding or more engagement”
This brings us to two approaches to changing our streets: “Weathering the storm” vs “rebranding or more engagement”.
London started pushing cycling in recent decades around the same time as Dublin in the early 2010s. The highly-segregated Grand Canal Cycleway was opened in the same year as some of the first “Cycle Superhighways” in London. The Superhighways were really poor quality at first, mainly just colourful painted lanes, which kind of put Dublin ahead of London.
London however has powered ahead in years when Dublin spent up to a decade planning a few routes. The Clontarf route, which is under construction, will link in with the S2S and add up to the first major route in Dublin. London meanwhile has the guts of a network in place, with a mix of cycle paths on main roads and traffic filtering and calming on residential streets.
London is now maybe more than a decade ahead of Dublin on delivery. So, cycling campaigners and professionals there have seen a lot of projects and a ton of objections to them.
Simon Munk, the London Cycling Campaign’s campaigns manager, mentioned the issue in a Twitter discussion on the issue last year.
Munk said: “It is IMO 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.”
After Velo-City was held in Dublin in 2019, IrishCycle.com reported how Brian Deegan, a design engineer at consultancy Urban Movement, joked at a session that: “I never really feel like I’m doing my job properly unless I end up in court — that’s when I know I’m changing things and getting something done that’s worth it.”
Deegan, who worked for Transport For London when the push was made on higher-quality routes, said “The opposition is increasing and getting more and more sophisticated as well.”
He said that talking to the community was “key”, but that it was needed sometimes to tell people “it’s happening” and ask “what’s the best way to make the least worse situation for everybody.”