Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Roads of Galway

The Roads of Galway

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.

Cyclists face the downright hostile and dangerous driving habits of the region’s drivers. While bicycles are vehicles on the road, they are rarely considered as such. This failure to account for cyclists can include, but is not limited to, situations such as dangerous passing, turning out of driveways or merging into traffic without looking for riders and often times pedestrians. Bad driving habits are simply dangerous driving habits.

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.

Middle St.

Finally, the roads themselves. Irish roads as a whole are notoriously narrow and Galway is no exception. The city centre dates back a millennium and the roads were not designed for anything other than people, horses and carts. If traffic flows were re-considered, Galway’s roads and streets would be safer and more efficient. Streets could be converted to a one-way-only system; on street parking, at least during the daytime, could be eliminated; others simply need to be widened. These changes would provide a wider lane format for motor traffic, provide an expanded shoulder for bicycle lanes, and in some cases potential for light rail or bus right of ways. This in turn would ease congestion on a number of roads. However, while road improvement falls under long term development and restructuring, short term improvements could be made simply by implementing a reliable public education programme and enforcing road laws, with the consistent penalisation of violations and a firm court system (it was recently reported in 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:

Educate drivers

  • 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.
Improve Roads
  • 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.
Provide more parking
  • 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.


  1. A Concerned CyclistApril 8, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    Bravo piece, Mr. Fleming.

  2. Dear Mr. Fleming,

    I totally agree with you about the abolition of Motorised Vehicles from the City Centre. Its a must and should have happened years ago for Galway.
    A proper Ring Road of the whole of the City as far out a Menlo to Oughterard is needed ( joining west to east ) and a proper Light rail "Luas" type system.
    Also another key issue would be the allowing/accommodating by CIE (Coras Iompair Eireann), of Bike spaces on trains.
    When/If the Western Rail line opens up in the next few years it would change the health and well being of every person in the West of Ireland if we were allowed to commute from our Rural locations by Bike and train.
    I for one would be happy to give up my gas guzzling, anti-cyclist tank, for the chance to be able to cycle in and out of Rural County Galway to the city and beyond each and every day!

    With support from a fellow artist and aspirational cyclist!


  3. Well done Simon. Top blog. Great to see you are still campaigning on illegal parking and related issues, albeit as a lone ranger.

    Most of your recommendations are spot on, especially regarding traffic reduction. Unfortunately you are on the wrong track re one-way streets. These greatly discommode cyclists and also speed up traffic.

    You don't mention speed at all.

    Cycle lanes/paths are pretty much irrelevant in the city centre. On most streets there is no space, and in any case the main function of segregated 'facilities' for cyclists is to get them out of the way of real traffic, which paradoxically has the effect of speeding up traffic.

    My recommendations: eliminate all motorised vehicles except buses, resident private cars and commercial vehicles from the core city centre; reduce speed limit to 5-10 km/h for permitted motorised traffic; reduce speed limit to 30 km/h in wider zone around core; create 'parking route' around car-free zone (as in Ghent, Belgium); make car-free zone completely permeable for cyclists, eg two-way on one-way streets; adopt a strict and rigorous parking and speed control policy that prioritises pedestrians, cylists and bus users.

    Don't hold your breath though. Make no mistake, despite all their rhetoric and Smarter Travel proposals, this Council, supported by the Gardai and business interests will more than likely continue to prioritise private car users.

    Simon Comer
    Community Road Safety Action & information Network (Cosain)

  4. Thanks for the replies. Aideen, great thoughts on the linking of rural locations to the city with a bike-train-bike system. Done elsewhere, should be integrated here!
    Simon, good to hear from you. Very valid points. Reducing speed limits is crucial to a safe system of travel for cyclists and vehicles and I did fail to mention it in the article.
    Yes, bike lanes in the centre is not really conceivable due to road widths but lead in roads could accommodate surely? Some footpaths are ridiculously wide and at times are so on both sides of the road.
    I see your point on the one way lanes but still think with a reduction in speed limits a single lane road w/ bike lane is better than what we have in specific cases here in Galway. I am aware of the argument that bike lanes separate road users (cars, bikes etc) and bike lanes are often ignored by drivers and can be dangerous but we are thinking of the implementation of successfully established plans (possibly even soft-divide or segregated systems) such as those used in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Norway, Montreal, U.S. etc but adjusted obviously to the physical limitations found in Galway.
    I think any pedestrian or bike user is a lone ranger in this fight but its groups like Cosain, Galway Cycling Campaign and Critical Mass Galway that people can find a voice and a community.

  5. Sharing the pavement could be as easy as the biker just jumping of her bike when meeting a pedestrian on the pavement or for the short moment head out on the road.
    It is horrific to see all cars parked ON the pavement and noone seemingly reacting to it! Is it ok by law? (Im not irish so thats why I wonder) since police does nothing about it!
    Galway people should leave their cars at home more and try using their legs. /Frida

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