"When Autumn comes and more workplaces are open alongside schools and colleges we need to have increased walking and cycling for transport to work in this city. This will be needed alongside adapted but reliable public transport and personal car use, or we may be facing transport issues like we've never seen before."
This is the view of Social Democrats Galway City East councillor, Owen Hanley, who argues that Galway, and Ireland, has not seen an adequate "ramping up of transport initiatives" as we move into the five stage plan to re-open the State following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, or for life in the period afterwards.
"Effective, accessible, and user-friendly transport has the potential to be transformative for Galway's community and economy in a post-pandemic world," he said, "but what we do in the meantime and along the way are crucial to defining what path we take."
As a result Cllr. Hanley is calling for increased levels of investment on a national and local level to adapt our public transport delivery to the challenges posed by Coronavirus and social distancing, as well as actions that are achievable in the short term for sustainable transport.
'In Paris, 650km of cycleways - including a number of pop-up temporary cycleways - will be readied as lockdown begins to be eased in France from this week'
"A clear plan with proactive measures and ambitious outcomes is needed from the Department of Transport to put us on the best track to re-opening Galway," Cllr Hanley told the Galway Advertiser. "The Government has performed well in a number of areas during Covid-19 but there has not been sufficient activity and focus on the role transport has to play during this crisis and afterwards."
Adjusting the city for pedestrians and cyclists
He cited international examples where significant intervention and investment has been carried out to adjust to a post-pandemic world. In Paris, 650km of cycleways - including a number of pop-up temporary cycleways - will be readied as lockdown begins to be eased in France from this week.
'A letter, signed by cross-party TDs and councillors, calls for temporary measures during the Covid-19 restrictions to reallocate road space to cyclists and walkers'
The United Kingdom recently announced a £2 billion plan to boost cycling and walking both during and after the lockdown as a “once in a generation” chance to change commuting habits. In Milan, the ambitious Strade Aperte (Open Streets ) plan aims to reallocate street space away from cars, and towards pedestrians and cyclists.
Cllr Hanley also pointed to a statement from the World Health Organisation, issued on April 21, which said: “Whenever feasible, consider riding bicycles or walking." He said: "We may very well be on the emergence of a new era when it comes to transport infrastructure. Galway and Ireland must be a part of that."
Cllr Hanley said momentum is growing for such measures to be carried out in Galway. He cited a letter, signed by cross-party TDs and councillors, and sent to the Galway City Council CEO, Brendan McGrath, calling for temporary measures during the Covid-19 restrictions to reallocate road space to cyclists and walkers, and also to lower urban speed limits to 30km/h.
He also pointed to the Change Our Streets movement, organised by the Galway Cycling Campaign, and featuring 200 organisations and individuals.
Ability to move around safely
He acknowledged that City Hall is in the design phase for new cycle lanes on the east side of the city, with more to follow on the west side. Last year, the council also created a new cycling enhancement fund for more bike racks and permeability options. However, Cllr Hanley pointed out that Covid-19 means we "face new frontiers and the old drawn out funding process does not suit immediate needs".
'The reduction in the amount of cars on the road will mean those that have to continue driving will have better commutes as well'
Cllr Hanley is also calling for a pilot scheme for temporary cycle lanes on there Prom; use of orca wand bollards to create "safe and segregated cycling lanes" on busy roads currently quietened during the pandemic; road space made available for pedestrians where footpaths do not reach the 2m necessary to social distance; giving public space to businesses to ensure "they can open their doors again while social distancing remains in place".
"If people can move around easier and safer in our city everybody wins," he said. "In this challenging time we have a unique opportunity to trial new street arrangements, widen our footpaths, and install cycling lanes."
Cllr Hanley said prioritising pedestrians and cyclists would also benefit motorists. "The reduction in the amount of cars on the road will mean those that have to continue driving will have better commutes as well," he said. "If we create a Galway where it is safe for children to cycle, where everyone can use our footpaths regardless of physical need, and our city centre and communities are easy to travel in and out of, then we will benefit today and in the future. These are standards that we should not just expect to support our people, businesses, and society."