Tallaght councillors blame Government, NTA NGOs for cycle paths when their own policy includes promoting cycling and reducing car use

Long read: After a recent backlash to cycle routes, which are still under construction in the Tallaght area, councillors have blamed the national Government, the National Transport Authority and even NGOs for cycle paths when their own policy includes promoting cycling and reducing car use.

The March meeting of the Tallaght Area Committee was the third in a row where cycling was on the agenda. One councillor took issue with the use of the term “vulnerable road users”; another said that motorists are now vulnerable road users, and another claimed a road which is 600 metres long and only serves a housing estate is an “arterial road”.

Based on the January meeting, this website reported that a number of councillors voiced concerns against a proposed route, with only a Green Party councillor voicing support for it. While based on the February meeting, IrishCycle.com then reported how Sinn Féin and independent councillors claimed cycle lanes are making roads more dangerous.

At the March meeting, the main focus was on the cycle routes which are being built around Killinarden Way, Whitestown Way and Firhouse Road — most of these were built by narrowing what were extra wide roads without removing much in terms of lane capacity for motorists. Some councillors claimed that this narrowing was causing danger — which is the opposite of what evidence shows.

One area which councillors focused on a lot is the junction of Dalepark Road with Firhouse Road West which is captured at the start of this video clip:

Cllr Louise Dunne (Sinn Féin), the chairperson of the local committee, said: “I’m not going to be mindful of what I say.”

Shortly afterwards, she said: “I’ve kind of got lambasted for the things I’ve said in this chamber about these cycle lanes, and like I said, I don’t want to be pitting anybody against each other.”

Cllr Dunne said: “I had been challenged when I was saying that we’re technically being forced to leave our cars and to go out on bikes and walk and all of that kind of stuff, and Stephen [an official] thankfully sent us over the model that they are using, it’s the hierarchy [of road users] is the model — active travel is the number one priority, public transport is second and cars have your least priority — there you go, it just confirms what I’ve been saying in the chamber and what people have been challenging on me saying that it’s not.”

The hierarchy of road users is a high-level policy that prioritises safety and promotes walking, cycling, and public transport. It does not involve forcing people out of their cars, but it does aim to reduce car use.

“But I don’t always get things right. I was also informed that this is a Government policy that was in place before the Greens. I’m sure the Greens have been pushing it because it’s part of their policies as well,” she said.

She agreed that the Development Plan was one of the areas councillors still had reserved power over.

The South Dublin County Council Development Plan 2022-2028, which was voted on by councillors in June 2022, outlines that “…investment in active travel and public transport infrastructure remains at the
top of the hierarchy…”.

One of the Development Plan’s objectives, which are agreed on individually, states: “Re-balance movement priorities towards sustainable modes of travel by prioritising the development of walking and cycling facilities and encouraging a shift to active travel for people of all ages and abilities, in line with the County targets.”

Another objective seeks to: “Promote a significant shift from car-based travel to public transport in line with County targets and facilitate the sustainable development of the County by supporting and guiding national agencies in delivering major improvements to the public transport network.”

The targets in the plan — which is also agreed on by councillors — includes reducing driving’s modal share of trips from 62% to 50%.

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Cllr Teresa Costello (Fianna Fáil) said there are “full communities feeling dismissed and unheard. Real safety concerns [are] disregarded. It is very frustrating and these section 38s they’re actually just steamrolling their way through our area, causing a huge amount of upset and upheaval in the area, and like I’m I I can’t believe how angry people are, and I can’t believe how people aren’t being heard like the amount of disruption it’s cause.”

Cllr Costello said: “Every time we ask a question, we get DMURS quoted to us — I hate DMURS, I actually hate that document.”

She had two motions, which were passed. The first was that the area committee “Writes to the Minister of Transport to express our concerns at the Section 38 process and the lack of input councillors have on works being carried out within the Tallaght area given the current high volume of section 38 projects happening simultaneously”.

The second asked that a representative from the National Transport Authority (NTA) attend the Tallaght Area Committee to “answer questions that Local Councillors have in relation to recent and planned works and an explanation of DMURS.”

The Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (DMURS) is a mandatory national design guidance for urban streets and roads under 60km/h. It is a joint document by the Department of Housing and the Department of Transport and is also supported by the South Dublin County Development Plan, which councillors signed off on.

Cllr Mick Duff (independent) said: “The engineers are great, and they’ll come out [to look at the road], but as Cllr Costello said, they’re reading from DMURS, they’re telling us ‘there it is’.”

One of the junctions which councillors focused on was the junction of Dalepark Road and Firhouse Road West.

Dalepark Road links with Heatherview Road and forms a U-shape back out onto Firhouse Road West. The road serves an area of housing and circles back out into Firhouse Road West. As Dalepark Road only allows for access to houses and does not have any through-road function, it would not fit into any definition of an arterial road.

However, Cllr Duff claimed: “We’re looking at a road [Dalepark Road] that would be, in our opinion, an arterial road not a small road into an estate, not a small road within an estate, and, you know, it’s even being used on the Castletymon Road which is a major distributor road, it couldn’t in any make shape or form be called the side road into anywhere but yet Section 38…”

The powers under Section 38 of the Road Traffic Acts also apply to any road, and DMURS—which has been in effect for the last ten years— applies to nearly all urban roads.

Cllr Patrick Holohan (independent) incorrectly claimed that the Government, which he referred to as a “bunch of brats in Leinster House”, are “able to launch a Section 38”. Only councils can use Section 38, and councillors have powers to overrule the council executive where enough councillors disagree with an action being taken by officials.

Cllr Holohan said: “To be able to see that the Government can can launch a Section 38 and create the havoc that they have created out there but not only that but just jam it down your throat by people who who are funded by the Government to tell you that these things are working as well I’d like to see some of the reports of the people that are not funded by the Government on this and the setup of it because I’m no engineer but I’m not stupid.”

“And common sense prevails when you look at this road, and you look at the cars, and you look at what’s going on, and then all you do is to speak to the people that are actually living in the areas so they’re all wrong every one of them is wrong, we’re all wrong, they’re all wrong, and anybody else that maybe has a piece of paper that they probably pay it to put together with a report through an NGO or through some sort of other group that’s being set up and we have to swallow that we don’t accept that,” he said.

His motion, which was also agreed but is non-binding on officials, said that the “Tallaght area committee calls on SDCC to not reduce road space in the Tallaght area when installing cycle tracks”.

When introducing the motion, he said, “I’m nothing against cycle tracks,” but he said he was asking officials to “leave our roads alone.”

Cllr Holohan claimed a year ago that it would have been a “conspiracy theory” to say that the Green Party was trying to get drivers out of their cars, but it’s unclear what he was talking about because it is open Green Party policy to reduce car use and car dependency and get more people walking, cycling and using public transport.

He also took issue with a response from council officials that said the active travel projects are addressing issues for “vulnerable road users.” The phrase “vulnerable road users” is widely used to refer to people walking and cycling because they are more vulnerable than people in cars.

He said: “I think bringing the idea of vulnerable people into it to make it go forward is like another tactic of virtue basically. I’m not blaming that on the council, but I’m saying that that’s what I see as a tactic.”

Cllr Kieran Mahon said: “The nature of the conversation we’re having now isn’t about a cycle lane at Firhouse Road West or wherever, it’s the lack of democracy in local government.”

“The conclusion for me is why people [councillors] come in week after week, month after month, and year after year and hold up the charade by voting for every single budget that comes on front of them, voting for every single local area plan that comes in front of them, and every single development plan that comes on front of them and the stand back and say ‘Oh, nobody listens to us’,” he said.

“There’s a bit of a charade being played out now because people in Firhouse Road West and other places are rightly annoyed by the disruption to their area,” he said.

He added: “We can’t hide behind the fact that it’s undemocratic or that you feel you’ve been disempowered when it’s this council that’s been holding up to the structure of that since as long as anybody wants to remember.”

Responding to the above point, Cllr Costello said: “I thought they [the budgets] were fair and it swung something for our area… our communities have benefited from [the funding], and that’s why I’ve always voted in favour of the [council] budget.”

Cllr Cathal King (Sinn Féin) said: “What’s happening now and if you go up Whitestown Way, Aylesbury and Killinarden, the vulnerable Road users are now becoming the motorists because it’s so dangerous on certain turns and coming out of the estates, and that they are vulnerable because of so little space on the roads as a result of is.”

He claimed the narrowing of the roads would result in more crashes between motorists. But international evidence shows that narrower streets result in fewer injuries and deaths from crashes.

ALSO READ: South Dublin County Council could boast the best area in Ireland for cycling, but one thing is holding it back

On the level of complaints councillors are receiving, he said: “It’s crazy when you think of the amount of issues with housing and homelessness and with the cost of living and all sorts of bad issues in our area and the State as a whole at the moment that this has become the largest issue generally in both Tallaght Central and Tallaght South due to the Firhouse Road West and Killinarden [cycle routes].”

Cllr King said that it was Government policy that disempowered councillors.

Referring to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors, he said “People are talking out of both sides of their mouths” and he said: “Some people will get elected on this the way they fought it, but they are actually fighting against their own Government policy.”

Cllr Charlie O’Connor (Fianna Fáil) talked for a few minutes about the issue of Firhouse Road West without outlining his issue with it.

Cllr Vanessa Mulhall (Green Party) said: “I’m just wondering what kind of what questions like that we are asking that like our own active travel team and our own engineers can’t answer. Because like they’re they’re well versed in the strategy and the national cycle strategy.”

Michael McAdam, a senior engineer with South Dublin County Council, said: “Yes, I think myself and the team would be well placed to answer most questions that arise. I think this motion arises from a policy issue rather than a technical issue, but I’m happy to send on the letter [requesting the NTA attend a meeting with councillors].”

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He said: “I don’t know whether they will attend. They attended the full council meeting in October, and they came out previously when an issue arose a few years ago and spoke to councillors directly.

McAdam said that one of the “hoops” that the council has to go through is guidelines, including the National Investment Framework for Transport in Ireland, on the efficient of use of the funding. He said: “It is seen by the NTA that road space relocation is an efficient way of doing it.”

He said that on Whitestown Way, the original cycle track (pictured above) was used by pedestrians, and the council is now accepting that there is a demand for a footpath along the road.

UPDATED: This article was updated with the context of the main issue councillors were raising of roads being narrowed closer to the start of the article and a video added of the junction of Dalepark Road with Firhouse Road West

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