With public transport likely to be a "reduced option for many commuters for the foreseeable future", now is the time to reignite plans to develop a cycle lane for Salthill, along the area's iconic promenade.
This is the view of Social Democrats councillor Owen Hanley, who has called on the Galway City Council to produce a new design for a two-way cycle lane on the coastal side of the prom. His call comes in the wake of the council once again erecting railings along the Salthill Promenade as part of the current lockdown restrictions.
The railings are to prohibit car parking and mass gatherings along the popular walkway, but they have also re-ignited a debate about cycle-lanes for Salthill.
Why cycle lanes?
A two-way cycle lane on the coastal side of the prom would allow cyclists to travel in opposite directions, but on the same side of the road, on two designated lanes within the overall cycle lane itself.
Currently all cycle lanes in the city are one way, with cyclists travelling on the same side of road as the motor traffic - ie, all traffic is on the left hand side. However, this practice is not always adhered to, with a small number of cyclists sometimes using the right hand side lane, often because it is a more practical and efficient route to their destination. This, though, can cause difficulties for other cyclists.
A two-way system cycle lane, as is being proposed, would remove such problems. However, it does raise questions about how much space would need to be sacrificed on the existing road and whether parts of the prom, such as the pathways immediately adjacent to the road, would have to be removed to accommodate both cyclists and motorists in any new design.
Cllr Hanley though, is confident any new design will satisfactorily address such issues. "A segregated two-way mobility route," he said, "as has been advocated for by groups like the Galway Urban Greenway Alliance, would address many of the concerns raised about the previous design by retaining parking on the other side of the Prom, and removing a number of questionable conflicts."
'More than 200 of the 1,400 public submissions for Covid mobility measures received by the council were for a Salthill cycle lane'
He also pointed out how the guidance from the Government on mobility and public realm interventions, issued to Local Authorities in June 2020, is still in effect, and permits councils greater ability to reallocate road space for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists as well as to support businesses."
Is the political will there?
During the summer, the city council's transport department produced a design for a temporary cycleway along the Prom in Salthill utilising a specific Covid mobility fund. This plan can now serve as a blueprint for any new cycle lanes. Money need not be an issue as in 2021, significant national funds will be available to local authorities for cycling and walking infrastructure. Also, public reaction to the council's original plan was positive, as revealed during public consultation. Indeed more than 200 of the 1,400 public submissions for Covid mobility measures received by the council were for a Salthill cycle lane.
'For some councillors, the issue with the cycle lanes in Salthill rests more on a reliance on the motorcar'
However, the original proposal fell foul of a number of councillors and, following two votes by the elected members, the plans for cycle lanes in Salthill were first delayed, and then scrapped.
With the bollards now re-erected, parking restricted, and public transport likely to be less used over the coming weeks, cycle lanes have re-entered local political debate. "As we enter yet another lockdown the sight in Salthill of cones and railings lining the Prom will evoke déjà vu," said Cllr Hanley. "I hope the outcome will not be a repeat of the same."
It would appear that, for some councillors, the issue with the cycle lanes in Salthill rests more on a reliance on the motorcar and a perceived threat to business activity.
Addicted to the car
In July, Independent Galway City Central councillor, Colette Connolly, proposed a temporary cycle lane in Salthill, using funding from the National Transport Authority's special Covid-19 Interim Mobility Measures Fund. However it was defeated by 12 votes to five, with one abstention.
Councillors opposed to the cycle lanes cited the loss of 260 on-street car parking spaces, and the opposition of businesses in the area to cycle lanes as the reason for their vote (However, Fine Gael councillor, Clodagh Higgins, a keen supporter of cycle lanes for Salthill, had already been looking at alternative parking spaces in the event of any pop-up cycle lanes ).
'The idea that someone on a bike would not call into a shop to pick up messages, or be less inclined to go for a coffee or meet a friend in a café is very hard to credit'
Cllr Connolly described such attitudes as "incredible" when improved cycle facilities "have led to increased economic activity, particularly in Westport". Speaking at the time, she said it was "regrettable" that Galway had "lost the opportunity to become a safer, healthier city, and the ability to redress the inequalities that exist between motorists and cyclists, where road usage favours the former to the detriment of the latter".
Cllr Connolly is correct to be sceptical about the view that cycle lanes threaten business. The idea that someone on a bike would not call into a shop to pick up messages, or would somehow be less inclined to go for a coffee or meet a friend in a café is very hard to credit. A cyclist would be as inclined to do this as someone out walking or driving. A person's mode of transport does not necessarily affect their attitude to business.
What the vote did reveal is how there are many who cannot see beyond the car, almost to an ideologically and emotionally invested level. "The car is here to stay", such people argue. Well obviously, but why does it have to come at the expense of public transport and cycling, and why must the car be considered to be the only option for short distance transport, to the exclusion of all else?
As Covid-19 has shown, businesses are affected when people physically cannot get to them. Having a cycle lane in Salthill is not a manner of preventing people from shopping/eating in Salthill, it is simply giving another option on how people can travel there - not to mention the environmental benefits cycle lanes potentially represent.
'If we engage with communities, we could identify areas across the city looking for cycling and walking enhancements'
Given the heavy traffic that is often associated with the prom, cyclists on the road are very few. Creating a cycling lane for one of the city's most scenic routes would encourage, and result in, greater numbers of cyclists travelling into Salthill and, by extension, increase the overall numbers of people in the area - a move that can only be good for businesses, with a new, extra, market of people to appeal to.
A new opportunity?
Cllr Hanley [pictured above] said the Galway City Council needs to reinvestigate the plan for cycle lanes in Salthill and to take a leaf out of the book of other councils in the State.
"During the past year other councils were ambitious and delivered coastal mobility routes or cycle lanes throughout their cities and towns," he said. "This is not the stuff of fantasy. Cycling infrastructure is practical, cost-effective, and sustainable transport investment that improves journeys for work, school, or leisure.
"The learning from actually doing will serve plans for a permanent cycleway along the Prom, ensuring the best outcome possible for all. Now more than ever, we must value our public spaces and amenities. The Prom and the greater Salthill area deserves the investment and attention it would get from a temporary cycleway."
Cllr Hanley also wants to see temporary cycleways trialled elsewhere in the city. "Cycling is affordable, efficient, and in the right conditions, an enjoyable way for people to get around," he said. "Salthill is simply the obvious suggestion. If we engage with communities, we could identify areas across the city looking for cycling and walking enhancements."