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Opinion: Galway councillors promised us a cycling solution months ago - nothing has happened

Local resident Gráinne Faller says anyone cycling in Galway faces dangerous roads and interactions with traffic every day.

Gráinne Faller

BACK IN FEBRUARY, the ambitious plan for a temporary Salthill Cycleway spluttered and died, killed off by councillors who just months earlier had voted in favour of it.

Just prior to that vote I wrote an article in The Journal saying, “…if the councillors call a halt to the Salthill Cycleway on Monday, it begs the question, what will it take? The coast road isn’t safe to cycle.”

Councillors scrapped the Cycleway, promising a different plan. They’re not anti-cycling they said. And yet, the only change in the six months since is a fresh ‘No Cycling’ sign on the Galway Promenade.

This week, saw an almost tragedy on Monday morning when one local resident, Dr Ciara Curran was making her way towards town on her bike.

As she was cycling along a particularly tight stretch on the route where the Cycleway should have been, someone opened a car door against the handlebars of her bike throwing her straight into oncoming traffic. The only thing that stood between her and serious injury or death was luck. She was hurt but will be okay. 

Cycle safety

We all know that accidents happen, but when cyclists have to interact so closely with motorists and vehicles every day, the likelihood of such incidents increases. I wonder, will this near miss be enough to provoke change? We cannot wait for tragedy. It is not safe to cycle along the seafront in Galway.

Road design and lack of law enforcement make it actively dangerous. This is it. This is the time when we must say enough because we cannot claim we weren’t warned. We cannot claim we didn’t know. This is our opportunity to act.

I cycle that stretch all the time and I know that for every accident, there are hundreds of close calls. You cycle between moving traffic and parked cars, often hemmed in by long traffic islands. It is hostile and treacherous. In the aftermath of the decision to scrap the Salthill Cycleway we were told it was just this iteration of the project that wasn’t acceptable. Councillors were in favour of safer cycling and would demand better. We are still waiting.

Decisions matter. If we had a safe cycling infrastructure in Galway then cyclists would not fear incidents like this every day. Councillors scrapped an option that would have improved health, safety and wellbeing. They chose to leave this road unchanged.

It’s not just people on bikes who are endangered. The fact that we have such enormous lengths of road, and so few pedestrian crossings alongside an iconic walking amenity is yet another failure. It’s a symptom of the inability of our decision-makers and those responsible for our public spaces to cater for people rather than cars. Even drivers walk or wheel. The second we get out of our cars we are in a hostile environment.

Climate emergency

We need to be able to walk, wheel and cycle safely. The irony is that we see time and time again that when you make cycling safe, lots of people switch from cars to bikes. For those who can, cycling is fun, efficient and consistently reliable. More bikes mean fewer cars and less traffic which is good news for those who have to drive.

A switch like this is part of the solution to Galway’s traffic woes. If only the people with the power had the imagination to see it as such. In fact, they don’t even need imagination, the concrete examples are there, and the research is there. All they need to do is make themselves aware of the evidence.

In my previous article, I stated that Galway City Council has not installed even one inch of new, segregated, protected cycling infrastructure in years, despite all the mobility funding available for active travel. This remains the case.

For now, it is only the brave who cycle in Galway, but a half hour looking at that very dangerous road tells you that there are plenty of those. I’m a mum of two, I cycle there. I know other mums and dads who do as well. My parents do too. There are lots of us.

We aren’t ‘cyclists’. We are people on bikes. We may be brave, but even the brave deserve to be able to get from home to work without the fear that one day they won’t make it.

With our leaders doing nothing to make us safer, Galway has been utterly left behind. It’s willful, it’s embarrassing, and it is ultimately unforgivable. But it’s not irretrievable. Change is possible, and with vision and leadership, it can happen quickly.

People on bikes aren’t going anywhere. Despite it all, there are more of us than ever, and as traffic worsens and fuel prices go up, there will be more still. We know the secret. Cycling is an efficient, quick and lovely way to travel. We just want to get where we’re going safely and free of fear and abuse. Our councillors and our executive have the power to change things.

The thing is that change is coming anyway. The only thing that’s up to them is when it happens. Will they act now? They have a duty of care to the people of Galway.

Gráinne Faller is a communications consultant and a former journalist. She lives in Galway with her family and likes using the bike instead of the car.

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Gráinne Faller

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