The High Court on Friday has upheld a legal challenge to works proceeding on a cycling infrastructure trial on the Strand Road in South Dublin, RTÉ News is reporting. The proposed works would have restricted cars and other motorised traffic to a single lane outbound coming out of the city, with the space created as a result being used to implement a 2 way segregated cycle lane. This scheme would have been initially put in place as part of a 6 month trial.
A local resident and Dublin City Councillor Mannix Flynn had launched the judicial review against the cycle track. DCC had argued in their submission that this trial did not require permission from An Bórd Pleanala due to the nature of the development. They also argued that work could be carried out under their existing traffic calming measures.
The High Court had ultimately made the finding that the scheme required Environmental Impact Assessments and Appropriate Assessment, therefore the development was subject to planning laws. It was found by the high court that screening reports which found the need for either elements unnecessary prepared were fundamentally flawed.
There are a number of points to be made in regards to all of the above.
- Local democracy is important.
The communication of this proposed scheme is evidently substandard. It could be argued that the consultation and pre-consultation communication of this scheme were less than satisfactory. Perhaps greater engagement and explanation to local representatives and residents of the facts surrounding these plans might have resulted in a much better outcome.
Indeed, one of the points made by the High Court was that DCC almost seemed indifferent to the impacts of those in the immediate vicinity of the proposed scheme.
- The consultation system needs tweaking
Looking at similar trials and schemes put in place in the nearby Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Local Authority area shows that where these schemes are implemented and communicated in an effective manner, the positive benefits can be immense.
Since the implementation of the Coastal Mobility Route from Blackrock to Sandycove, the numbers of cyclists using that route have been enormous. Data tells us that there has not been an exceptional impact on traffic surrounding these areas also. The urban villages and towns connected by the scheme have received a breath of new life.
It should be noted that a hybrid system of ongoing consultation and use of trial measures were implemented here. It is very possible that such measures would not have been permitted in non Covid times.
However, if the data continues to show huge positive benefits to the local areas perhaps there is room to introduce a more responsive consultation and planning process for such improvements as the standard and not the exception.
- Active Mobility Initiatives do have support
While this scheme was opposed by a number of organisations and people, there is more support always building on a more global level for these active mobility interventions. Indeed, in spite of the opposition to the Strand Road Scheme, almost 3,000 people signed a petition asking for the scheme to proceed. There are now as many pressure groups in favour of such initiatives as there are against specific developments.
As well as this, those who opposed the Strand Road scheme, to their credit, accept that cycling infrastructure is needed as part of the solution to transport problems in Dublin and have gone as far as proposing an alternative route and proposal which DCC is engaging with them on.
There is a huge challenge to face in terms of how Ireland plans its urban areas in the future. There are obligations to be met in terms of reducing carbon footprint and a large part of that will involve shifting modes of transport from the car to public transport and active mobility.
Local authorities have shown themselves to be willing to take risks by taking action rapidly to address issues in their areas. However, some councils have been better at consultation than others.
It will require a re-imagining of our planning system by policy makers to allow local authorities to do what they are capable of in terms of rapid the rollout of infrastructure on a trial basis followed by refinement of designs and solutions on an ongoing basis. Work needs to be done to ensure that local democracy as a cornerstone of a free country is not lost in all of this. It won’t be easy but the role of the local councillor in the decision making process needs to be secured in all of this work.