29 June, 2010

Vision for Dún Laoghaire

What kind of town do you want Dún Laoghaire to be like in ten years time?

Dún Laoghaire has a magic location beside the sea, great heritage attractions, some beautiful buildings and parks. However there's significant vacancies in the shop units around the town, and the lure of Dundrum Town Centre has lowered footfall in the County Town.

I'm holding a Vision for Dún Laoghaire Meeting on 6th July in the Kingston Hotel at 8 pm to encourage debate about DúnLaoghaire's future.

We'll have speakers from the Business Association, An Taisce UCD and residents of the town. I hope you can make it along and give your thoughts on the town's future.

So far the line-up looks like this:

-Gene Feighery representing Dún Laoghaire An Taisce,

-Tom Dunphy representing the Dún Laoghaire Business Association,

-Alan Mee course director of the Urban Design Masters Programme at University College Dublin,

-Adam Hall, a Dún Laoghaire based architect.

The intention is to have brief presentations or addresses from the speakers followed by a discussion that will be open to the floor. We'll keep the presentation ideally to 5 minutes, or maximum 10 minutes. I really want to hear YOUR views!

I am hoping that the meeting will produce a clear consensus on the measures that are needed to rejuvenate the town and that will inform action that can be taken locally and nationally.

There is more information on the website

Looking forward to seeing you on the 6th in the Kingston.

27 June, 2010

Global Pedal Power

That’s Mejah Mbuya and myself at the Velo-City cycle conference in Denmark.

Mejah is from Tanzania, and runs an environmental NGO ‘Baiskeli ni Suluhisho la Mazingira Endelevu’ or Bikes for a Sustainable Environment in Dar es Salaam. He was one of 1,100 delegates at the three day long conference that took place in a venue in central Copenhangen. I was pleased to hear that the Irish Embassy in Dar es Salaam had helped him out with his work. I spoke at a plenary session on Friday morning, and described how cycling is undergoing a renaissance in Ireland.

Many of those attending were from campaigning groups who find it hard get political support for their work. I described the dark days of the early nineties when it was hard to get political support for investment in cycling initiatives. Theses days things have improved, and although we’d all like more funding for improving cycling infrastructure, we’ve moved light years ahead of where we were twenty years ago.

I talked about how the Danish Ambasssador to Ireland had kicked off the ‘Dublin Cycle Chic’ fashion show under the dome of Dublin’s city hall last week. Watching models cycling bikes between the pillars of the Ryal Exchage would have been unthinkable when I was first elected as a city councillor back in 1991.

There was a good crew over from Ireland to learn and share experience with the Danes and delegates from around the world. Mike McKillen was representing the Dublin Cycling Campaign, Damian O’Tuama was there, the National Transport Authority was represented, and there were a group of engineers from the firm Roughan O’Donovan. Cllr. Andrew Montague who championed the 30 kph speed limit in Dublin City was also in attendance. Interestingly he tells me that the 30 kph limit in Dublin’s city centre is up for review at the end of the Summer, and there may be challenges to keeping it in place permanently. The enforcement in Dublin is laughable though and I was in a taxi recently that sped into the zone at 3 times the legal speed limit. Pinch points or road narrowing measures are crucial to making it work, as well as a stronger commitment from the Gardai. The narrowing of roads at the entrance to many towns around Ireland where the speed limit is reduced works well, and its time something similar was put in place on the Liffey Quays. In Dun Laoghaire the 30kph areas haven't been criticized, although allowing cars back into the town's Georges Street seems to me to be a retrogade step.

While in Copenhagen I met up with Jahn Gehl . He’s one of my urban design heroes. He magically described heading out on his bike for a meal to celebrate his 45th wedding anniversary, and how he and his wife with a combined age of 136 years were able to cycle across the city centre of Copenhagen and back in safety after an evening out. He also described how his mother-in-law cycled until she was in her eighties long after she lost her driving license, and when she finally stopped cycling, used to wheel the bike rather than use a Zimmer frame. Sweet!

Niels Torslov from the Traffic Department of the City of Copenhagen answered my queries about traffic management in the city and spoke about bicycle traffic congestion when 37% of journeys are made by bike. Interestingly they have a 40 kph speed limit in much of the city, something that we should consider in Ireland for built-up areas. I also promotes the Danish approach to cycling and met with the Traffic Mayor for the city of Denmark Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard , one of 11 assistant Mayors who share responsibility for the running of the city. He’s elected for a four year term, and I spoke about Green Party’s proposals for a directly mayor in Dublin, rather then the existing system of a revolving door every twelve months.

Lise Bjorg Pedersen from the Dansk Cyklist Forbund explained many of the Danish cycling initiatives that the DCF has contributed towards, including the publication of an online cycling guide that answered many of my queries about cycling. Finally the Cycling Embassy of Denmark is a brilliant title for a great network of organisations that spread know-how and enthusiasm for cycling around the world.

What did I learn from the conference, and from cycling the streets of Denmark?

1. Large volumes of cyclists contribute to calming the traffic.

2. The Danes favour running the cycle lane beside the footpath, rather than outside parked cars. This helps less confident cyclists.

3. New infrastructure that prioritise cyclists such as an over-bridge over a motorway can attract a lot of commuters out of their cars and on to bikes.

4. The attention to detail in laying paving slabs and cobbles helps clearly in showing cars that pedestrians and cyclists have priority at junctions.

5. Small 'curve radii' at junctions put manners on faster drivers and slow them down.

6. An increase in car use has put pressure on Danish engineers to revisit existing schemes and improve them, generations after they were first installed.

7. Mindset is half the battle. If engineers don't ride a bike and understand cyclists they can't design decent cycling facilities. After a whistle-stop stay in Denmark I understand better the need to 'Copenhagenise' our towns and cities.

Here's a sixty second video-clip I took on the streets of Copenhagen.

16 June, 2010

Seeking fairness and balance

I almost choked on my coffee.

National cycle to school day and what is the AA traffic news telling us?

Nicola Hudson from AA Roadwatch at 7.30 this morning saying "Play your part as a safe road user, don’t cycle on footpaths and don't weave in and out of slow moving traffic."

I'm all in favour of encouraging road users to comply with the law, but it's not exactly great encouragement to head out the door with your kids and their bikes on the day that's in it. Anyway, I rang up RTE's Morning Ireland who told me that that what AA Roadwatch says is a matter for AA Roadwatch. Interesting, I'd have thought that RTE would have some editorial control over travel news, and maybe they do, but I was swiftly sent off to talk to the AA.

Soon afterwards I was talking with Nicola Hudson from AA Roadwatch who told me that they were rotating their messages and had other messages that were aimed more at drivers telling them to be 'vigilant'. Sure enough, I moused across to their website and there they were telling drivers to "check for cyclists before opening your vehicle door". Fair enough. However they were also telling cyclists that they "are quite vulnerable at traffic lights, so wait until the green light and be aware of left turning vehicles especially trucks and buses."

That's all very well, but on the one day a year when we're supposed to be actively encouraging children to cycle to school couldn't they:

a) encourage it, and

b) ask motorists to slow down.

I've known Conor Faughnan from the AA for over fifteen years, and he carried out decent work in contributing to sustainable transport policy discussions. However I just get a niggling feeling that when it comes down to it, the AA Roadwatch's travel news is more about motorists' convenience than it is about other road users. When it comes to public transport, they're often in favour in theory, but not in practice. His organisation has been a bit like St. Augustine, erring on the side of 'not just yet' when it came to Quality Bus Corridors and the Bus Gate in Dublin City Centre.

When you look up policy on AA Ireland's website you find that "
the AA’s policies on the environment are based on the need for balance in the transport system and a belief that, where it is available, everyone should try to use the most appropriate form of transport for every journey". You can't disagree with that, can you? However on the 30kph limit in Dublin City Centre Conor described the limit as "absurdly slow", and "social engineering". He also said that "In road safety terms Dublin City is one of the safest places in the country". Twenty people, almost all pedestrians have died on the roads in the 30 kph zone in the last 10 years for which figures are available. Ironically the title of the AA's press release was 'Dead Slow'. One man's balance is another man's bias I suppose.

Speaking as a motorist, I'd appreciate if the AA concentrated more on doing something about criminal price-fixing within the car sales sector. Nicola Hudson did actually tell me though on the phone this morning that it IS all about advice for motorists, so I guess that settles it. Sadly however, their advice does send out subtle messages - cycling is dangerous, motorists should be 'vigilant' but not necessarily slow down.

Maybe I'm being ambitious in suggesting that AA Roadwatch should give greater encouragement to people to walk, cycle or use public transport. I treasure one of their tweets from during the snow in early January when they suggested that "Anyone travelling is advised to use the train, DART or Luas". It doesn't happen that often, and maybe its expecting too much from an organisation that describes itself on its twitter account as "Ireland's leading Traffic and Travel provider"

However, if that is beyond the remit of AA Roadwatch, then perhaps Morning Ireland should think about how to best encourage more sustainable transport and travel on a consistent basis to balance the voice that they give to the main pro-motoring organisation several times in each programme.

Looking ahead, one of the key objectives in the National Cycle Policy Framework is to provide National Cycling Training Programmes for School Pupils. Dublin City Council is doing good work with their 'Bike Start'
Cycling Training Programme, but as Minister of State for Sustainable Transport and Travel I want to ensure that we roll this out nationwide as soon as possible.

UPDATE 10.30pm
I had a good chat with Conor Faughnan earlier. He did concede that they had perhaps got the tone wrong and Conor tweeted mid-morning that "Bikeweek continues, and it's cycle to school day for national school kids. Great weather for it, but motorists must take extra care!". He also points out that they have promoted Bikeweek in their magazine and on their website. Just now the AA has also taken off their traffic summary the advice not to weave or cycle on footpaths. I think that better reflects the tone that's required this week. I'm happy to acknowledge those changes, and I'm sure we will continue to find common cause in many areas. I'm sorry I didn't ask Conor and his team along to the "Dublin Cycle Chic" fashion show in Dublin's City Hall earlier this evening that was opened by the Danish Ambassador. I'm sure they would have enjoyed it!