The rows of public seating at one end of the council chamber were packed Monday afternoon, for the South East Area Committee’s vote on whether or not to press ahead with a public consultation on the South Dublin Quietway through that part of the city.
There’s constant rhetoric in the council chamber about the need to protect vulnerable road-users, said Fine Gael Councillor Paddy Smyth, as he pitched his motion in favour. “Unless we change the priorities in our streets […] that is only ever going to be lip service,” he said.
But most councillors voted again against moving ahead with the plans – giving a range of reasons, from concerns about their cost, to loss of car parking spaces, to impact on neighbouring streets.
In The Works
About three years back, Smyth proposed creating a cycling corridor through this area. The council paid for a feasibility study in 2017. In May 2018, councillors voted against pursuing the idea.
On Monday, councillors were voting again on Smyth’s motion to send the plan out for public consultation.
Smyth’s proposed “quietway” from Donnybrook to Kimmage – which draft designs showed running from Herbert Park to the Cowper Luas stop, Terenure Road North and Corrib Road – was aimed in part at reducing “rat-runs” by vehicles cutting through residential areas.
It would also have provided routes for cyclists and pedestrians, away from fast-moving cars, mainly through residential areas.
Smyth, who isn’t standing again in local elections this May, said that he was being told off for not consulting the community enough. “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills when I hear these criticisms,” he said. “This is about public consultation.”
The motion was about asking the public whether they would like a safe route across the south-east part of the city, without fear of rat-runners, for their children, he said.
Patrick Costello, a Green Party councillor who seconded the motion, said councillors talk about climate action.
“One of the things we need to do is decarbonise transport,” Costello said. “And find a way of getting people who aren’t cycling and walking to make that shift.”
Converting those on the school run who don’t right now feel that its safe for their kids to walk or cycle would be a way to do this, he said.
Obstacles and Roadblocks
Some councillors, explaining why they weren’t backing the move, pointed to street-level problems they saw with the plans.
Independent Councillor Sonya Stapleton said her constituents had asked her not to vote to remove parking spaces from Herbert Park – which was one option considered for that stretch of the route in a 2017 feasibility study.
A cycleway can’t go across the Cowper Luas stop, said Councillor Mary Freehill of Labour. “It wouldn’t work.”
Also, at Cowper Downs, the designs recommend knocking down a wall, but it’s private property, she said. “That is the lack of research that was done.”
Smyth and Costello both said they could come up with workarounds for issues through the consultation.
Costello said he’d already been sent useful information about spots where local residents thought it couldn’t work.
“If only we had a forum to put that out to see if it works and talk about it,” he said. But that’s what this was about, he said – holding a public consultation.
Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne said she was happy to support the motion given it was just for a public consultation. “This is not a fait accompli as it seems some residents have been led to believe.”
Fine Gael Councillor Anne Feeney said she thought that the plan wasn’t tied in with other plans in the city. “For too long in our city, we’ve had standalone initiatives, projects, in relation to transport,” she said.
She didn’t want to spend money on plans only to later learn that it should have been tied in with other council and NTA plans, she said.
Those for and against the route make good cases, Feeney said. But, she argued, the motion was premature.
Ruairí McGinley, an independent councillor and chairman of the committee, pointed to the estimated costs of the project, which rose from €324,000 to just over €1,2 million, as well as funding for studies. “There are significant costs,” he said.
But he was against, primarily, the measures that were suggested – including closing off roads to cars, or getting rid of some walls.
Freehill said she thought the plan for the proposed quietway was technically flawed. Councillors shouldn’t vote to put something out to public consultation that isn’t going to work, she says.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Claire O’Connor said that at a May 2018 meeting, a report from the council engineer Christopher Manzira has said the project shouldn’t move ahead.
If that was the advice, then they shouldn’t vote for the public consultation, she said. “We cannot spend public monies of that.”
Councillor Dermot Lacey of Labour said he had cycled the route, and circulated letters and chatted with local residents to try to find a solution.
An April 2017 feasibility study for the route by engineers AECOM hadn’t looked at the traffic impact on the wider area.
But Lacey said he had wanted to see a report on the possible impact on four parallel roads and still hasn’t seen it since last time councillors voted against the plans in May 2018. “That hasn’t changed at all since then,” he said.
Councillor Chris Andrews of Sinn Féin said people have issues with public consultations at the moment – and see them as box-ticking exercises.
He said he wanted clarity around how the process would work. “There is no evidence that the consultation process will be comprehensive.”
“I think that we have to make changes. And if we can, we can deliver this,” he said. “But at the moment, I would not support moving it out for consultation.”
Councillor Kieran Binchy of Fine Gael said the way the plan had been pushed had been “divisive” – even if he thought it was a good idea in theory.
But also, while residents have genuine concerns and complaints, “the levels of vehemence that I’ve seen in relation to this, from residents, compared to what is at stake …. That is also unfortunate,” he said.
Binchy abstained when the committee voted not to proceed with the public consultation.