Galway Cycling Campaign leads a call to change the streetscape of Galway city to make it more conducive to social distancing over the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.

More than 80 people participated in an online meeting on Tuesday, organised by Galway Cycling Campaign when more than 100 ideas were generated to ‘Change Our Streets’.

More space and less speed are the two key principles to ‘Change Our Streets’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, expressed in an open letter last week to Galway City Council Executive Brendan McGrath and co-signed by over 220 organisations and individuals.

The alliance would like to start a creative conversation with the Council to make public spaces safer for people of all ages and all abilities to maintain the two metre social distance for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency this summer.

Molly Byrne, Professor of Health Psychology at NUI Galway, and member of the COVID-19 National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET ) Behavioural Change Subgroup said, “People’s environments need to enable them to change their behaviours to adhere to social distancing in the months ahead. Urban design is critical to this.

“Choices that the City Council makes can encourage these new behaviours we need to adapt in order to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Reallocating road space to people walking and cycling and reducing speed limits during the coronavirus pandemic are quick and cheap ways that Galway city can help keep people in good physical and mental health.”

Eighty people joined an online public information meeting, including city councillors Eddie Hoare (FG ), John Connolly (FF ) and Owen Hanley (SD ). County councillors Shelly Herterich Quinn (FF, Athenry ) and Alastair McKinstry (GP, Moycullen ) also attended, representing people from Galway’s commuter towns.

People suggested removing kissing gates, installing traffic calming measures, and turning rat-runs into local access roads only, among other specific ideas.

Family Cycle along Salthill’s Prom organised by Galway Urban Greenway Alliance

Kevin Jennings, chairperson of Galway Cycling Campaign said that city life will only begin to thrive again if people feel safe to keep social distance. “Small changes to streets and roads will help people feel confident to come into the city centre again. There’s lots of low-hanging fruit, such as pedestrianising areas like Raven’s Terrace, and using orca wands to protect pop-up cycle lanes as has been done in Dublin.”

Sean Leonard, PRO, Galway Urban Greenway Alliance, said he believes a temporary segregated cycle way along the Salthill Promenade is tantalisingly close. “The newly-erected, unsightly and dangerous barriers and cones along the Prom need to be replaced with planters and bollards. A three metre wide two- way cycle path would facilitate the many children and families in getting some much needed exercise whilst adhering to social distancing measures.”

Galway’s streets and roads are witnessing more small children learning to cycle and families cycling together for exercise and fun. Looking to the future and returning to school in September, Eric Heneghan, age 7, a pupil of St Patrick’s Primary School, told the meeting, “I’d like to have a safe cycle path from the Coolough Road, Menlo, so my sisters and I can cycle to school in the city.”

Speaking about the reduction in public transport capacity and concerns for older people, Martina Callanan of Galway Cycling Campaign said people travelling to work or into town by bus may switch to cycling because of reduced public transport capacity.

“The bus pass is an incredible source of freedom for older people, and now many will not feel comfortable using it. Footpaths need to be wide and smooth for all ages and all abilities. A five-year-old and a person ninety-five years young should be able to pass each other on the street without anxiety.”

Dr Brian McNicholl, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, Galway University Hospital (GUH ), said in advance of the meeting, “We have seen a significant drop in car crash attendances at the Emergency Department at GUH as there are less cars on the road. Cycling reduces the risk of interpersonal transmission of Covid-19 in cars and public transport. In the long term it reduces risk of heart attack, cancer and stroke.”

Residents of Galway are invited to contribute their specific ideas on how to make space and reduce speed on a publicly available crowdsourcing document on the Galway Cycling Campaign website at www.GalwayCycling.org Galway Cycling Campaign will make a representation to the Council Executive with the suggestions.

Co-signatories of the Open Letter include Galway Chamber, Westend Traders, Engineers Ireland west, RIAI west, Architecture on the Edge, Aerogen, Storm Technology, Edward Holdings, Knockacarra FC, Salthill Knockncarra GAA, many Scouts, Girl Guides and Brownies groups, residents associations stretching from Menlo across the city to Salthill, Galway City Community Network, and Galway City Partnership.

All five Galway West TDs have signed the Open Letter – Eamon Ó Cuív, Mairéad Farrell, Noel Grealish, Catherine Connolly and Hildegarde Naughton – as well as Min Ciaran Cannon and Anne Rabbitte TD in Galway East, NUI Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Rónán Mullen, Senator Pauline O’Reilly, Senator Gerard Craughwell, and councillors Eddie Hoare (FG), Clodagh Higgins (FG ), Frank Fahy (FG ), Níall McNelis (LP ), Owen Hanley (SD), Martina O’Connor (GP ), and Colette Connolly (Ind).