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Greenway chair: local councils need to co-ordinate their plans

NORMA PRENDIVILLE – normap@limerickleaderie

More than three decades after the Great Southern Trail Group was established, one of its founder members and current chairman, Liam O’Mahony has been invited to address the conference of the European Greenways Association on the issue of citizen involvement.

The conference, which takes place in Spain next week, has attracted participants from countries all over Europe including a speaker from the Department of Transport and Tourism who will outline the Irish strategy in developing Greenways.

Speaking to the Limerick Leader in advance of the conference, Mr O’Mahony said the building of an underpass to Barnagh Tunnel, currently underway, was to be welcomed.

The application by Kerry County Council for funds to develop two stretches of the old Great Southern railway line from the Limerick border to Listowel and from Tralee to Fenit was also a positive, he said.

But he questioned whether there was “joined-up” thinking between the Kerry and Limerick councils on the matter and argued that an opportunity was being missed to e develop a national greenway.

“It appears that both councils are working independently of each other” Mr O’Mahony said. “Kerry is not even using the Great e Southern tag in their two projects.

“Both councils have also failed to highlight that the railway route is 100km long,” he pointed out.

He is also concerned that the momentum that was injected when Limerick City and County Council took over management of the Limerick trail in 2016 has faded.

“A grand plan is one. Implementation is something else.”

And he has voiced concern that the Great Southern Trail group, is once again being sidelined. When the idea of a trail along the railway line was first raised, Shannon Development ignored the group and effectively “created the opposition among landowners”, he said. For ten years, Mr O’Mahony said, the trail group was “regarded as an undesirable element.”

But the group persisted in its plan, gradually doing stretches of the line and gained recognition. Now, Mr O’Mahony feels the group is again being ignored. “Now everybody seems to be consulted except us’ he said. “Anything suggested by us has been put on the long finger,” he said.

And he includes in this, a suggestion from the trail group to site artefacts of railway heritage along the route. These include old wagons, wheels etc. which could be adapted to new purposes but would serve as reminders of the past.

The group however, is particularly concerned about preserving the integrity of the line.

“When the GST Group was developing 40km of the old railway line in Limerick, it prevailed, despite trenchant opposition form some sources, in preserving the integrity of the route,” Mr O’Mahony said.

“It is a matter of much regret that in 2017, Limerick City and County Council failed to develop a stretch from Rathkeale to Ballingrane Junction due to local opposition. To compound this failure, there are indications the council is now contemplating a deviation from the already developed 40km Greenway to facilitate one individual.”

This is totally unacceptable to the Trail Group, he continued, and could set a precedent for further deviation in the yet to be developed stretches of the line.

“Our position is clear: State-owned railway routes are not up for grabs by private individuals.” he said.

How to get more women cycling in cities

To cut greenhouse gas emissions we need to increase cyclist numbers and that means getting more women on their bikes

So much of the world around us is designed for men; from the mundane (public toilets and smartphones) to the potentially deadly (stab vests and crash test dummies). My own research, recently launched at the C40 Women4Climate conference, revealed similar trends in how we design cities and formulate transport policy, with devastating consequences.

Transportation accounts for up to one-third of greenhouse gas emissions from the world’s biggest cities and traffic is the largest source of toxic air pollution. To create sustainable, healthy and liveable cities, we need to increase the number of cyclists on our streets, and that means getting more women on their bikes. In San Francisco, only 29% of cyclists are women; in Barcelona, there are three male cyclists for every female cyclist; in London, 37% of cyclists are female.

So what can cities do to get more women cycling?

Read article from the Guardian Bike Blog

Safer, rounder trucks to hit the roads next year

The introduction date for more aerodynamic, safer truck cabs on Europe’s roads will be brought forward to 1 September 2020, EU lawmakers agreed yesterday. The European federation of transport NGOs, Transport & Environment (T&E), welcomed the reform which will speed the roll-out of more rounded truck fronts that allow drivers to better see pedestrians and cyclists and improve fuel efficiency.

Under the changes agreed last night, truckmakers will be permitted an additional 80-90cm of cab length in return for improving the aerodynamics, vision, safety and driver comfort of the truck cab.

James Nix, T&E’s freight and climate director, said: “For decades EU law prohibited truckmakers from producing more streamlined, rounded cabs, holding back safety and aerodynamics. Today’s decision puts an end to this and paves the way for more fuel efficient and safer trucks to hit the road from next year, many years earlier than previously agreed.”

Today’s trucks account for 2% of vehicles on the road but 15% of fatalities, amounting to 4,000 deaths every year across Europe. Around 1,000 of these deaths are cyclists and pedestrians. Combined with other design changes, the reform will also enable emissions reductions and fuel savings of up to 10% from long-haul trucks.

On 21 February, legislators will decide on another key reform – the introduction of a ‘direct vision’ standard for new trucks in the General Safety Regulation – in a vote by the European Parliament’s internal market committee (IMCO). The standard is expected to set out the area surrounding a truck cab the driver must be able to see without using mirrors or cameras, thus improving safety for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

James Nix concluded: “The design change just agreed will help consign the brick-shaped cab to history. However, unlike for cars, there is still no minimum area of the road that truck drivers must be able to see directly. MEPs should now pass the direct vision standard which will go a step further in making Europe’s roads safer for all.”

T&E noted that the reform of truck cab design has taken place in less than nine months, showing that the EU can move speedily. The proposal was published as part of the mobility reform package in mid-May 2018.

Cork Rallies for Safer Cycling

Cork Cycling Campaign Rallies for Better Protection for Cyclists;
Corkonians Rally for Safe, Usable Cycle Lanes

People who support cycling held their first rally outside City Hall on 11 February this evening. The rally was organised by the Cork Cycling Campaign to highlight problems experienced in the city, particularly vehicles stopping or parking in dedicated cycle lanes. The rally called for measures to make the city’s cycle lanes fit for purpose and safe for cycling.

The rally coincided with motions from Cllr Fiona Ryan (Solidarity Party) before the city council to install protective barriers in places where parking in cycle lanes is a persistent problem. These include South Main Street, Washington Street, and Alfred Street. Barriers are already routinely used across the city and have been installed between vehicular traffic lanes on Washington Street as recently as last month.

Cork Cycling Campaign pointed out that the rally shows how strongly people who cycle feel about vehicles parked in cycle lanes. First and foremost, this practise threatens the safety of people cycling. When drivers park cars or vans in cycle lanes, cyclists must swerve into another traffic lane and mix with fast, heavy vehicles. This poses a grave danger for unprotected road users. Such manoeuvres intimidate many people, especially children and inexperienced cyclists. Safeguarding cycle lanes is also a matter of mutual respect between different road users. Parking in cycle lanes disregards the needs of other road users, including buses which must wait for a break in traffic to manoeuvre around a parked car.

Full Press Release

Submissions to Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

The recent IPCC report clearly spells out the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C. To minimise environmental damage and fines arising from the failure to meet Ireland’s climate change targets, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport must adopt much more ambitious climate actions than currently outlined

In Ireland’s draft EU mandated National Energy and Climate Plan there’s a failure to acknowledge the contribution that cycling can make in this regard.

See below for reports

Cyclist.ie submission and An Taisce submission

Cork Council gives go ahead for plans for Greenway route

A Greenway route for Co. Cork is a step closer after councillors gave the go ahead to outline planning permission for the 23km route

Business and tourism interests in Midleton and Youghal along Ireland’s ‘Ancient East’ have welcomed the unanimous vote which now allows the council to formalise the leasing of the railway line from Iarnród Éireann

It is estimated the initial cost of the project will be €19.1m

Read article

Erasmus + Project: Sustainable Mobility, Sustainable Community

A Volunteer from the Cyclist.ie network is sought to participate in a week-long study visit / series of workshops and kick-off meetings in Corella in Northern Spain in March 2019. Flights, accommodation and basic expenses will be paid for.

Biciclistas de Corella (Spain), Green Schools/Cyclist.ie – the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network, and Frie Fugle (Denmark) have collaborated with a youth association (LAG Suduva, Lithuania) and Alhama High School (Spain) to devise a project (entitled Sustainable Mobility, Sustainable Community) that combines social inclusion, intergenerational relationships, community building and sustainable mobility.

The project is all about sharing good examples of sustainable mobility and cycling promotion, and to provide positive cultural exchange experiences for secondary school students and cycle campaigners. The project involves study visits to Corella in Spain (26-31 March inclusive), Copenhagen (in May 2019, TBC), Dublin (in June 2019 to tie in with the Velo-city cycling conference) and Lithuania (meeting date to be confirmed).

More information on the project and study trip to Spain can be read here

Oisín Coghlan: Let’s make 2019 the year we act on climate for a healthier future

Politicians and the public are paying attention to climate change like never before. We have the opportunity to make 2019 the year Ireland finally takes climate action seriously.

A special all-party Oireachtas committee is considering the far-reaching but practical recommendations from the Citizens’ Assembly and will report at the end of January. The new minister, Richard Bruton, is promising a new all-of-Government climate action plan, modelled on the Action Plan for Jobs, that will lead to “a revolution in how we live”. So what should be in it?

A Just Transition Task Force

We have known for 20 years we have to stop burning coal and peat for electricity. We need a Just Transition Task Force now, with representatives from the unions, the ESB and Bord Na Móna, all the State agencies, NGOs like Irish Rural Link and local community development representatives. It needs the resources and authority to support affected workers, and their families and communities, to find new jobs and plan for a sustainable future for their region.

Moneypoint is closed now and has been for months, due to a fault. The lights are still on, proving we don’t need to burn coal even during peak winter demand. Serious consideration should be given to leaving Moneypoint offline. Coal provided just 12pc of our electricity in 2017 but more than 25pc of our climate pollution from electricity.

Peat is even worse, providing just 7pc of our electricity but producing 20pc of our pollution. We’ve been subsidising it to the tune of more than €100m a year. That direct subsidy ends in 2019, but Bord na Móna wants to keep burning peat for another 10 years, by co-firing its power plants with wood. We should wstop burning peat in 2020 and use the subsidies we save to support the affected workers and communities.

A payment for small-scale solar generation

Every school should have solar panels on their roofs, generating electricity and income. So should parish halls, sports clubs and farm buildings. It’s happening across Europe but doesn’t happen here because you have to give away power you don’t use to the ESB for free. Ireland does community-scale well, from Tidy Towns to GAA. We know there’s huge enthusiasm for community energy. We need to unlock that potential with a rooftop revolution that puts citizens at the heart of the energy transition.

An SSIA scheme for insulation, and a Tipperary Energy Agency for every county

We need to upgrade at least 100,000 homes a year between now and 2030. Houesholders are going to have to invest themselves, but the State has to make it attractive and simple. Something like the old SSIA scheme, for every €4 you invest in retrofitting your home, the State gives you €1.

But it’s not just a financial challenge, householders also need project management support to figure out what they need to get done and what contractor to trust to do it and at what price. The Tipperary Energy Agency has built up an unrivalled capability and reputation for doing that well in a way that appeals to people. We need to scale up the same capacity in every county in Ireland.

Transport is the area our pollution has risen fastest. We should implement the very simple Citizens’ Assembly recommendation that one-third of the transport budget should go on roads and two-thirds should go on public transport, cycling and walking, reversing the current ratio. We should implement the UN recommendation that 20pc of the budget should go on cycling and walking (less than 2pc does now), as that also tackles obesity and promotes healthy lifestyles.

These are two simple but essential policy tools we lack. The new climate and energy plan should come with two five-year carbon budgets, voted on by the Dáil. That’s simply the total amount of pollution Ireland will emit from 2021-2025 and 2026-2030.

Departments then negotiate within that for their share of the pie, just like the fiscal budget. At the moment there’s nothing to translate national targets into departmental discipline. Moreover, no Government policy that might affect our emissions should be adopted by Cabinet in the dark. It should run the numbers and estimate how much emissions will go up or down. That assessment should be in front of Cabinet when it makes the decision, and it should be published when it announces it.

A cheque in the post

We are going to need to increase the price on carbon, in line with the polluter pays principle. It will give a steady signal that every time we have a choice, choosing the less polluting option will save us money, as will investing in energy saving.

There are a number of ways to do carbon tax, but in an era when trust in politicians is low I favour the simplest, most transparent model, called “tax and dividend”, where 100pc of the tax revenue is given straight back as an equal flat lump sum to every man, woman and child in Ireland.

On average, poorer households spend less than richer households on polluting goods so the tax is a cash transfer from rich to poor. We all still face a price signal, polluting products get more and more expensive, but as we make the transition we protect those most vulnerable and those for whom less polluting choices are not readily available. So, in Budget 2020 the Dáil should vote for a €20 increase in the carbon tax and for a €5 increase every year after that. On January 1, 2020, we should all get our first carbon dividend cheque.

In Al Gore’s film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, he worried we would go from denial to despair without stopping in the middle for action. That is the choice we face right now. But it’s an easy choice: who wouldn’t want a warmer home with lower bills, better public transport and healthier lifestyles, and a chance for your community to own the energy that will power the future? Oh, plus a decent shot at containing climate change enough to protect that future.

Let’s make 2019 the year we finally step up, and set off on a safer, healthier path.

Oisín Coghlan is director of Friends of the Earth, a member of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition