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Programme For Government: Good News For Cyclists And Pedestrians?

The draft programme for government agreed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party commits the forthcoming coalition to further investment in new and improved infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. Which is a welcome development. Unfortunately I have no doubt that when it comes to planning and constructing that infrastructure a number of local and regional authorities around the country, and in the capital in particular, will make an absolute balls of it. Unfortunately with the move to push bicycles and people off the streets in favour of motor transport in the 1960s and ’70s Ireland interrupted the cycling tradition in our urban spaces that most of our fellow northern Europeans continued to develop. And in a far more comprehensive manner.

Here is an instructive YouTube video on the subject from Copenhagen by the Canadian-Danish urban designer Mikael Colville-Andersen discussing what can go wrong even in the most bike-friendly of places.

10 comments on “Programme For Government: Good News For Cyclists And Pedestrians?

  1. terence patrick hewett

    It may be helpful to outline how engineers go about things. Public projects are nearly always political decisions not engineering decisions. Many clients in actuality, don’t really know what they want, and it is not in an engineering consultant’s interest for a client to make a fool of himself, so we do try and steer clients away from decisions not in their best interest: having said that, government, local or otherwise, is always regarded as fair game because not only do they have deep budgets, it is government who are going to carry the can if things go pear shaped.

    Engineers do not have “good” solutions and “bad” solutions, they just have solutions. And solutions are answers to questions called “specifications,” so you really have to go and find out what the question was before evaluating the efficacy of the answer: if the question was “design a plant generating power from burning old french-letters” that is what you are going to get, and it is no use complaining afterwards that that wasn’t what you wanted.

    So from an engineering point of view, it is the question that is of overriding importance not the answer: there are always a score of answers, all of which have their pluses and minuses and most of which will work.

    So if you don’t like the answer look at the question.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well the “question” with most such plans in a city aren’t a huge mystery. Issues regarding oil shortages were reasonably known through most of the 1960’s and were certainly well known after 1973.

    As far as I know, most such city transit plans are run by interdisciplinary teams rather than only hiring engineers, and would have a hard time imagining that wasn’t standard practice in Europe by 1970 or earlier. Also I’ve never seen a city with a truly good transit system that wasn’t a composite or multi-modal in some fashion or another.

    One thing about reviving an old system in a city: Whether it’s a cycling tradition, a long decimated network of trolleys, an old subway, an old “main drag” for horses than can be a number of things other than a road for cars, or even old railroads lines that you’ve been told are abandonned…..you might want to take claims that “It’s all decimated and gone.” with a grain of salt.

    In a lot of Burbs that’s the conventional wisdom, but if you know where to look there’s a different story. Often you can find old tunnels that could fit a smaller modern Streetcar. Old Railway stations sitting next to train tracks where 70% of the track is still good or could be fixed without much expense. Old trolley car lines often have remnant that could be used for something more modern…….What you need beyond just political will is simply knowledge that major portions of an old system are still functional or could be with relatively little work to fix them up.

    Didn’t Dublin was also have a bunch of first horse drawn, and then electric trolley that were once dismantled in favor of buses and cars? (Other than the modern LRTs in Dublin now?)

    It might pay to at least take a good look at where the old bike paths and trolley lines were and see what you can find!!! There just might be something worth rebranding, rebuilding, or updating.

    I know of one case where an infamously car dependent big city’s plans to build a new transit system partly with leftover infrastructure from an old disused set of systems started in good part with the research of a man who by chance found one of the cars from an old long dismantled Trolley system in a Japanese junkyard and got an almost “Field of Dreams” sort of impulse to bring it home and make it into a local museum.

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    • Dublin used to have a whole system of trams, notably the Howth line which was relatively famous for its courting couples heading out for the day. It was also, like most of early 20th century Ireland, very much a bike city. However all that changed in the 1960s-80s when the car, and the personal car, became king of the road. Leading to some monumentally foolish decisions by then national and local governments.

      And some unforgivable acts of historical vandalism and outright destruction.

      That mentality persisted until relatively recently. And is still quite strong.

      Witness the active desecration of the landscape near the historically and culturally important Hill of Tara in the early 2000s to build a motorway (highway) which the Green Party in government actively pursued with their then coalition partners, Fianna Fáil. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

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      • gendjinn

        Woodquay. Kids found Viking swords in the Dublin dump.

        The ESB knocked down the longest continuous row of Georgian houses in existence after the Blitz. To put in a pipe.

        I feel The Dubliners capture it best.

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      • The Green Party pursued that? Not just as a concession? If that’s the case, you don’t need The Brothers Koch with a “Green Party” like that. How even in a country with such winding roads as Ireland could a Green Party rationalize any such thing?

        I had assumed that Dublin’s and Cork’s patchy transit networks and high car-dependence by European standards was the result of past poverty and colonialism. You probably know that most US cities went down much the same *road* in the 1940’s-1950’s: I’m shocked out of my shoes to hear of ANY European city making the same set of mistakes. I heard of similar things happening in some parts of South and Central America, but thought Europe was “immune” to it.

        The LUAS is nice, but it is demoralizing to hear that Dublin and Cork have more in common with Los Angeles, Phoenix, Austin, Seattle, St. Louis, Atlanta and even Boston that I would have ever guessed!!

        You know though there are a lot of interesting ideas for reviving old systems-Covid related setback asides!!- and making new ones. One interesting thing that happened in Phoenix was that we were told for a long time a Commuter was simply impossible. Turns out that we had all the needed tracks-85% of them good with no repairs needed- and a beautiful set of train stations built in the 1890’s to 1920’s, that only needed to be fixed up. One of them is currently being rented out to AT&T as a storage depot. Others are used as storage for the city’s rat control, janitorial supplies for the public school districts or nothing in particular-just nobody is quite prepared to demolish them. The one that’s being used by AT&T is well less than 1/8 mile from the key hub for the Light Rail (which is a bit similar to the LUAS.) All they’d really have to make from scratch would be the trains.

        This is an idea that I’ve heard more about recently. It’s a bike friendly mass transit concept, that gotten a lot of traction in South America in particular: urban gondola/aerial cable car. These guys talk about it for Austin Texas in particular. Dublin is not like mountainous cities such as La Paz that have done particularly well with it, but it is certainly not as flat as Austin. They way these guys talk about it for Austin, could probably work well as an added system for Dublin and Cork.

        I think it would be great for a lot of cities as a primary transit system or as a set of circulations that branch out of from stops associated more conventional mass transit. It could also go over barriers, up hills, and across water ways or green belts.

        Hopefully, you could get this video, as I think you’d like the concept-possibly as an added part of a plan for Dublin and/or Cork.

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        • There were private proposals a few years back to build a “Suas” cable car system in the city, though with no real beneficial purpose beyond creating a distinctive city landmark. There was also a mad scheme to run cable cars from Tallaght, a major city suburb/satellite town, up to the Wicklow Mountains and the Hell Fire Club. Thankfully those ideas came to nothing.

          Not sure Dublin would suit cable cars or the like. We still, thankfully, have resisted the lunatics demanding skyscraper buildings in the capital.

          I agree that cable cars or elevated light rail lines do look impressive in other contexts. I can’t think off hand of any Irish cities or towns they would suit.

          Maybe the town of Clifden in Galway? But even then, it would largely be for tourism and brand recognition.

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          • gendjinn

            The Teleférico in La Paz is literally breathtaking. I was there a year after the first few lines opened and it was damn impressive then. It’s expanded dramatically since. Down to Evo Morales.

            After San Francisco, I think Clifden is just fine by foot. It doesn’t even need a funicular.

            Have either yourself or Grace come across the idea that the automobile and suburbs were created to dissipate the wealth the US inherited from the UK empire after WWII, without causing inflation?

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            • By that reasoning why would Ireland have made the same mistakes only on a later time-table? Was that some Great Inheritance from the British Empire? If Hitler started building the Autobahn before Nazi Germany invaded its neighbors, what great colonial inheritance was that?

              During WWII and soon after the US was actually FEEDING a hungry Britain until trade with Europe got rolling again. Whatever Britain may or may not have had to show for that Empire economically at that point, it could never have been as simple as transferring it all to another nation. A lot of wealth that had been associated with The British Empire had been destroyed by WWII, or in some colonial revolts. Much (such as India railroads) were taken over by the former colonies themselves and arguably managed better.

              Also the US had started building suburbs in the 1910’s and cars in the late 1920s (delayed for a time by the depression).

              As for why The Streetcars and Trolley’s were dismantled? It turns out that cars, suburbs, and oil had been in the works for a while. While in the 1950’s and 1960’s the lobbying of Detroit did have some blame, the US Left and Environmental Movements tend to overplay that. The bigger story was that in the 1950’s after the Depression and WWII the Trolley system BADLY needed repair and upgrading. With an odd patchwork of public and private entities that had built them in the first place-some of which had shifted jurisdications- there was never an agreement on who was responsible for repairing and upgrading the system.

              The automobile companies wouldn’t have gotten what they wanted so easily in dismantled streetcars if municipal governments weren’t so dog-gone eager to wash their hands of Trolley lines nobody was willing to fix-ultimately it was low political will for any other “road”.

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          • Not all cable car proposals are created equal Mr. Fox. Sure some are simple tourist attractions like the one in London. However, more expansive proposals also exist. It’s not all like the idea of a high tourist attraction over the Liffey.

            Where there are no hills or rivers the cable cars can run was low as 2 feet above the ground under some conditions. In other cases the cable. cars can be a big advantage for cities with a lot of narrow streets and alley or non-linear roads-which I felt might serve Dublin well.

            Unlike some of the tourist cable cars or the one in NYC, the cars run in small units continuously. Several cars can be exited and boarded minute with each car containing 1-6 people. It’s not just very versatile but very, very energy efficient relatively to the number of passenger miles. Since the giant electric motor (often with a diesel backup!!) and most of the gears are large machines located inside the station there are several efficiency pluses. One is you have a smaller number of larger motors working in tandem rather than a larger number of smaller ones working independently. The weight of said motors is not in the car at all and the cars don’t have to be built to accommodate a motor or wheels making for a very low vehicle weight to passenger weight ration. Other huge advantages are the very low friction and low acceleration compared to most ground vehicles or trains. Since the cars attack and detach at the stations from the main moving line, the motors can go at a relatively constant rate all day.

            One practical advantage if that since each car can fit at least two bikes with people, that you have less of the “3 bike spots per bus” or “4 bike spots per LRT car”.

            While the cars move more slowly than other mass transit that can seem like a disadvantage but with the relatively few stops and the ability to go across some obstacles almost “as the crow flies” it can be a tortoise and hare game.

            La Paz, Bolivia is the main example of a city that has made its transit system revolve around what are now 11 cable car lines. However another town that has done a fine job of integrating this sorts of cable cars with more conventional methods woud be Medellin, Columbia. They have combined six cable car lines (and are planning more). The cable car lines are part of the same transit network as a 2-line metro, a LRT (much like SUAS), and a proper South American BRT system. It’d a pretty nice system and beyond just a “tourist trap”.

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