Westmeath County Council is fundamentally misunderstanding its brief to research plans for its stretch of the National Cycle Network, says Councillor Denis Leonard.
The Labour councillor says a recreational cycle route which would bring tourists to the town is completely different to the cross-country route which speed cyclists would use to get from Dublin to Galway.
Westmeath needs both, he said. And neither should involve the destruction of the old rail link between Athlone and Mullingar.
The council has €750,000 to complete the design and route selection between Maynooth and Shannon west and its preferred route at this early stage is to bring the National Cycle Network through Mullingar and Athlone.
The council says this route, along the Royal Canal would deliver “the maximum economic and tourist potential” for those towns, and the rail link could be reinstated later if Irish Rail see fit.
But Cllr Leonard believes the council has confused the brief.
He says putting cross-country cyclists past walkers, fishermen and families is dangerous and ill-conceived.
Already cross-country cyclists use the old N6 road and instead of putting speeding cyclists along the canal amenity, it should make the road route safe by creating a cycling route alongside.
These cyclists are sportsmen and women who like to travel long distances uninterrupted, and would prefer to travel from Dublin to Galway in a day or two, using the N6 anyway because it’s the most direct route, he said.
He believes it’s better for everyone if Mullingar is a hub for recreational cyclists who might stay in the town, rent a bike, and travel the different recreational routes over a couple of days.
Because the canal and the old N6 routes can link up, it’s the best of both worlds because Westmeath needs to cater for recreational and sports cyclists, he said.
He is also dead set against the removal of the rail link, comparing it to locations where canals were cemented in, and saying it will never be reinstated if it’s changed to a cycle lane.
At the recent Mullingar area meeting, Cllr Leonard along with councillors Glynn, Davitt, and Dollard expressed concern that the council hasn’t engaged in public consultation yet.
Cllr Glynn said the railway must be revitalised, but Mullingar director of services David Hogan said the likelihood in his lifetime is slim.
But councillors will sign off on the final plan, he said.
Speaking afterwards he said the process is democratic but was vague about whether the council is considering a selection of routes.
Mullingar has been a cycle hub since it received the designation from Fáilte Ireland in 2007 and hundreds of thousands of euros have been spent in developing routes, with 117 km of signed cycling routes on three loops around the town.