Has Galway a transportation problem or a planning problem?

Dear Editor,

I have studied with interest the documentation published as part of the public consultation process for the proposed “N6 Galway City Transport Project”. I note that there are several nods to sustainable transport solutions including public transport, smarter travel initiatives and alternative transport modes but it is hard to escape the conclusion that these are mere padding to the prime objective of constructing a massive new highway infrastructure and that these measures are not being taken seriously by the consortium of government and local authority agencies behind the proposals. (Perhaps it is telling that the name of the project includes the name of the road which we are assured is just one of a range of solutions ).

I’m afraid we’ve heard all this before. A joint Galway City Council & Galway County Council plan in 2002 called for a “more sustainable, public transport based, quality driven approach to development within the city”. What we got was more low density residential development on the outskirts of the city with poor public transport connections. Why should we expect anything different to come from this plan? The City Council continues to plan for more car-dependent suburban development in Ardaun.

“Galway has a transportation problem” we are told, but does it? Galway has a planning problem, for sure. Are we in danger of focusing on the symptom rather than the disease?

Galway has suffered more than most from bad planning decisions going back several decades. Large areas of land on the west of the city have been built up with low-density suburban housing while the main industrial and commercial areas are located on the east side of the city. At the same time, Galway’s public transport system has suffered years of neglect to the point where it is almost non-existent and certainly under-used. This has resulted in increased car dependency and the daily “rush-hour” traffic gridlock at the existing river-crossings which is now being used as an argument for further bad planning decisions.

The genesis of the Outer Bypass goes back to the Galway Transportation and Planning Study 1999, if not further. The 16 years since that plan was published have seen unprecedented changes in our economic, social and environmental landscape yet the case for the bypass established in that plan has not been revisited. Each subsequent plan produced by the local authorities ultimately refers back to the 1999 study without questioning the rationale or considering the changed context.

Can we be sure, in that context that the outer bypass is going to be the panacea to all our traffic problems? And if it does provide some temporary relief to the gridlock, is it the best use of €500-750m? Where is the Cost Benefit Analysis that would demonstrate the overriding case for the bypass above all other solutions?

What we are now presented with is a series of options for a major piece of road infrastructure which will have damaging impacts on existing residential areas, scenic views, historic structures and natural habitats. It is a road engineering solution to a planning problem reminiscent of the worst excesses of 1970s planning ideals. It is time for Galway to move into the 21st century and embrace modern approaches to transport planning which take a more holistic attitude to the design of the public realm and the movement of people within the city.

“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.” - Fred Kent, Project for Public Spaces

Yours,

Ciarán Ferrie MRIAI

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