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 The ‘predict and provide’ policy paradigm has become wholly outdated and is having significant and on-going negative impacts on the environment, entire communities and neighbourhoods, and people’s overall health and well-being.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.

From Public & Private Space to Social Space: An appeal for slowing down

I’ve recently read an interesting post on the World Streets: A New Mobilities Agenda blog where Eric Britton writes that we need to ‘move toward a new paradigm for transport in cities, and it all starts with… slowing down’. He expanded on an emerging paradigm for the development of our cities, a redefining of the view of space as public or private to the concept of social space. Eric, in his post, presented slides from Carlos Felipe Pardo’s talk at the Stuttgart Conference of Cities for Mobility which clearly demonstrated the reduced field of vision of a driver as he/she drives through streets at various increasing speeds. It culminated in a situation where the paths/sidewalks were not there for a driver at 50 KPH, clearly a recipe for tragedy and possible disaster.

This salient message to reduce speed got me thinking about the recent proposal for the redevelopment of the rather large roundabouts in Galway into more pedestrian and cycle friendly traffic light systems, a proposal that has met with some strong opposition from certain quarters. The main objection appears to be that it is unwise to stop or slow down traffic in the city, even when these roundabouts are in built-up residential areas and have no safe crossing systems for walkers, joggers, or cyclists. I drive through these roundabouts from time-to-time and can testify that many drivers increase their speed whilst traversing these junctions in order to get the most beneficial exit lane and position. This has led to a situation where people literally ‘take their lives in their hands’ attempting to cross these horrendously dangerous intersections.

Galway is a beautiful city to live and visit and we should be rightly proud of what we have to offer. Visitors do not expect to drive unhindered through the heart of any urban area and it is in the interest of business and commerce that individuals slow down and stop occasionally to view their new surroundings and environment. God forbid, they might notice that ordinary people walk and cycle in our city, stop for a while and enjoy the beautiful walkways and ambiance we have to offer and, maybe even purchase something. For those of us who live in the city it is also important that we realise that our built environment is not solely the domain of the private motor vehicle, and that other ‘strange’ people actually enjoy walking or cycling from place-to-place. We may even be tempted to walk or cycle a bit more ourselves, secure in the knowledge that we have a safe environment for such activity and, more importantly, we’re not alone. Indeed, the large tracts of urban space given over to the automobile may need to be reclaimed by everyone regardless of their mobility choice and become, once again, social space for all.

Our cities are full of cars when they should be full of people

Travel and mobility must be a fundamental consideration in the promotion of sustainable development, production and consumption in Ireland. Governmental policy over the past number of decades has focussed almost exclusively on roads building and the infrastructure required to accommodate the automobile and other road-based travel (see Transport 21), often neglecting the social and spatial consequences of these decisions. This has exacerbated issues of congestion, pollution, and social exclusion in our towns and cities, and indeed rural areas. Furthermore, private cars currently use vast amounts of fossil fuel for propulsion and recent green initiatives simply seeks to change this to viable alternative such as electricity or bio fuels options. I would argue that without some essential reconsideration of car usage itself what we’re effectively doing is changing one source of energy consumption (one that is causing serious environmental damage such as greenhouse gas emissions and pollution) to a possibly cleaner alternative but we’re still consuming energy at an unacceptable and unsustainable level and turning over our cities and town to traffic. Rather than merely changing the energy source what we should be doing is encouraging people to use the car less and adopt healthier and sustainable modes of transportation such as walking or cycling, where this is possible, and utilising public transport more often. This will help strengthen our communities and bring life and vigour back to our streets rather than traffic, congestion, pollution and danger.

There is no doubt that this view will meet some hostility and such a transformation will not happen overnight. Much of our current urban design philosophy is car-centric and this is reinforced by political decision-making that favour automobile transport. What do I mean by this? Well, try taking Public Transport to any out of town shopping centre or Retail Park. Try cycling to any of these facilities and if you do make it there see if you can find a sheltered safe bike shed. In my experience you are not encouraged to take Public Transport, cycle, or indeed walk to these centres and the additional rationale of free car parking appears to strengthen this observation. While car travel can be very rewarding in terms of mobility freedom, car-dependency is often the opposite of such independence. It can be temporally and economically negative in terms of the personal time and money wasted. It can also be damaging in terms of personal health, in addition to its environmental impacts and consequences. So before you drive your car through the computer screen in rage, let me make this final point. I’m not anti-car. I own and drive one myself and would be lost at times without such mobility freedom. What does worry me, however, is how the automobile shapes so much of our lives, both seen and unseen. We build roads through Historic sites to facilitate cars (the M3 through the ancient Hall of Tara), we demonise Public Transport for the money it receives but seldom question how much we spend on road construction and maintenance, and we exclude people from activities who don’t have access to a private car. I’m simply trying to broaden the debate, a debate that should not be exclusively determined by the (over)use of the private automobile.

David Engwicht in Galway

David Engwicht is an Australian social innovator and a significant international leader of efforts to reduce the negative impacts of the private car on our cities and towns. He is considered the fathers of traffic calming and is the inventor of the walking bus, Street reclamation, and the Universal Anchoring Device. He is the author of several books including three broadly available ones; Reclaiming our Cities and Towns: better living through less traffic (1993), Street Reclaiming: creating liveable streets and vibrant communities (1999), and Mental Speed Bumps: the smarter way to tame traffic (2005).

On Monday 24th May 2010, on a gloriously sunny day in Galway, David gave a very interesting and though-provoking presentation at the City museum, as a guest of the Galway Transportation Unit and as part of the county’s Smarter Travel Area bid. He challenged the audience to question their own personal travel behaviours and to view our traffic problems not merely as issues for engineers to fix but as a general social concern of design and how we envision our shared futures. Designing for the car does not have to be the centre of our mobilities universe and if we visualise urban movement without the automobile what would this be like? Walking and cycling may be slower but also more rewarding in terms of stimulation and social interactions. So, what do we want our cities to be, he inquired, a space for cars to get from A to B travelling at speed or a centre for fulfilling our shared human experience? The uncomfortable answer may very well be in our urban design and development and our current preoccupation with building more roads in, around, and through cities may not bode well for the future of alternatives to car travel.

A podcast of his talk is available by clicking HERE thanks to the freesource website Internet Archive, an non-profit organisation set up to build an Internet library.

Barbara Heisserer, David Engwicht and Mike