The Irish Pedestrian Network and Cyclist.ie call on the national government to provide safe, usable space across the country for people to shop, exercise and commute by walking and cycling during the Covid-19 crisis as a matter of urgency.
While current lock-down restrictions are in place until May 5th, the Minister for Health Simon Harris has stated that social distancing measures may stay in place to some degree until a coronavirus vaccine has been found. A substantial percentage of Irish people shop on foot or by cycling, and physical exercise is vitally important to both physical and mental health.
The Irish Pedestrian Network and Cyclist.ie propose that while motor traffic is reduced, space on streets must be reallocated to walking, running, cycling and playing to ensure safe social distancing within communities – a reallocation that is already taking place internationally.
Speaking for the Irish Pedestrian Network Ailish Drake says, “The New Zealand government has empowered local communities to create more social distancing space by providing 90% funding for new footpaths and widen existing ones, and to create pop-up bike lanes. These measures can be put in place in a matter of hours or a few days using paint, blocks or planters.”
Damien Ó Tuama spokesperson for Cyclist.ie, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network, says,
“Over sixty towns and cities worldwide, in recognition of this new reality, have quickly installed low-cost temporary measures by using cones to widen footpaths and repurposing full vehicle lanes to cycle lanes. Dublin has now joined Berlin, Washington DC and London in reallocating road space to ensure safer social distancing is possible. We want other councils to do the same.”
The Irish Pedestrian Network and Cyclist.ie welcome efforts by many local Councillors and TDs in seeking additional space for social distancing across Irish cities and in particular the progress made in Dublin where Dublin City Council will begin implementing emergency distancing measures from Monday 20th April.
The IPN and Cyclist.ie now call on the government to implement a nationwide program as follows:
1. Make social distancing easier for those walking or cycling to shops or essential work
2. Automated pedestrian crossings so people do not have to manually press signal buttons.
3. Introduction of a default speed limit of 30km/h on all urban and suburban streets
4. A proportionate reallocation of road space to pedestrians and cyclists, to make walking and cycling safer for those who are exercising within their 2km zone, especially those with prams or wheelchairs
5. Local authorities to prioritise temporary widening of footpaths, pop-up cycle lanes, quietways in cities and/or closing road lanes and specific streets to motor traffic (for example: by the temporary application of DMURS standards to existing streets)
6. New space to be allocated fairly and with consideration of universal needs across city centre, suburbs, towns and villages to avoid people ‘flocking’ to centralised areas
7. Dedicated teams in each local authority to enable local residents and interested groups to plan and design temporary footpaths and cycle lanes in their locality
8. Rapid implementation of said routes with a design strategy to clearly indicate new routes to users and motorists.
Orla Burke, spokesperson for Pedestrian Cork explains, “Families in Cork, denied the opportunity to drive to their favourite walking spots, are coming face-to-face with the poor provision for walking in their immediate neighbourhoods. Quick wins are available to our councils but this requires thoughtful leadership. This could be a time for simple yet effective improvements to facilitate walking. We call on our local authorities to rise to the challenge of Covid-19 make our streets safe for all.”
Anne Cronin of Cycle Bus Limerick added, “For children that live in the city or suburbs, jumping on their bike with a parent, is their only way to connect with a space outside of their home. Many children are forced to cycle on the road as opposed to the footpath and therefore are at risk without segregation. The increase in the numbers of children cycling in our city is remarkable at the moment and children should be protected and supported to remain doing so.”
Ailish Drake added that “these temporary actions in response to the Covid-19 emergency, would be strategic in creating a positive culture change to make our towns and cities more liveable and contributing to a much needed boost in footfall required to aid the economic recovery when we move beyond the current crisis. This is in line with current government policy for both urban and rural regeneration development funds (URDF & RRDF).”
The Irish Pedestrian Network is a national advocacy group working to deliver a public realm that is inclusive and ambitious for all. The Network has rapidly grown since its foundation in 2019, and now has affiliated groups in Dublin, Limerick and Cork. Twitter @IrishPedestrian
Maynooth Cycling Campaign is a member of Cyclist.ie, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network.