A Limerick Mayoral candidate has used the historical setting of central Limerick streets to argue that car access should not be changed, and he also spread misinformation about rural housing being the primary type of housing in Ireland to argue against a new active travel project.
The independent candidate and business owner Fionán Coughlan calls himself “an Active Travel and Public Transport devotee” but then uses common tropes against active travel infrastructure, including saying that traders would not be able to cycle for two hours with their goods into Limerick city centre when there is no indication that anybody expects such.
He also said that restricting car access would have a “catastrophically negative effect and will not be accepted or tolerated.” and threatened legal action.
Public consultation on the route options for the Wickham Street to Clare Street Active Travel Scheme ends today (Wednesday) at 5pm.
In his submission, Coughlan, said he is the owner of Re:Story Limerick in The Milk Market and an “Independent Candidate for Ireland’s first Directly Elected Executive Mayor of Limerick City & County”.
Coughlan said that the council should reexamine a more indirect route option for cycling. While some options would redirect car traffic so that it can no longer go through High Street, all options maintain car access to The Milk Market.
The yellow preferred route actually has five sub-options — for cycling and public space, these mainly differ in the central section around High Street. Included below is a copy of the drawings showing the differences between the options.
Coughlan’s submission was shared with other businesses in the area and they have also been encouraged to object to the emerging preferred route for the project.
He wrote: “Transport Planning has a huge bearing on people’s lives and freedom of movement is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We hope our Transport Planners are conscious of these rights when making decisions that restrict people’s ability to move freely and to continue to earn a living.”
“Limerick’s Active Travel Team have highlighted the Yellow Route as the most direct route. However, choosing to implement the Yellow Route would require removing vehicular access to High Street from the junction at William Street. High Street is the main access route of Limerick’s Milk Market. Closing the main access route of the Milk Market would be nothing less than catastrophic for Market Traders and would likely lead to business closures,” said Coughlan.
He said that the majority of the Milk Market traders and customers travel “by motor vehicle” and that traders include “fishermen from West Cork, a bakery from Galway, jam and condiments from Co Laois, apples and flowers from Waterford.”
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Coughlan then claimed: “Unlike other Countries in Europe, Ireland has a very low population density, meaning that most people live in detached houses in rural areas and are therefore locked into car-dependency.”
However, this is misinformation. CSO data shows that Ireland has a rural population of just over 31%, with the clear majority of almost 70% of people in Ireland living in urban areas.
Ireland’s percentage of the population in rural areas is above the EU average rate of 27.3%, but, in that rank, Ireland has the 14th most urban-focused population of the EU 28. Far below Lithuania, which is the only EU country with a majority rural population.
Among Irish councils, Limerick City also has one of the lower differences between night and day populations. The day and night populations are higher in places where more people are travelling into cities to work.
To advocate to maintain greater car access, Coughlan said: “Limerick’s Milk Market was built against the old walls of Medieval Irish Town, constructed in the 14th century. Entering through the main entrance of the Milk Market, you are crossing the threshold from Georgian Limerick to Medieval Limerick. The Milk Market reopened in 1852, the last year of the Famine, and has been trading almost every weekend for the past 170 years since then.”
“Limerick’s Milk Market is of National significance, not as a relic of some distant past, but as a living breathing marketplace. Every weekend shoppers are greeted by the happy hum of local trade and culture unique to Limerick. If the main access route to The Milk Market was closed, the Market itself would inevitably face closure, which would result in widespread uproar and discontent amongst the public,” he said.
In a common trope against the National Transport Authority, Coughlan said: “It is acceptable that NTA planners in Dublin would not perceive these nuances specific to our locality.” He then added that it is “deeply disappointing” that Limerick’s Active Travel Team, based nearby, didn’t visit the traders before progressing the options which are out to public consultation.”
He said that Limerick’s Milk Market broadly welcomes investment in Active Travel and has been calling for Public Realm investments for the area, “But” he claimed, “Closing off vehicular access to High Street would threaten the future viability of the Milk Market and would traders with no choice but to pursue legal action if the Yellow Route is chosen.”
Implying access would be blocked by car or van — which is not the case — he said: “Limerick’s Milk Market opens 3 days a week from Friday to Sunday. Saturday morning is our main market day and we welcome traders who travel by van and car from all across the country each week. These traders carry bulky products from locations of up to 2 hours away (which cannot be transported by bicycle). Closing Wickham Street and High Street to vehicular access or hampering the movement and access of traders by a Yellow Route would cause serious disruption.!
Coughlan claimed that there has been a “noted decline” in visitors to the Milk Market since the lockdowns and claimed: “former customers have cited the limited car access and lack of parking as the main reason for not returning to shop in the City”.
He also complained of the closure of the Corn Market Car Park containing 420 parking spaces, extended roadworks on O’Connell Street and other issues undefined issues which have “restricted access to the Milk Market”.
Coughlan said: “As a result, many businesses have closed in the Milk Market in the past few years. Examples include; Rene Cusack’s fish mongers, Bia Restaurant, the Polish convenience store, Jimmy’s Cafe and a drop in Saturday morning stallholders.”
He said: “It should be made very clear that further restrictions of vehicular access to the Milk Market will have a catastrophically negative effect and will not be accepted or tolerated. We, on the other hand, would greatly welcome cycle lanes, urban realm investment, removable bollards, all of which can be delivered to the area without cutting off our main vehicular access route.”
Yellow route sub-options
These are drawings for different options for the High Street section of the route shown in the public consultation virtual room — are other differences but these are the main ones. For more, you should also view the public consultation’s virtual room.