Change Our Streets: an Open Letter to Galway City Council

Cycling advocates have written an Open Letter to Galway City Council offering ideas to begin a creative conversation to ‘Change Our Streets’ to quickly and cheaply make public spaces safer for all ages and abilities for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency.

Download the ‘Change Our Streets’ Open Letter to Galway City Council here (PDF).

Nearly 200 organisations and individuals have co-signed the Open Letter, including Galway Chamber, Westend Traders, hospital consultants, Engineers Ireland west region, Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland west region, and residents associations.  All five Galway West TDs have co-signed the Open Letter, as well as councillors and Senators.

This broad city-wide alliance, led by Galway Cycling Campaign, suggests many ways Galway City can be inspired by Milan’s Open Street scheme, where 35 km of road space will be reallocated to people walking and cycling. In addition, the city at the heart of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak will cut the speed limit to 30 km/h to reduce risk of road traffic collisions and make public spaces more pleasant for people walking. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most significant public health threat many of us will experience. The advocates for cycling point out that many local authorities have already taken action, such as the installation of a new contra-flow cycling lane in Dublin’s Nassau Street, car-free zones by Fingal County Council, and the pedestrianisation of Cork’s Marina. 

Kevin Jennings, chairperson of Galway Cycling Campaign outlined, 

In the absence of a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19, city life will only begin to thrive again if people feel safe to keep social distance. This is important for cocooners going for a stroll, parents with buggies, walking to the pharmacy, and anyone queuing for a coffee or outside a local shop. There is a narrow window of opportunity to ‘Change Our Streets’ while motorised traffic is at a lifetime low. We have high hopes for the ambition and action of Galway City.

Molly Byrne, Professor of 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.”

Martina Callanan, spokesperson for Galway Cycling Campaign added,

We have a unique opportunity to pilot new street arrangements, widen footpaths, and install temporary cycle lanes. These can be quick and cheap to do by using cones and planters. About 5,000 people use public transport in Galway. With the capacity less than 25% due to social distancing requirements, nearly 4,000 people will need an alternative way to move about the city. With almost 600,000 people on COVID-19 unemployment benefit, the humble bicycle offers an affordable transport option to many who may never have considered it since childhood. Together, we can trial low-cost car-free ideas that have worked elsewhere and ‘Change Our Streets’ in the city centre and residential areas for the duration of the pandemic.”

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, said, “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.”

Commenting on reduced road congestion, Dr Brian McNicholl, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, Galway University Hospital (GUH), said,

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.”

Racing cyclist Paralympian, World Champion medallist, and civil engineer Eoghan Clifford added that ‘Change Our Streets’ will have significant benefits for people with disabilities, mobility issues, and older people.

Poor transport and urban planning limits people with disabilities significantly. While still fit and able to walk with aids, I make decisions on moving around the city based on trying to avoid poor or narrow footpaths which can cause – have caused – me to fall or lose balance. I know of someone who needs to use an electric wheelchair and is frequently pushed onto the roads by cars parked on footpaths”.

Restaurants, cafés, and bars have already called for more car-free areas. Jp Mcmahon of ANIAR Restaurant and Tartare Café and Wine Bar, said,

Restaurants, cafés and bars need more street space so people can ‘eat-on-the street’ and enjoy outdoor dining this summer while social distancing. Making more space to help restaurants and cafes to survive is paramount if we are to get through this pandemic together.

Martin Roundabout Upgrade

Here’s our submission on the Martin Roundabout (Galway Clinic Roundabout) Upgrade Statutory Public Consultation which took place in Summer 2019. This project has been funded by the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund – over €2m. of tax-payer’s money, so we want to be sure it achieves its stated goals of “provision of public transport priority measures, provision of cycling facilities and associated pedestrian enhancements and traffic calming measures.

In short, while removal of the roundabout was a positive step, given the nature of the motor traffic volume and speed at this location, the initial proposals need to be improved quite a lot to make this a cycling and walking friendly junction. There is also huge potential to provide and link with cycling and walking facilities in the periphery of the junction as part of these works, but this seems to have been overlooked.

We’re awaiting the details of the next design stage and will hope to input on further designs details as they emerge.


September 2016: GCC and Cosain make joint submission on proposed Garda code of ethics.







In August the Policing Authority published a draft Code of Ethics for the Garda Síochána and opened a public consultation. Under the Garda Síochana Act the Authority must put together a Code of Ethics for the Garda Síochána that includes standards of conduct and practice for Garda members and encourages and facilitates the reporting of wrongdoing in the Garda Síochána.

In preparing this Code the Authority’s considerations include: standards in other EU states, the relevant recommendations of the Council of Europe, and the policing principles. The policing principles state that policing services are to be provided:

(i) independently and impartially
(ii) in a manner that respects human rights
(iii) in a manner that supports the proper and effective administration of justice.

For vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians, policing is fundamental to the risks we face and to the sense of threat that many of us experience in using the roads on a daily basis.

As a result, walking lobby group Cosain (Community Road Safety Action & Information Network) and the Galway Cycling Campaign made a joint submission on the draft Code of Ethics. Drafted at short notice, the submission dealt with four main issues:

  • Perceived tolerance among higher Garda management for violent conduct in the shared public roads environment.
  • Child safety.
  • The role of the Garda Síochana: Are they a police force or primarily agents of economic activity?
  • The role of the courts.

The introduction to the draft code of ethics envisages that the Garda Síochána have a role “in protecting the vulnerable and promoting a safe and peaceful society”. Definitions of “peaceful” include “not involving war or violence”. Definitions of “violence” include “intimidation by the exhibition of force” and “unlawful exercise of physical force”.

If “peace” or “peacefulness” implies an absence of intimidation by exhibitions of unlawful force, then, from the perspective of vulnerable road users, the current Garda Síochána have manifestly failed in the way they police public roads infrastructure. In our submission we draw on the recent penalty points scandals and the ongoing speed camera scandal as creating a perception of a current Garda management culture that tolerates and approves of behaviours that put many in fear for their lives.

On child safety the submission points out that, unlike other countries in Europe, the Irish State seems not to recognize a duty of care towards children using public roads. Nor does Irish law impose a specific duty of care by adults towards children. In German traffic law, for example, if a driver encounters a child, older person or person with a disability, then that driver has a duty to moderate their speed and be prepared to stop if necessary. There is no such law in Ireland.

The submission points out that the state imposes a duty on children to attend school but does not appear to recognise a duty towards children travelling to or from school. Indeed, the opposite is the case: the state’s efforts seem concentrated on trying to create a “duty” among children towards adult motorists rather than the other way around. This official attitude to child safety has resulted in one of the highest rates of child pedestrian death in Europe, followed by restrictions in child mobility and large falls in walking and cycling to school. The submission asks if the current draft code of ethics would support Gardai who try to protect child road users at the expense of the perceived convenience of adult motorists. We also ask if the draft code creates an explicit duty on Gardai to protect children from threatening adult behaviours. Finally, we ask if the code vindicates the right of children to go about their lawful daily business and places a specific duty on Gardai to uphold that right.

We then explore the role of the Gardai in their activities concerning road traffic. There is an impression that some members of the force see themselves as agents of economic activity first and see providing a police service as a secondary role. Evidence for this is provided in the widespread and persistent blocking of footpaths and cycle tracks by parked or stationary vehicles. There is a well-founded impression among observers that the Gardai tacitly approve of such behaviour on the basis that preferentially blocking cyclists and pedestrians is better than impeding “traffic flow”. It can appear that the Gardai treat movements of motor vehicles as a proxy for economic activity, and treat movements on foot or by bike as having no economic value. The state already has other agencies that exist to further the interests of commerce. Is furthering commerce also a specific and primary function of the Gardai? If the answer is no, and if the Gardai are a police service first, then the code of ethics must protect individual Gardai in providing a police service.

Finally, we raise the issue that the problem might also lie with the courts. Gardai may be discouraged from protecting the public because they perceive that their efforts will be treated poorly by the courts. Does the draft code of ethics empower Gardai to speak out if they are being undermined by the judiciary?

GCC/Cosain Submission