Council Pilot Seeks to Tackle Broken Footpaths Where Older People May Fall

Dympna McGovern says she still remembers, four years on, tripping on a loose bit of pavement along Harold’s Cross Road.

“There was a ledge,” she says, standing at the entrance to Harold’s Cross Park. “I put my hands out to catch myself.”

She was okay after it, but the fall was sore, and embarrassing she says.

The footpath quality along Harold’s Cross Road isn’t great, she says. “It’s not what you call brilliant. Like, it’s not like a boreen you get down the country, but there’s so many people here now, it should be better.”

Older than she used to be, McGovern says she’s changed how she walks around the neighbourhood to ensure she doesn’t trip. “When it’s not flat, it can catch your heel,” she says, so you have to place your heel steadily.

Dublin City Council, as part of a pilot scheme proposed by a working group of councillors advocating for older people, has surveyed, and plans to service, footpaths that are low quality in two neighbourhoods in the city.

For the pilot, €180,000 has been set aside to raise the standard of footpaths in Harold’s Cross and Glasnevin as part of the road division’s 2023 annual works programme, said a council spokesperson on Monday.

The pilot also looks to ensure that utility companies, which have to reinstate roads that they dig up after doing underground works, are checked up on to ensure they have left the roads and footpaths in good shape.

Mary Freehill, a Labour Party councillor and chair of the council’s Older People Working Group, says that the mechanism for checking work done by utility companies isn’t good enough, and the council should focus on improving it.

“There may well be an opportunity, maybe, for some kind of cooperation between all of the utility companies,” she says.

What Is the Pilot?

Older people are more likely to fall on footpaths, but they are the least likely to bring claims to the council when they do have bad falls, said Social Democrats Councillor Mary Callaghan.

Harold’s Cross and Glasnevin were chosen because of their demographics of older people, said Shane Satell, a council senior executive engineer from road maintenance services, according to draft minutes of an Older People Working Group meeting in November.

Footpaths along Harold’s Cross Road, from the canal to Kenilworth Square, and Larkfield Grove would be part of the pilot, said Freehill.

In Glasnevin, Glasnevin Drive and Delville Road would be included, said the council spokesperson.

Harold’s Cross does have tricky footpaths, says Lana Peres, who is waiting at the bus stop on Harold’s Cross Road with three kids, one in a buggy and the others on scooters.

“This little one, he’s just started on the scooter, so he doesn’t have much balance. So he fell like two or three times,” she says. Sometimes there are holes on the pavement. “The wheel gets stuck in the hole.”

Particularly on Clareville Road, which links Harold’s Cross Road with Kimmage Road, and meets Larkfield Grove.

“I’m always running after him when he is on the scooter because of this,” she says. “He can hurt himself.”

“Sometimes, even my buggy gets stuck, if there is a gap,” says Peres. “Something like that is manageable for me, but maybe not older people, or maybe not people in wheelchairs.”

Footpath on Harold's Cross Road. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

The council hasn’t been prioritising people who aren’t inclined to sue, but are much more likely to fall, says Callaghan, the Social Democrats councillor and member of the Older People Working Group.

“It’s a really important thing that doesn’t get highlighted very often. People don’t necessarily care as much as they should about people who don’t speak up,” she says.

Callaghan says her understanding is the council decides which footpaths to improve based on footfall.

“We’ve always been told verbally that they do it on how many people use it, and also how bad it is, but if it’s really bad in a quiet area, it doesn’t matter, but if it’s really bad in a well-used area, it’ll be a slightly higher priority,” she says.

Providing good-quality footpaths is just as important as providing other types of accessibility, says Freehill.

“I’m very conscious that in fact, the needs of the walking wounded is the same in terms of having easy access,” she says.

“Whether it’s seats at bus stops, whether it’s walking along the street, I’m aware that our ankles are not as flexible as they were, and older people are more vulnerable to tripping,” she says.

The pilot is scheduled to begin later this year, once a tender has gone out, and a contractor sourced, said the council spokesperson.

Poor Reinstatement by Utility Companies

Utility companies not leaving footpaths smooth again after they dig them up is one reason they are bumpy, says Freehill.

Companies needing to dig up the road have to apply to the council for a licence or a permit. They pay a deposit to the council, based on the size of the hole and how much it would cost to repair.

Once the works are done, Dublin City Council inspects the road repairs within 90 days, said a spokesperson in February of last year.

But this process isn’t working, says Freehill, because of the amount of time in between filling the hole the company digs up, and when they come back to “set” the tarmac, to level it with the road. Often, they don’t come back quickly enough, or at all, she says.

“Utility companies come along, and you know, they’re emergencies, there are very good reasons for them to do it,” she says. “But the reinstatement is the issue. The quality of the work and the speed of the reinstatement.”

The pilot intends on addressing the issue with utility companies not closing up roads properly, said the council spokesperson.

Utility companies are supposed to adhere to the Department of Transport’s guidelines for managing openings on public roads, which says local authorities rarely have the resources to replace poor surface repairs by companies.

“These ‘guidelines’ place a responsibility on utilities to carry out permanent reinstatements in accordance with construction standards and timelines,” said the spokesperson.

Freehill says she hopes the pilot will mean that there would be more accountability for utility companies. “In the working group, we will be having people come to our meetings every month and telling us what progress has been made.”

“The [road maintenance] division will ensure that defects on footpaths are prioritised for repair based on their severity and on their location and in the interest of protecting vulnerable road users,” said the spokesperson.

McGovern, standing in Harold’s Cross Park says she’s noticed how roads and footpaths aren’t level because of botched piles of tarmac that mean there are more trip hazards.

It’s not good, she says, because getting outside the house can be an older person’s only form of daily exercise.

“Most older people have to go walking for their health, for health reasons, so they need to have a fairly decent route to walk on,” she said.

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Author:

Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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