The Battle for the ‘Heart’ of Galway

As the new year begins it’s time to reflect on two major recent planning decisions in Galway that have the potential for long-term adverse impacts on the sustainable development of city and its hinterlands. Although separate schemes both are very much interconnected to a wider vision of how, and in what way, Galway should grow and develop for the betterment of people who live, work and travel into and out of the city. The first of these is located within the city centre, the other is set to traverse the city but allow the expansion of the city in an unplanned ad-hoc manner.

The €104 million Bonham Quay scheme has recently been given approval by An Bord Pleanála. The development has an adjacent separate €25 million accommodation scheme for 345 student resident units, which has also received planning permission. The Bonham Quay development was granted permission by An Bord Pleanála after the developers successfully argued that the student accommodation fulfilled the residential component of their application. In October 2018 the Cabinet approved the €600 million proposal for a bypass project in Galway city. The proposed 18km route runs from the east side of the city to a location close to the village of Barna, and will mean about 40 properties along the preferred corridor will be subject to compulsory purchase orders and demolished to accommodate the road. Advocates for this new road argue the scheme will reduce traffic congestion and improve journey times in and around Galway.

It is envisaged that the construction of the seven-story building at Bonham Quay will employ some 500 people construction workers and on completion the site will accommodate some 2,600 office workers. But how many of these will live adjacent to their workplace? And yet, it was argued that this particular development will have minimal impacts on traffic in and around the city centre. The conflicting signals given with regards to automobility in the city are stark. Part solution to Galway’s sporadic but chronic traffic congestion is to reduce or eliminate the use of the private car from the city centre. Yet, at the same time and with one single development, several thousand workers will seek to travel directly in the city centre without any alternative sustainable ways of doing so other than driving a private car. No reasonable attempt has been made to provide additional living accommodation for these workers close to their work who, based on evidence from previous CSO figures, will largely come from outside the city; and there are little or no attempts to provide and promote active or sustainable modes of transport such as cycling or public transport for these workers. But a number of enlightened solutions to tackling traffic gridlock and regenerating the city already have been fleshed out and are available in the progressive Galway City Development Plan document, which seeks to span from 2017-2023.

The need for diversity and mix-use development is incredibly important for city (re)development and regeneration. This was first suggested by Jane Jacobs in the early 1960s and still retains it’s potency and relevance today. To truly understand cities we need to acknowledge and embrace the notion that combinations and mixtures of use and residential diversity are essential components to improved urban liveability and quality of life. Moreover, the contemporary trend in the US, for example, is for large employers and corporations, particularly in the tech industry, to relocate to city centres when local environments merit such moves.

The Housing Strategy seeks to ensure that a mixture of house types and sizes is provided to satisfy the requirements of various categories of households, including the special requirements of elderly persons and persons with disabilities and to counteract undue segregation in housing between persons of different social backgrounds.

(Galway City Development Plan, page 24)

This provides us with a tremendous opportunity for the proper development of the Galway dockland brownfield sites (the Ceannt Station site is the next major development to be decided upon in this particular locality). But the best and brightest talents that major companies and corporations must attract and retain are no longer interested in suburban living, with its associated long daily commute. They want to live close to their work and enjoy the vibrancy of city community living, with its rich and varied quality of life. These workers are not seeking unaffordable housing with long commutes to a job where they work in isolation. They prefer the accessibility, infrastructure and cultural vibrancy that cities provide and where innovation thrives.

New residential development in particular has contributed to the vibrancy of the city centre. The Council will continue to encourage residential development by requiring a residential content of at least 20% of new development in the city centre. Exceptions may be made on small scale redevelopment sites. On certain key sites in the city centre namely the Ceannt Station lands, Inner Harbour and the Headford Road LAP areas, a higher residential content of 30% will be required.

(Galway City Development Plan, page 36)

The aim of any city (re)development and regeneration plan should be to create attractive and balanced residential neighbourhoods; transforming the prospects of a place depends on creating environments in which people would choose to live in and which provide benefits for existing residents. What point a city in which no one want to lives? The Galway City Development Plan specifically focuses on this and – although I don’t agree with every facet of the plan -thus is a considered strategy for the future planning and development of Galway in a sustainable manner. But on their first test of credibility city planners, decision-makers and, indeed, An Bord Pleanála have all failed to satisfy conditions they themselves support for the better (re)development and regeneration of the city. Even if you were to argue that student accommodation alone is appropriate as a residential component – it isn’t – does 345 units make up the 30% as set out in the Plan? And what about transport in and out of the city centre? How does the construction of an expensive ring road around the city fit into this particular overall planning approach? On the one hand we are asking motorists to avoid coming into the city centre, and at the same time planning for approximately 3,000 workers to do just that on a daily basis.

The objective of the strategy is to help address the transportation issues experienced in the city and the environs. It recognises the need to do so in an integrated, sustainable manner that aligns transport investment with settlement patterns, travel movements and also supports a sustainable use of land as promoted in the Core Strategy. This implies an approach that supports opportunities that will reduce congestion and car dependency through increased capacity of reliable public transport and the promotion and facilitation of cycling and walking, which in turn promotes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

(Galway City Development Plan, page 15)

The City Development Plan clearly outlines the strategy objectives with regards to reducing car dependency in the urban environment but, in the case of the Bonham Quay development and proposed ring road, does not have any plan or approach to dealing with the potential significant increase in commuting into and out of the city centre. Why make progressive and forward-thinking plans if we don’t even attempt to stick with them? I don’t feel obliged to be a cheerleader for economic development over and above the other pillars of sustainability – the social and environmental – (many of our politicians and decision-makers do that often enough) so I can be forgiven for not joining in with the chorus of approval for the new Bonham Quay development or the proposed ring road as its currently envisaged. Of course it’s crucial for such large brownfield site in the city to be redeveloped – I grew up, raised a family, and continue to live in the city centre; who doesn’t want a future for their children close to their family home – but such schemes must be accomplished in a holistic and sustainable manner. Galway City Council commissioned a way forward in this respect with the City Development Plan so why then, at this first opportunity, is this progressive strategy for the (re)development and regeneration of the city cast aside in favour of developer-led planning? And why do we continue to send out conflicting and confusing signals to motorists that we want them to avoid coming into the city centre but would like them to work, but certainly not live, there?

Towards a better digital technology criticism

I frequently begin discussions regarding my position on new digital communication technologies by saying something like; ‘I’m really a technology guy, I love technology and use it all the time but…’ Very much like the phrase ‘some of my best friends are…’ it’s probably not the best way to begin such conversations but the issue of these technologies, particularly digital technologies, and they’re societal and environmental impacts and consequences have given me reason for considerable pause and reflection of late. I’ve recently read Sarah M. Watson’s thoughtful meta-critique Towards a Constructive Technology Criticism and this has afforded me even more space and time to consider and rationalise my own viewpoint. Having had a paper published earlier this year in the Irish Journal of Sociology where I called for much more sociological (re)engagement with digital technology design, development and adoption processes given its significant and numerous impacts on contemporary society, my position needs more clarity on some levels. That said, as I engage and recognise the views of others in this field of inquiry I anticipate further thought and reflection over the coming months and years. So what are my position?

Firstly, in Watson report (and indeed title) she refers to ‘technology’ in a generic sense, but there is a rich expansive history of engagement and analysis of society-technology-interactions from within the social sciences. The history of technology and its development is the history of the invention of tools and techniques and is as old as humankind itself, and philosophers and social thinkers have always challenged technological artefact orthodoxies. I suggest that what now needs much more attention and scrutiny is this new era and proliferation of digital technologies which are allowing, for example, novel and innovative means of communications emerge at rapid pace. Such digital technologies, enthused by Moore’s Law, are also stimulating rapid developments and advancements in automation and AI, disrupting many societal norms and conventions (my understanding of disruptive is neither negative nor positive, in a general sense; each digital technology requires to be analysed and assessed on its own merits). One particular concern that Watson expresses is the dominance of ‘Silicon Valley’s white, male, hetero engineers who are building and testing technology for themselves, potentially missing the needs and concerns of underrepresented populations’. To this list I would add Western (specifically American) culture, and I echo C.A. Bowers concerns about many of these culturally transforming digital technologies contributing to a Western form of consciousness that is now being globalised. These are ‘making a virtue of ignoring the form of intergenerational knowledge and skills essential to the world’s diversity and cultural commons that enable people to live less consumer-driven lives [and] makes a virtue of being rootless; that is, not being long-term inhabitants of place’. This abandonment of place, I suggest, implies that this new digital world makes a virtue of mobility and not really being from any place thus encouraging people to forgo commitment to where they live, their community and society; all of which flies in the face of sustainability and our climate change obligations.

My key focus with regards to the design, development and adoption of digital technologies is determinedly on their societal and environmental effects, impacts and consequences. There are many who vouch and speak to the economic utility of these technologies and do so in an elegant and persuasive manner. In that sense, the limited deliberations of societal consequences and challenges, and narrow consideration of environmental impacts in comparison to the economic value, troubles me. Much more attention and focus should be on digital technology’s ability to improve quality of life for all peoples, while being cognisant of ecological limits and the sustainability of local communities and cultures. After all, technology should exclusively be a tool for human flourishing and never impede the ability of future generations to live and sustain a good life. There are some interesting moves in this direction with projects like Tristin Harris’s The Center for Humane Technology and Anil Dash’s Humane Tech. Hence, an enhanced and expanded technological criticism is needed rather than just a purely constructive one (we can not be simply cheerleaders for the impulses and whims of whatever comes out of Silicon Valley; we should be much more reticent of what technologies are actually good for everyone in society and not just a small elite). I don’t feel the need to talk or write only in positive ways of digital technologies just for the sake of it; all disruptive technologies require the full vigour of investigation and analysis in the pursuit of creating tools that promote only the good and best of what makes us uniquely human, while seeking to protect our fragile environment. In any business or industry, for any new product you must establish a need, a purpose, and a vision. But so often new digital technologies are unconsciously  tossed into society without any due diligence to their social and environmental utility. Why not, with regards to digital technologies, have a primary overarching mission of only contributing to human well-being while be aware of the limits of our ecological gift, anything else is worthless and destructive, surely!

Visit the (Café) Temple to Lift the Soul!

I’ve been trying to get better. While I’m convinced and committed to the concept of, and need for, local sustainability – economically, socially and environmentally – my actions have not always mirrored these firmly held views and beliefs. The value-action-gap is the space that occurs when the personal and cultural values or attitudes of an individual do not correlate to their actions. More generally, it is the difference between what people say and what people do. I’ve been trying to narrow this gap in the recent past, and I’m slowly getting better. So to make amends for my failings I’m seeking to promote some innovative and inspiring local enterprises that are focussed on sustainability and social good.

I like my coffee. In fact, I often find it difficult to function properly in the morning before I’ve had one or two cups of ‘Joe’. In pursuit of my fix outside the confines of my home and workspace I seek out coffee shops that offer a somewhat different experience; where the coffee is good, the staff are pleasant and long-term (reflecting a good relationship with the business), and where the food is sourced locally and  prepared onsite. One such enterprise that I’m a recent fan of and is well worth checking out is Café Temple in the Cornstore on Middle Street, with another entrance directly from Augustine Street.

Café Temple prides itself on being a social business inspired by the work of Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. The business model is founded on the idea of donating all profits to local charities and in this sense they work with organisations such as COPE, SERVE, and other such local charitable organisations. Their ethos is also to focus on local, organic, ecologically sound and homemade produced foods, as far as reasonably possible, and they work with local artisan producers in this respect. This ethos is reflected on their menu where they state:

We want our customers to see the value of food, to see how what we eat affects how we feel, while also eating and drinking good food made with care and passion. Both Seb and Steve truly believe that the only way to see change in the world is to be the change that you want to see, oh and as Mammy always said ‘eat your vegetables’

They also promote the notion of a ‘suspended coffee’. Patrons are asked to consider, if they have some surplus monies to spend, purchasing an additional coffee, taking a slip, signing it with a message, and placing it on the ‘Karma Coffee’ board. These can be then be claimed by anyone who is in need of a cuppa and for whatever reason doesn’t have the money to pay for it at that given time. This is done in a non-judgemental manner and can bring a small element of happiness to someone at a particular moment of time. Great idea; giving far outweighs receiving, in my opinion. So give Café Temple a try if you’re looking for something a little different and, as they state on their menus; ‘Feed your mind, Fuel your Body, and Free your Soul!’

Society and the Environment: Another Snapshot of the Student Perspective | 2017

As part of the Joint-Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree from the College of Arts at the National University of Ireland Galway, students in first year undertake a series of lectures on Society and the Environment, part of the module SP159 taught by the School of Political Science and Sociology. Similar to last year, at the first of nine lectures this semester covering broad aspects of the topic including climate change, (over)consumption, environmental harm, policy initiatives and responses, and environmentalism, a brief unscientific experiment was carried out in-class. At the beginning of the lecture students were asked to reflect on the theme of Society and the Environment and to come up with a word that echoes their current thoughts on the issues. These were then correlated and a Wordle produced, which is provided below:

After the series of nine lectures students were again asked to reflect careful on the nature of Society and the Environment and, once again, verbalise their thoughts on the subject with fellow students and record these as concisely as possible in a single word or phrase. These were again processed and a Wordle produced, which is provide below. Although not scientific in nature, this was an interesting ‘snapshot’ of how students thought about the subject before and after the series of lectures.

The False Promise of the Digital Revolution

C.A. Bowers (2014) The False Promise of the Digital Revolution: How computers transform education, work, and international development in ways that are ecologically unsustainable. Peter Lang: New York, NY, USA. 119 pp. ISBN 978-1-4331-2612-3 (paperback). €30.30

The persistent narrative of the effects of technological development in contemporary societies is uncritically accepted by policy designers, decision-makers and individuals as inevitable and determinedly positive in nature. The agenda for technology development, and in turn (re)shaping much of Western society, is primarily driven by computer scientists and strongly promoted by numerous futurist thinkers in the field. In the absence of critical awareness and dissent many now equate any and all technological innovation and development with the rhetoric of progress. For the past 200 years or so this has been a dominant driving force in Western cultures. In The False Promise of the Digital Revolution: How computers transform education, work, and international development in ways that are ecologically unsustainable, C.A. Bowers seeks to challenge the myth that technologies, and in particular print and digital technologies, are culturally neutral and fundamental to modern advancement. Expanding upon his previous work in this area, he argues that the Darwinian/market liberal ideology that is frequently used to justify a colonising agenda is leading to a world monoculture where data and print either ignores or replaces the global cultural commons. What is being lost, he suggests, in this process is the intergenerational knowledge and experience that has provided alternatives to a cash and consumer driven existence resulting in transformation in the viability of the natural world and heaps growing pressures on scare natural resources.

He focuses much of his attention on the way digital technologies gather, store and has become the prevailing mode of communications in contemporary societies reinforcing abstract thinking that is unable to grasp the complexities of local cultural and environmental contexts. Such cyber-mediated consciousness is unable to comprehend differences between ecologically sustainable and unsustainable beliefs and practices and the importance of such social interactions as face-to-face communications, personal memory and sensory awareness – a given of human existence – are essentially ignored. The connections between digital technologies and corporate capitalism, which is turning the vocabulary of environmentalists into media clichés, is considered, as is the uneven scale of influence and imbalance of power between community-centred and corporate capitalism. He argues for innovative ethnographic studies and empirical research into how the introduction of digital technologies are transforming the beliefs and intergenerational support systems in cultures right across the global, studies which should focus more robustly on patterns of moral reciprocity and on people living more ecologically sustainable lives. Bowers also argues that a history of regarding technologies as culturally neutral and an expression of progress has led to a condition were few teachers or university lecturers possess the conceptual background necessary for engaging students in debates about the cultural transforming, and sometimes ecologically damaging, nature of various new and existing technologies.

It is crucial not to lose sight of the important improvements that technologies have brought to communities and people’s lives; such as contributing to medical advances, the provision of information on a wide range of activities including changes occurring in the natural systems, and relief from the exhausting nature of some physical labour. More recently, digital technologies have had a powerful influence in shaping consciousness in the West but much of this is based on abstraction rooted in ideologies frequently at odds with preserving the cultural commons and environmental awareness. So how did this perception take shape and become dominant over time? Implicit in Bowers criticism that scientists and technology engineers don’t take the time away from their high degree of specialisation to inform themselves about the traditions of community self-sufficiency their inventions are undermining is the notion that social scientists are also neglecting this domain of research and appear unwilling, or indeed unable, to engage and debate with technologists at their level. Developers and engineers tend to present new technologies only in a positive light and social scientists should shoulder a portion of the blame for allowing this occur unchallenged. Social scientists must, therefore, confront the self-serving idea that engineers and developers are purely focused on the well-being of the public and must interfere in the realities of technology innovation and development to provide a more balanced, and perhaps realistic, assessment of its impacts and consequences.

The False promise of the Digital Revolution is a concise piece of text which challenges many assumed conventions about the new digital age. Bowers writing is thought-provoking and his hypothesis will not find favour with many internet utopians but it is an important, infrequently heard, critique of how digital technologies are transforming societies, not always for good. Particular attention is given to the potentially harmful ‘blind’ acceptance of online higher education and the suggested cultural and ecological weakness inherent in such courses. But I don’t share the authors broad pessimism in this regards as online educational strategies can contribute to more critical and informed citizens, and increased public debates around the uses and risks of digital technologies can form part of many of these courses. A measured and thoughtful online educational environment affords significant benefits in term of advancement for many disadvantaged peoples worldwide providing universal access to education and personal development, but such interactions should not be seen as the only or most important form of communications available.

Bower’s work complements the recent works of Carr (The Glass Cage) who explores the hidden costs of granting digital technologies dominion over our work and our leisure, Morozov (To Save Everything Click Here) who calls for more humane and democratic technological solutions, and Huesemann (Techno-Fix) who argues that technology perpetuates the same consumer-dependent and ecologically destructive practices and behaviours leading to ever increasing resource depletion and environmental harm. There is a pressing need to debate and discuss the diffusion of technology across societies in a manner that is cognisance of environmental limits and cultural considerations. Moreover, as Bower suggests; we need to recognise that scientists and engineers frequently don’t fully appreciate, or tend to ignore, the interconnections between cultural and natural ecologies. This process is aided by the globalisation of digital technologies which reinforce Western patterns of thinking and justifies a form of cultural colonising of non-Western cultures leading to the promotion of individual autonomy, corporate capitalism and its dependence upon a money economy, and lifestyles that are increasingly based on consumerism and resource depletion. Bowers work needs to be more widely considered if only to provoke all the sciences into reassessing their knowledge and position on technology development and diffusion, in particular digital technologies.

Society and the Environment: A Snapshot of the Student Perspective | 2016

As part of the Joint-Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree from the College of Arts at the National University of Ireland Galway, students in first year undertake a stream of lectures on Society and the Environment, part of the module SP159 from the School of Political Science and Sociology. At the first of nine lectures this semester covering broad aspects of the topic including (over)consumption, policy initiatives and responses, and environmentalism, a brief unscientific experiment was carried out in-class. At the beginning of the lecture students were asked to reflect on the theme of Society and the Environment and to come up with a word that echoes their current thoughts on the issues. These were then correlated and a Wordle produced, which is provided below:

After the series of nine lectures students were again asked to reflect careful on the nature of Society and the Environment and, once again, verbalise their thoughts on the subject with fellow students and record these as concisely as possible in a single word or phrase. These were again processed and a Wordle produced, which is provide below. Although not scientific in nature, this was an interesting ‘snapshot’ of how students thought about the subject before and after the series of lectures.

Retracing (some) of the steps from ‘The View from Errisbeg’

As part of the completion process for the module on Environment and Society (SP420) for final year Arts students at the National University of Ireland Galway, a fieldtrip to Roundstone – at the foot of Errisbeg in Connemara – and its surrounds was undertaken by the class on Saturday 20th February 2016. Eleven students made the trip on what was a typical wet February morning but, nevertheless, an enjoyable day out was had by all to a location many students had not visited in the past.

The class smiling through the wet conditions at Gurteen Bay outside Roundstone Village

The location was chosen after we had covered in class Tim Robinson’s 1987 piece ‘The View from Errisbeg’ in the Frank Mitchell edited The Book of the Irish Countryside. We had chosen this particular article as an attempt to better understand the many interactions between landscape/nature and human inhabitants of such sites as geological history can provide certain clues about its potential appeal to human inhabitants. In Robinsons writing he provides a detailed description of the landscape around Errisbeg in North-West Connemara using many place names as reference points and aids to understanding interactive patterns of land use:

As elsewhere, it is human activity that determines the texture of what appears at first glance to be untouched wilderness, a fact that complicates the conservationist case somewhat. However, the core of this area, which is becoming known as Roundstone bog, having been spared by forestry and turf-cutting so far, most certainly should be preserved as it is; apart from it ecological uniqueness, it harbours one of the rarest of resources, solitude (Robinson, 1987: 42).

And at Dogs Bay at the foot of Errisbeg

The hill is Errisbeg, which shelters the little fishing village of Roundstone from the west wind, in Connemara; the portion of the world’s surface visible from its summit comprises the suite of landscapes grouped around Galway Bay which it has been my wonderful and wearying privilege to explore in detail over the last fifteen years, the Burren uplands in County Clare, the Aran Islands, and Connemara itself (Robinson, 1987: 42)

The ‘Reception Committee’ just outside Roundstone Village

After a really pleasant (although wet) ramble from Roundstone village to the beaches some twenty minutes’ walk away, we returned to a somewhat deserted village deep in the slumber of ‘off season’. So we made our way to Ballynahinch Castle for some well-deserved warm soup and tea/coffee. Set in a private 450 acre estate of woodland, rivers and walks in Connemara, this Castle Hotel stands overlooking its famous salmon fishery, with a backdrop of the Twelve Bens Mountain range. The Castle was built in the 17th century for the Martyn family, one of whose better-known members was ‘Humanity Dick’ founder of the RSPCA, and was also home at one time to the Maharajah Ranjitsinhji. In 1924, the cricket legend Prince Ranjitsinhji, Maharajah of Nawanager, made a trip to Ireland and forged a link between India and Ireland that survives today.

An ‘inviting’ Ballinhinch Castle and stop for weary explorers

Student Reflection…

“Once you look past the beauty of the landscape you start to notice the effects humans have had on it. There was a noticeable amount of trash as well as coastal erosion on the dunes nearby. The encroach of holiday homes was clear as the trailers seemed to settle as close as they could. In people’s efforts to experience and appreciate the landscape, they often end up causing some damage along the way” (Rachele Carbutt)

“It was clear how big of an impact tourism has on the Roundstone area. I was surprised to see how dead the town was, it made me wonder how far the local residents have to travel for work and shopping/other needs when it isn’t tourist season” (Katherine Anderson)

“The field trip to Roundstone was an enlightening trip to see how the town and the two bays were effected by tourism” (Ashley Westbee)

“I found the fieldtrip very enjoyable. I found looking at man’s impact on the natural landscape particularly interesting. It was fascinating to see the construction of famine walls and cottages; and to observe how the area has transitioned from a small fishing community to one based on the income from tourism” (Kyle Moore)

“One thing I noticed during the visit to Roundstone was that there was a lot of trash around the twon and the beaches. Almost as though the tourists don’t care about their surrondings” (Sarah Bryson)

“The fieldtrip was a great experience. It very much highlighted what we had been studying in class, the question of sustainable tourism and household planning. Is this a landscape worth preserving? Or does the household landscape ruin it or improve it? In terms of Dog’s Bay, I found the holiday homes could’ve used more planning and thought as to where the houses were built and what type of houses they could’ve used” (Bob Groome)

Some wild red berries struggle to survive the winter

Reference

Robinson, T. (1987) ‘The View from Errisbeg’, in Frank Mitchell (editor) The Book of the Irish Countryside. Belfast: Blackstaff, pp.42–52.

Submission to the Integrated Transport Management Programme for Galway

Transport Management’s Key Objectives

Ireland’s transportation system has been acknowledged at Governmental level as unsustainable for nearly a decade now . The ‘predict and provide’ policy paradigm has become wholly outdated and is having significant and on-going negative impacts on the environment, entire communities and neighbourhoods, and people’s overall health and well-being. While new thinking on transport and mobility is required, this should draw upon existing European and international best practice, while appreciating the unique cultural features and aspects to our city and environs, to create a new and sustainable transport model for Galway. Moreover, escalating traffic congestion should not be seen merely as a by-product or an unavoidable symptom of economic success. Instead, traffic congestion is typically a sign of significant economic, social and environmental losses. It indicates a transportation system that is not economically efficient. As a result, reducing private car usage in favour of sustainable modes of transport will result in substantial economic gains for the city of Galway and its surrounds and should be the principal focus for any new transport management programme or measures.

The Key objective of any new traffic management system for the city and urban areas of Galway should be, first and foremost, to significantly reduce the use of the private car in favour of more sustainable modes of travel including walking, cycling, public transport and carpooling. Car dependency is economically and ecologically destructive and exacerbates social exclusion for those who do not have access to (or who wish to forego) a private car. There is a critical need to prioritise the most vulnerable (and yet more socially and environmental sustainable) road-users in the first instance to create a healthy, vibrant, liveable city for all inhabitants and visitors to appreciate. With this in mind, a hierarchy (prioritising) of mobility options should be put in place which seeks to strongly promote more sustainable modes of transportation, such as follows:

1.  Pedestrians/Walkers
2. Cyclists
3. Public Transport Users
4. Carpoolers/Dynamic Ridesharing
5. Taxis
6. The Private Automobile Users.

I am opposed to the construction of a new bypass for Galway on a number of grounds. Firstly, such a large-scale project favours the continued (and indeed increased) use of the private car over all other modes of transport. Such a substantial construction project broadly focused on expanding car use in and around the urban areas of Galway will greatly negate any attempts to promote more sustainable and health mobility options. Simply put; more road space means more private cars! Furthermore, any such road will have a detrimental impact and damaging consequences for the communities and local environment in which this road will traverse. No real meaningful cost-benefit analysis, which takes cognisance of its many social and environmental effects, has been undertaken to my knowledge. In any instance, given that there is little evidence that people want to bypass Galway, the case for any new road remains largely unproven and will not result in any reduction in traffic congestion, and air and noise pollution in the metropolitan area of Galway.

Pedestrians/Walkers

Walking remains one of the most healthy and sustainable modes of travel for many individuals. Walkability refers to how safe, friendly and accessible walking is in a given neighbourhood or community and many factors influence walkability. Common elements of the built environment include continuous, level pedestrian walkways and pathways; safe, accessible crossings; pedestrian-friendly lighting; suitable motorised vehicle speed; limited number of lanes, and sufficient street width. Other factors that positively influence walking and walkability include real and perceived safety from crime, unsocial behaviour and aggressive dogs, graffiti and rubbish/waste, maintenance of trees and green areas, safe and easy access to desired locations/destinations (such as parks, schools, shops, libraries, the post office, etc.), public amenities like benches, drinking fountains, public art, toilets, and rubbish bins, among many others. Walking connects people to places. In the case of Galway, walkability is not prioritised, many pedestrian walkways are in poor condition, pedestrian crossings are inadequate and badly located, and traffic speed in the city is not conducive to the notion of walkability. Furthermore, the needs of local communities are seldom considered when designing walkways and crossing and it is crucial that local consultation take place with such communities in order to understand their needs, desire, fears and apprehensions so as to allow walking become a legitimate mode of transport in Galway; a healthy option with minimal social and environmental disadvantages and available to all citizens to enjoy.

Cyclists

Cycling is recognised as a sustainable, health mobility option that has little negative effects or consequences for the environment. It is an effective way of moving large numbers of people through an urban environment as evident from some major European cities such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin and Portland in the US. At present (and as a regular cyclist) the cycling infrastructure in Galway is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of such a vibrant, young city. The limited cycle pathways that exist are patchy in many places and not well maintained, with tarmac surfaces that are particularly prone to weather damage. Road and commercial signage is frequently sited on many of these cycle lanes creating dangerous obstructions and a hazardous cycling environment. In addition, the cycle stop-ways at traffic junctions are frequently ignored by motorists creating unsafe conditions for cyclists. Traffic speed is also not conducive to safe cycling in Galway. In order for cycling to become an integral part of the transport system the construction of an interconnected cycling pathway that connects all parts of the city should be constructed. The location of these pathways should not be an attempt to ‘hide’ cyclists from public view, rather they should traverse all available local amenities and facilitates and impress a strong level of legitimacy on cycling that has, heretofore, been severely lacking in Galway. These cycle lanes should be constructed to the highest international standard, be well lit, and accessible to cyclists of all ages and abilities. To further enhance cycling in the city, careful consideration should be given to bylaws that prevent motorists intimidating cyclists in their daily pursuit, such as preventing the overtaking of cyclists within a two mile radius of schools and greatly reduced vehicle speeds in built-up areas.

The Galway Bike Share Scheme needs to be extended to additional locations right across the city that would help increase the number of individuals using this service. Presently, the location of the bike stations (all located in the city centre) is hindering the development of the scheme. New stations should be located in areas that will afford an opportunity for commuters, students, visitors and others to avail of this service. These stations should be located initially in Salthill, the Westside and around the Dangan area in the west of the city; and in Renmore, Mervue, the GMIT campus on the Dublin Road, Ballybane and Ballybrit in the east of the city. Consideration should also be given to the large communities to the north of the city centre in Ballinfoyle and Menlo. A strong focus and attention to intermodal connectivity, especially for commuters, should be prioritised. Such a focus has proved very successfully for the Dublin Bike Scheme in the past.

Public Transport Users

The promotion of Public Transport should be a key consideration for any new Integrated Transport Management Programme for Galway. At present, the city and environs are not well served by Public Transport and city officials should become much more engaged with public and private transport providers to deliver a better integrated service that will help remove many private cars from the city and urban areas. One of the more obvious examples of this is the mono-centric nature of Bus Éireanns route selection which forces all buses to enter the city centre at some stage of their route. That no Public Transport bus crosses the Quincentennial Bridge, given that the majority of residential areas are located to the west and the majority of industry located to the east, is a stark indication of the lack of thought and unified thinking with regards to the provision of Public Transport in Galway. In addition, the bus lane network should be greatly augmented to prioritise the use of Public Transport over solo-occupancy car dependency. Better consultation between public and private transport providers and their customers, city officials, researchers and sustainable transport advocates, is required in order to increase the modal share in favour of Public Transport users and reduce the necessity for incessant private car usage in and around the city of Galway.

I am strongly in favour of the provision of a light rail service for Galway city and its environs. The thoughtful Gluas/SUIG proposals should be re-considered and a light rail solution more robustly supported in opposition to any new costly road construction project that will have a limited effect on traffic congestion in and around the city. Any new Integrated Transport Management Programme for Galway should not be short-term in nature and instead envision the city as we would like to live in some twenty or thirty years’ into the future. My vision is one of a real integrated and interconnected transportation system that principally relies on walking, cycling and public transport (of which a light rails system is an integral part) rather than a private car dependant congested urban area that is unliveable for its inhabitants and unvisitable for many tourists and other visitors.

Carpooling/Dynamic Ridesharing/Taxis

A more practical and economical use of the automobile is required to provide an additional ‘public service’ role for transportation in Galway. In pursuance of limiting solo-occupancy car travel, a programme of incentivising carpooling and car sharing should be undertaken in Galway. In conjunction with business and industry, this can take the shape of preferred car-parking for commuters who carpool, i.e. reserved parking spaces close to work entrances, the provision of on-site notice boards, intranet use, and other facilitates to organise such ride sharing, and a programme of incentivising such behaviour amongst workers and management. In addition, the provision of adequate taxi rank spaces should receive attention, as well as seeking agreement with all taxi firms on a standard and regularised set of charges for each destination across the city. This will help promote stronger localised intermodal connectivity and transparency with regards to cost within the industry and allow individuals and groups plan their evenings out in the city, in terms of transport choice, needs and price.

Private Automobile Users

In any urban area there will still be a need for some level of private car usage and it is not my intention in this submission to in any way ‘demonise’ individuals who are habitually forced to use their car to travel the city. Indeed, I myself have and drive a car and understand the need for an automobile at specific times. My resolve is to strongly promote more sustainable modes of transport for the betterment of all the citizens of the city and environs and not just car drivers. Such a course of action, I believe, is respectful of the social fabric of Galway and is cognisant of the environmental burden imposed by disproportionate car-dependency. In any case, the views of car drivers are frequently over represented in national and local transport policy discussion & design.

The municipal space given over to private parking in Galway is excessive and should be reduced, in particular on-street parking. Whilst I appreciate that some level of local residential parking is required, there is a need to reduce the amount of public space that private cars currently occupy. There is sufficient capacity for private cars provided by off-street parking and this should be utilised in the first instance. The public space that car parking presently occupies should be transformed to enhance the liveability of these areas for the betterment of the residents and citizens of the city. In addition, providing seasonal ‘free on-street parking’ sends a mixed, confused message to commuters and visitors to the city and helps to increase congestion, noise and air pollution, and places additional burdens on the transport infrastructure, and as such should be discontinued.

Summary

Finally, to summarise and attempt to be more specific on the detail of my submission I wish to emphasis the following key points:

Bring to an end any proposal to construct an economic, social, and environmentally damaging bypass for Galway

  1. Take steps to limit private car usage and promote sustainable modes of transport such as walking, cycling and public transport
  2. Create a hierarchy of mobility/travel options in urban areas prioritising the most vulnerable (and alos most sustainable) modes of transportation
  3. Increase the walkability of Galway by providing adequate, safe, and public pedestrian walkways, and prioritise pedestrian crossings at all intersections (and shared public space) with other road users in the city
  4. Construct a network of safe cycling lanes connecting all areas of the city and its surrounds, adhering to international best practice in this regards
  5. Provide new docking stations for the Bike Share Scheme for many outlying areas and communities
  6. Provide a public forum for consultation with public and private bus operators to better serve the city and environs with Public Transport
  7. Provide a bus lane on the Quincentennial Bridge for Public Transport and private bus operators
  8. Increase the numbers and length of bus lanes in the city to support Public Transport usage
  9. Support the construction of a light rail system for Galway
  10. In conjunction with local business and industry, incentivise the practice of carpooling and dynamic ridesharing
  11. Standardise and publicise typical taxi journeys in and around the city and provide adequate safe taxi rank facilities
  12. Reduce unnecessary on-street car parking and abolish seasonally offers of ‘free parking’ which merely increases private car usage at the expense of sustainable modes of transport.

My ‘tuppence worth’ on Galway’s mobility management problem

While many progressive cities and towns across the globe now recognise the damage to the fabric of their communities, societies and the environment that car-centric thinking brings, in contrast Galway has embraced a ‘build a road at any cost’ approach to solving on-going mobility management problems. The dogma of ‘predict and provide’ – where road use demand is anticipated and we build to fulfil these frequently grand expectations – remains dominant in decision-making circles and pushes sustainable transport considerations to the peripheral. That towns and cities are designed for motor vehicles is so endemic and so engrained from decades of the automobile coming first, that people don’t actually see it anymore. But simply put; more roads and parking spaces means more cars! What is the natural end-game of continuous road building in a medieval city like Galway and what do such decisions tell us about the regard that people who chose to live and raise a family in the city are held in? Indeed, what evidence is there that people will use this particular bypass for the purpose its promoted (the number of trips made by people travelling from outside through the city to an external destination is less than five per cent of Galway’s traffic, it is argued), and what provisions are envisioned for people who choose healthier and more ecologically friendly mobility options like cycling and walking? Moreover, does anybody really believe that a new road will lessen or eliminate congestion around the heart of Galway?

When we talk of Galway’s traffic management problems it is just that; a task of ‘management’. The road network throughout the city is congested at some of the main arteries for at most 10% of the day and traffic flows freely and unhindered for the remainder. In this regards, even the most basic business mind would question the need for such exceptionally costly infrastructure given that the transport system is only busy for perhaps three or four hours out of every twenty four. We need to manage the road network we already have and only then should we consider turning over even more scarce public shared space and monies to the private car. With regards to cost, light rail for Galway was estimated at €600 million by Arup Consulting Engineers, who are leading the N6 Project, and they deemed a revival of the GLUAS project not to be cost-effective. While I recognise that GLUAS alone would not solve all traffic problems in the region, and there are genuine concerns about residential density, considering novel alternatives such as light rail and improved public transport will greatly benefit debates on regional mobility.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the car became an indispensable mobility tool that facilitates both traditional and novel forms of social and economic activity. In many developed countries people’s everyday mobility, such as their commute to work or for leisure activities, frequently depend on access to a private car, but in the case of Ireland we have become wholly car dependent. I drive a car myself and understand its need from time-to-time, particularly given the lack of alternatives. But ownership of a car does not afford the right of unhindered travel through a city or town at the expense of the people that choose to work, visit, live and raise a family there. Indeed, I should be forced to slow and sometime stop (smell the coffee and roses) and fully appreciate and respect that I’m travelling through people’s neighbourhoods and communities. My principal concern, therefore, is that car-centric thinking trumps everything and everyone. While it’s important that people travelling into and out of the city, whether they are workers or visitors, should be facilitated as efficiently as possible, this should not be done at the expense of people who have chosen Galway as their home, and the city’s urban design, social cohesion and genuine environment and sustainability considerations.

The limited available space of Galway and its surrounds has become a battleground with the car, once again, triumphing over family homes, communities, and environmental concerns. We need to rethink our urban space and environment and view it as a shared space for all to enjoy. Car-centric thinking and rhetoric has led to increased speeding on the new traffic system operating on Lough Atalia Road, Forster Street and College Road, leads to discourteous and illegal parking, and planning that promotes the use of the private car over the concerns of people living and bringing up families in the city and surrounds (just try this experiment; attempt to walk from Eyre Square to the hospital crossing the road only at designated pedestrian crossings and traffic lights and see how far you get). And therein rests the fundamental problem; we must reframe our conversations on mobility management not just with respect to private car use but what’s proper for every member of the community and society at large including people who live in these affected areas, people who choose to cycle and walk the city, and people who wish to use public transport. Many of these individuals and groups have been forgotten in our conversations on transport and mobility in Galway and abstracted discussions on ‘where should we build a road’. In this respect we are going in the opposite direction to recognised wisdom in developing a city (even our capital city Dublin is now discussing a radical plan to remove cars from the city centre). Any transport management system for Galway should focus on the city as a healthy place to live, where we enjoy living, where our children grow up in a safe healthy environment, we’re proud to welcome visitors, and not just a place that’s subservient to cars.

GDP: An unsophisticated measure of a nation’s well-being

Ireland’s economy is now growing at its fastest rate in seven years, according to the latest Quarterly National Accounts [1]. The figures, published by the Central Statistics Office, show the economy expanded by 7.7 per cent in GDP terms in the year to the end of June. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimates are frequently used to measure the economic performance of a country or region. The more familiar use of GDP estimates is to calculate the growth of the economy from year to year and, indeed, more recently from quarter to quarter. The pattern of GDP growth is held to indicate the success or failure of economic policy and to determine whether an economy is ‘in recession’. But where does the concept, and the related Gross National Product (GNP),come from and what is actually measured?

GDP is an estimate of market throughput, adding together the value of all final goods and services that are produced and traded for money within a given period of time. It is typically measured by adding together a nation’s personal consumption expenditures (payments by households for goods and services), government expenditures (public spending on the provision of goods and services, infrastructure, debt payments, etc.), net exports (the value of a country’s exports minus the value of imports), and net capital formation (the increase in value of a nation’s total stock of monetized capital goods) [2].

President Roosevelt’s government used the statistics to justify policies and budgets aimed at bringing the US out of the depression. As it became more likely that the US would become involved in World War II, there was a concern about whether this would jeopardise the standard of living of US citizens who were just beginning to recover from the depression. GDP estimates were used to show that the economy could provide sufficient supplies for fighting World War II while maintaining adequate production of consumer goods and services [2]. It thus can be thought of as a measure of the potential fighting capacity of a nation at a given time.

The concept of GDP was developed by Simon Kuznets for a US Congress report in 1934, but even in this report Kuznets warned against its use as a measure of welfare. At the time it was conceived, GDP was a useful measure but the emphasis on growing GDP and economic activity is now leading the world back toward the brink of collapse. It is time for new goals with a broader view of interconnectedness among long-term, sustainable economic, social, and ecological well-being [2]. To this end I wish to reproduce a portion of a speech given by Robert Kennedy at the University of Kansas, on March 18, 1968. As governments struggle to measure wellbeing in other ways, it’s useful to look back at what then US Presidential candidate said about how this key dataset falls short:

“Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all.

Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.

It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.

It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

If this is true here at home, so it is true elsewhere in world.”

NB. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP) are closely related measures. GDP measures the total output of the economy in a period i.e. the value of work done by employees, companies and self-employed persons. This work generates incomes but not all of the incomes earned in the economy remain the property of residents (and residents may earn some income abroad). The total income remaining with Irish residents is the GNP and it differs from GDP by the net amount of incomes sent to or received from abroad.In Ireland’s case, for many years past, the amount belonging to persons abroad has exceeded the amount received from abroad, due mainly to the profits of foreign-owned companies, and our GNP is, therefore, less than our GDP. (Central Statistics Office, Cork)

[1] Burke-Kennedy, E. and Minihan, M. (2014). Irish economy growing at fastest rate in seven years. The Irish Times, Thursday 18th September 2014.
[2] Costanza, R., Hart, M., Posner, S. and Talberth, J. (2009). Beyond GDP: The need for new measures of progress. The Pardee Papers/No. 4/January 2009. Boston University, Boston, MA.
[3] Marcuss, R.D. and R.E. Kane. (2007). US National Income and Product Statistics: Born of the Great Depression and World War II. Bureau of Economic Analysis: Survey of Current Business 87(2): 32-46.