Plans to form a pedestrian advocacy group for the city are underway, and anyone who’s “suitably cross” can join, says the group’s founder.
Cabra resident Neasa Hourigan, who’s also a Green Party candidate for Dublin Central in the upcoming local election in May, says her plan “sprung up organically, due to people’s frustrations”.
Hourigan set up the Twitter account Dublin Blockers last summer, to document the obstacles pedestrians face in the city. People from all over Dublin send in photos of cars, bins, and unsecured bikes blocking footpaths.
In November, Hourigan noticed other “blockers” accounts popping up on social media, doing the same thing in their areas. “We’re all in touch now, charting what the issues are around us,” she says. “All the people so far who cooked this up, we’ve never actually met each other. It’s all online.”
Hourigan booked a room in the Teachers’ Club and tweeted an invitation for “people who are interested in liveable, pedestrian-friendly streets” to come to the first meeting of the Irish Pedestrian Network (IPN).
She had been waiting for a while, she says, for somebody else to do it, so she could row in behind. But it didn’t happen.
“I’ve kind of realised that just an interested group of people can get this going, really, and we shouldn’t be waiting for anyone else,” she says.
Hourigan says her activism stems from caring for her six-year-old daughter, who is blind and uses a white cane to walk to and from school everyday. When her daughter folds up the cane, she often gets dog poo on her hands, Hourigan says.
“I thought, ‘Oh my god, Dublin is hard for people with disabilities,’” she says. “I just assumed this was me being stroppy, it affects my life very specifically, and it wouldn’t be much of a shared experience. But it is.”
Hourigan says she’s in contact with cyclist groups, and their activism made her realise something could be done for footpaths. “We’re kind of talking about similar things: integrated solutions, good city planning, long-term thinking, not just building roads and making it easier for cars.”
Louisa Moss, who helped to set up a new Tidy Town group in Cabra, plans to get involved in the IPN.
She thinks there will be an overlap in issues the two groups try to address, from broken pavements, to dog poo and litter on the streets. While walking with her daughter next to the Royal Canal recently, Moss says she noticed a lack of street lighting, which made it difficult to see once it got a bit dark.
“It’s important that we encourage people to walk by making sure we have safe surfaces, safe crossings, adequate lighting, and pavements clear of litter and dog poo,” she says.
Declan Meenagh, another co-founder of Cabra Tidy Town and a Labour Party candidate in the upcoming elections, says he plans to join the IPN as well. Meenagh has 5 percent sight and, like Hourigan’s daughter, uses a white cane to walk in the city.
“I just want to be able to get around. I want to safely cross the road, go to work, go home, and not be afraid of tripping,” he says. “If I broke my ankle, I’d need two crutches, so I couldn’t use the cane. If I did have an accident, I’m in my house for months … It would be catastrophic.”
At the IPN’s first meeting later this month, Hourigan thinks the group will decide on its core principles, which may include a review of the enforcement of parking laws.
In a statement, she said the group “propose[s] the creation of local authority ‘street officers’” to issue fines for litter, dog fouling, and parking violations, as well as patrolling communities “to ensure that streets and neighbourhoods are accessible to all”.
She says the IPN will draw from the policies, ideas, and activism of similar groups in other countries.
The BusConnects plan is also on her mind.
“I’m really pro-revitalising the bus system. We need proper public transport … more bikes, less cars … But all the discussion is about vehicles in transit, not bus stops or paths,” she says. “How does a human person get across bike paths to the bus stop?”
Hourigan thinks projects like this should follow recommendations of the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets, a government guide for city-street design.
The manual places pedestrians at the top of the design hierarchy because “walking is the most sustainable form of transport” and “[t]he need for more walkable communities is also an issue of social equity”, it says.
Says Hourigan: “It should start with pedestrians, and then all the vehicles that can knock you down should be tacked on afterwards. At the moment, car is king in Dublin. It’s 1980s thinking. Other European cities are not like this.”
Lorraine D’Arcy, co-chair of the master’s programme in Transport and Mobility at TU Dublin, says “the pedestrian voice” isn’t often included in urban-planning discussions. Everyone is a pedestrian, she says, even drivers and cyclists.
“When people have mentioned setting up a pedestrian advocacy network before, the term implies that you’re representing a minority. But pedestrians aren’t a minority, they’re the majority,” she says.
Future of the IPN
Hourigan says she started the Dublin Blockers Twitter account before selection for the local elections. She realised the account “wasn’t having much of an effect”, and she’d had “overly ambitious expectations of what social media can do”.
“I think [the IPN] should exist. I can’t believe it doesn’t exist. Whatever I have to do to make it exist, I will do.” But, she says, “it’s not really about me”.
She hopes there’s enough interest to get it up and running, so that if she wins the election, she can focus on her new role in the council.
“We could all be moving in the same direction and supporting each other. In a perfect world, I’m hoping that’s the way it would work,” she says.