By Simon Fleming
Recent letters to the editor in the Galway Advertiser (Cycling on pavement is wrong — end of story, March 18, 2010, etc.) have complained about cyclists in pedestrian zones. But in fairness, while cyclists must abide by road rules, the roads of Galway are simply unsafe for everyone. The reasons are numerous: too many cars, medieval-era roads, crowds of pedestrians; no bike lanes and inadequate footpaths; limited and unreliable bus service; and an epidemic of under-penalised violations by motorists.
Two bikes riding out into traffic to get around a car and truck that are parked over double yellow lines AND in front a of a handicap spot.
Another basic safety issue here is the flagrant running of stop signs in Galway. These red octagons are more often than not taken as suggestions. For example, cars, without a second thought, will drive straight through the heavily pedestrianised Cross St stops.Illegal parking is one of the most significant problems for cyclists and pedestrians alike in Galway. In this sense, the city is still a country village. Footpath parking is illegal under the 1997 Traffic & Parking Regulations and previous road traffic law. However, this bad habit, often done over double yellow lines, appears so ingrained in Galway car culture that it is taken for the norm. Problem sites, for example, are Abbeygate Street and Newcastle Road across from University Hospital. Potentially pleasant commercial districts are, instead, congested roads lined with illegally parked cars. “Oh, I won't be two minutes; I'm just picking up something in the shop here.” Well, actually, I don't care how long you will be. You are still the cause of an accident waiting to happen. Excuses like this are often overheard, but the bottom line is parking on the footpath leaves little to no room for pedestrians, some with babies in prams, Zimmer frames, wheelchairs, impaired visibility or mobility assistance devices. The point here is the danger it poses. Footpath parking obstructs the line of sight for both cyclists and pedestrians, who often enter traffic in order to get around these cars, risking life and limb.
Galway City Council Hands out sixty four parking tickets a day (March 25th, 2010, Galway Advertiser) that 70% of contested parking violations are overturned).
Let's not forget that for a few years Galway was the fastest growing city in Europe. Despite the recession, there is more wealth in the region than ever before and with that wealth there are more people and cars. There is also more pollution and traffic. Galway’s rush hour is as bad or worse than many cities with many times the population. If Galway wants to be recognised as a progressive contemporary city, it needs to remove the car out of the heart of Galway’s city centre and alleviate traffic (how many single occupants drivers are stuck in rush-hour traffic on a given day?). It needs to integrate accessible public transport, become pedestrian-friendly and promote the use of bicycles via its infrastructure. The city needs to improve the roads themselves, making space for traffic of all kinds (pedestrian, cycling, auto). The city has only presented token gestures so far. Tackling these issues requires the cooperation of urban planners, cyclists, the general public and drivers in partnership with a forward-thinking city council.
My recommendations are as follows:
- Provide improved or additional signage relating to cyclists and pedestrians. Remind drivers they are not the only ones on the road.
- Enforce road laws with consistent penalisation of violations.
- Pedestrianise more streets
- Expand the few current bike lanes to the city centre; an artery for cyclists is essential.
- Convert more streets and lanes into a one-way-only system.
- Eliminate street parking, at least during the daytime, on others.
- Widen certain streets (Lough Atalia, Tuam Rd., Headford Rd.).
- Commuter Lanes during rush hour.
- Consolidate reduced rate or free public parking into multi-storey car parks at the perimeter of the city centre. The Black Box car park is an ideal spot located between a major shopping area and the city centre.
Improve public transport in the long run
- Make bus use cheaper, more frequent, and reliable. Why can’t buses run every 15 minutes to city centre?
- A commuter lane incorporated and enforced.
- Provide maps and timetables at every bus shelter.
- Invest in light-rail infrastructure.
- Provide other incentives for people to get out of the cars that choke our byways:
- Working with groups such as the Galway Cycling Campaign, Cosain – Community Road Safety Action & Information, the city should promote the benefits of cycling through an expanded public education/information scheme. Not only is cycling healthy for people, it is healthier for the environment.
Simon Fleming is a Canadian artist, and an avid cyclist currently based in Galway.