Conor Skehan asks for an “inclusion of a few facts” but he isn’t factual on transport

Comment & Analysis: Conor Skehan is said to have contrarian views generally. But, despite him saying that an “inclusion of a few facts” is helpful, his views on transport aren’t supported by facts.

When I write these types of articles some people say things like: “There’s no point, it’s the Sunday Independent” or “Columnists aren’t worth worrying about” etc. But Skehan is not just a Sunday Independent columnist, he’s also a former Housing Agency chairman, a former planning lecturer, and a director of a planning consultancy.’

Even if he was just a columnist, it’s worth pointing out how wrong he is.

The headline for starters, “Eamon Ryan is on a road to nowhere with his policy to banish cars”, is quite a load of nonsense. Nobody is out to “banish cars” in Ireland or any other country. But columnists usually don’t write the headlines on their article, so, it’s important to look at the article to see if it differs.

Skehan wrote: “Much of the heat of car-bashing debates could be removed by the inclusion of a few facts”… We all can agree facts are good, right?

Before this, he asks: “Could it be that it’s actually ill-considered projects for cycling lanes and pedestrianisation schemes in our towns and cities that are clogging roads and slowing us down, making us late and making it more difficult for buses to run on time?”

It’s an example of implying you’re “just asking questions” when you actually making a statement with nothing to back it up. People who don’t like walking and cycling projects usually blame such projects for congestion and show scant regard for congestion caused by there just being too many cars or not enough space or priority given to alternatives.

With unattributed “facts”, Skehan said: “A 2014 survey found Irish bus use was well above average at 14pc compared to much lower levels even in highly urbanised countries….” But the CSO Census data puts bus use for commuting trips a 6% nationally and NTA National Household Travel Survey 2017 puts bus use at 5% nationally.

Some unnamed survey from 2014 or CSO Census data and NTA data… which will we trust?

On the issue of “facts”, Skehan continues: “For a start, it is seldom reported that Irish people use their cars less than those in many other EU member states. Irish car use is lower than average at 82.8pc of journeys compared to the Netherlands at 88.2pc, the UK at 86pc, while Germany and France were both 85pc.”

Unless Skehan took these stats from a dubious or out-of-context source — which a man of his calibre wouldn’t do — this makes no sense. So, it makes no sense. There’s no way Skehan is grabbing stats from some random website when he doesn’t even bother to mention a source of his stats in his article. Is there?

We know that in the Netherlands 88.2% of trips are not made by car:

CHARTS: Cycling facts: new insights from the Netherlands Institute for Transport Policy Analysis (KiM).

And we know that his claim does not even apply to the metric of distance travelled by km (which he didn’t mention, but might be used as an excuse).

In his Sunday Independent article, he goes on to state: “Similarly, talks about making more people walk or cycle overlook the fact the average Irish person travels for about 28 minutes to work, mostly by car — a distance that will never be feasible by walking or cycling.”

Skehan is a learned man. Far too intelligent than anybody who would, for example, claim that a measurement of time is a distance… so, this must have been some kind of editing mistake, right? Skehan, of course, knows that cycling and public transport can for many trips in urban areas be faster than using your car, right?

And it definitely wasn’t Skehan who added some anecdotal stories to add a bit of colour which — quite frankly — really sadly implied anybody serious is talking about zero cars.

It definitely wasn’t Skehan who wrote; “Aspirations for a stroll or a bike ride to the shops are only available to a small portion of the population, almost always in wealthy areas.”

Because that would be just downright silly… or maybe Skehan doesn’t know any people from non-“wealthy areas” where they live beside or close to shops, town centres and shopping centres? Is Skehan not a man of the people?

Maybe it’s just rural people he’s thinking of… as if there are not enough voices already vocalising a claimed wronging of rural Ireland. Skehan wrote: “Discussions on limiting car use for rural dwellers are so detached from reality that even the minister’s department has had to pre-empt the inevitable ridicule by promising to be ‘mindful that people in rural areas may be more dependent on cars and have less access to public transport.’”

But this couldn’t really be Skehan writing these lines… or did he have his head in the sand about a topic he was writings?

Anybody who was writing a column for a national newspaper surely wouldn’t write it not knowing that there was no pre-emptiness involved but rather the press release mention of rural Ireland was about what had already been said about measures planned mainly for city areas.

Skehan also mentions growing populations and growth generally in a few points in his article.

But as someone purporting to know much about transport planning, Skehan shows it in a weird way by implying that growth in cities needs a growing number of cars.

The reality is that a number of cities across Europe are planning growth while reducing car use. Dublin has already shown this at the city-centre level with 48% of cars evaporated from Dublin City Centre’s streets at peak times while the number of commuters increased and the number of people living in the city centre increased.

Amsterdam, Utrecht, Eindhoven and other cities in the Netherlands have shown this is possible at the city level. Utrecht is now planning it at a regional level. Planning it at the national level is just a progression of this given the strong rationale.

The need for change — climate, health and expanding mobility options — is at best skirted around, but mainly ignored by Skehan.

Just because people like Skehan are stuck in the past, doesn’t mean we all should be kept there with him.


  1. Hi Cian & All – I just spent 4 days in Copenhagen. I didn’t cycle, walked everywhere. It was so relaxing. I know you have issues with some Danish cycling measures, but I found the city much less stressful than Amsterdam. Everyone stopped at reds, and it was really clear who had priority when. We could really learn from what they’re doing here. Road allocation a big part of why it’s working, but also a sense of trust that the infrastructure, including traffic signalling DOES work. Once or twice I found myself Irish jay-walking to ‘get’ across a road, before realising that the pedestrian light would go green in a matter of seconds so there was no need to grab space.


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