Major strategy to make county more walking and cycling friendly

A major strategy to significantly improve road safety for pedestrians and cyclists thereby encouraging more people to walk and cycle to work, college, and school, as well as boosting tourism and raising public awareness about its benefits, is currently being redrafted by Galway County Council with the view of seeking funding for a number of projects throughout the county.

The Galway County Council Walking and Cycling Strategy Report was presented to councillors at a recent meeting with recommendations for changes to be made, including the removal of any reference to the Tuam to Athenry railway line, for an alternative cycle route to the R446 Ballinasloe to Galway city to be provided to the NRA, and that updated statistics on walking and cycling in the county be obtained. Councillors voted in favour of making these changes to the report which will be re-drafted before being presented to the council for finalisation.

Using Census data the report noted that between 1986 and 2006 the number of national school children walking and cycling to school dropped from 49 per cent to 25 per cent. The number of students being driven to their national school by car more than doubled from 24 per cent in 1986 to 55 per cent in 2006. The 2006 Census shows that significantly fewer children walked to school in Galway county and city (13 per cent ) than the national average of 24 per cent and that more children were driven to school in county Galway (60 per cent ) than nationally (55 per cent ). The data also showed that in Galway county and city only 14 per cent of secondary school children, aged between 13 and 18, travelled to school or college on foot and only one per cent travelled by bike. In 2006, 10 per cent of all national school children living in towns were driven to school even though they lived within 1km from the school. In Ballinasloe 42 per cent of all workers lived within 4km of their workplace but only 17 per cent walked and two per cent cycled to work, therefore 23 per cent of workers in that town drove 4km or less to work everyday.

The report found that in order to promote more cycling and walking among school going children, adolescents, and commuting workers it is vital to improve road safey for pedestrians and cyclists starting first with implementing traffic reduction iniatitives as well as traffic calming measures, junction treatment and traffic management, redistribution of carriageways, and provision of cycle lanes, tracks, and greenways. It recommended the “outright segregation of walkers and cyclists from vehicular traffic” in order to improve road safety. It is further envisaged that the development of walking trails, linking national routes across borders, could result in Galway being an integral part in the creation of ‘Camino de Santiago’ style trail. Part of the strategy also entails updating The National Trail information website (www.irishtrail.ie ), developing smartphone applications for trails, as well as ensuring a uniform system throughout the country with the standardisation of signage, information boards, stiles, gateways, and crossing points throughout the county.

The Connemara Greenway (Clifden to Oughterard ) scheme involves the conversion of 52km of the old dismantled Galway to Clifden railway line into a cycling and walking greenway. The scheme is currently at the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement ) stage and it is hoped that funding can be provided by Failte Ireland to allow construction to begin in 2013, however, the report does note that the plan may change due to landownership issues. There is also the Connemara Greenway (Oughterard to Galway city ) scheme which will also follow the old railway line in many locations and is considered a perfect greenway option.

In tandem with the opening of the Connemara Greenway, the Galway National Roads Design Office has designed the upgrade of the N59 Clifden to Galway city route to include a total of 15km of separate cycle track. A new 3km section of the N59 at Derrylea outside Clifden has already been built and includes a new segregated cycle track. Clifden has been identified in the ‘National Strategy for Developing Irish Cycle Tourism’ has a class one cycling hub. With major resurfacing and signage works undertaken it is envisaged that Clifden to Leenane will be transformed into a national cycle route linking it to Westport. The ‘Strategy for the Development of Irish Cycle Tourism-Western Region’ identifies four local cycling loops on rural roads emanating from Clifden. These are: Ballyconneely-Roundstone-Ballinaboy Loop; Sky Road loop; Cleggan loop; and Cleggan-Lough Auna loop.

Moycullen has been identified as having the potential of becoming a “significant cycling hub” with many cycling loops emanating from it. In addition, Galway County Council has been involved in the development of mountain bike trails in Killarainey Woods. It is expected that future expansion of the walking and cycling trails into adjacent lands could occur in partnership with Coillte. The report found that Oughterard also has a number of quiet back roads connecting back into the village giving it the potential of becoming a cycling and walking hub. Oughterard will also be the starting point for the first phase of the Connemara Greenway so many of these localised cycling loops could link into that scheme. In addition to these cycling/walking loops the Coillte ‘off road cycling strategy’, dated June 2012, had identified Derroura woods and Rosscahill woods as priority locations for the development of mountain bike, cycling and walking trails.

Galway County Council is also considering plans for the construction of a new road which will alleviate traffic pressure on the R336 Bearna to Scrib road which was identified as an important route for tourism, however, it is very narrow and has little or no hard shoulders. The new road construction would allow for a separate cycle path segregated from the road carriageway, greatly facilitating cycle traffic and tourism on the existing road closer to the coast.

Oranmore and Kinvara have also been identified as being a “constitutuent” part of the national cycle route linking the Burren in County Clare up to Galway and the main Clifden to Dublin national cycle route. The report also recommends developing a cycling route linking the R446 (national and European cycle route ) and Portumna in order to attract long distance cyclists and intermediate distance cyclists.

The construction of the M17/M18 motorway due to begin this year was welcomed as it will remove significant amounts of vehicular traffic from the current N17/N18 which, with its wide hard shoulders in parts, could become important for experienced cycling tourists who wish to go to the north west of the country. The report also recommends that the N17 should be continued to be developed as a bus lane to facilitate public traffic from north Galway, Mayo, and Roscommon into Galway city. Other projects which connect to the city include the development of a cycle track from Claregalway using local roads and perhaps including the widening of the N17. A cycle track within Oranmore could lead out to the new rail station and a cycle greenway could link Merlin Park, GMIT and Wellpark retail centre. A greenway for Bearna will run on a mixture of on road and off road cycle tracks along the R336 Coast Road, coming into Salthill and onwards into Southpark at the mouth of the River Corrib.

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