School Park and Stride graded D for effort

The Park and Stride initiative by Galway City Council in partnership with An Taisce-Green Schools is welcomed by the Galway Cycling Campaign and Galway Cycle Bus, yet they warn that this is only a baby step in creating safe routes to school for thousands of children across the city. 

A School Street was launched in Malahide in the autumn of 2019. Photo:- Fingal County Council

More radical measures are needed to ease front of school congestion and create space for social distancing, including vehicle-free entrance for children walking and cycling, discouraging or preventing illegal parking, widening footpaths, and providing new pedestrian crossings and cycleways. 

All of these travel measures are in the An Taisce-Green Schools ‘Safe to School: An Ideas Document for Safe Access to Schools’, which presents ideas for responding to school gate congestion and social distancing requirements since the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘Responding to School Gate Congestion: eight measures to tacking front of school congestion’ in Safe to School (July 2020) by An Taisce-Green Schools

The government’s July Stimulus provides funding from the National Transport Authority (NTA) to Local Authorities to widen footpaths, provide pedestrian crossings and cycleways, and other Covid-19 related works.

In addition to enabling active travel, such road works would boost business for local construction companies and contractors.

Park and Stride

Though Park and Stride is one suggested measure, it has a number of downsides, including creating extra administration for schools, not enabling a switch to active travel from children’s front doors, and lacking objective measures of success. It is widely accepted that Park and Stride to school schemes are better suited to rural or semi-rural areas, rather than our city centres and suburbs.

School Streets

The Galway Cycle Bus has long advocated for School Streets. “A School Street is a road outside a school with a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times,” explains Neasa Bheilbigh, a primary school teacher and co-organiser of the Galway School Cycle Bus.

“Local authorities have powers to use traffic management orders to turn a street into a pedestrian and cycle zone, or School Street, for specific times during the school drop and collection. A trial in Malahide last autumn was a terrific success and championed by then Mayor of Fingal, Cllr. Eoghan O’Brien of Fianna Fáil. It made the school run safer – and that was before coronavirus.”

Park and Stride to school schemes do not tackle illegal parking on footpaths or create vehicle-free entrances to schools. Photo:- Cosáin, March 2016, outside the Jes primary school on Raleigh Row, Galway

Ms Bheilbigh voices concerns with the new initiative.

“Park and Stride only encourages people driving cars to park elsewhere within a 10 minute walk of the school. People driving cars can still park up at the school door. It does not compel a behaviour change like School Streets, which restricts vehicle access to schools. Schools have no jurisdiction outside their school gates and so have no power to enforce Park and Stride, or illegal parking on footpaths and double yellow lines.” 

“Furthermore, we do not have plans from the council to provide protection from traffic, or more space for social distancing, outside school grounds,” she continues. “This is vital for families who have multiple start times due to staggering of school hours.”

A School Street outside St Oliver Plunkett primary school in Malahide, Co Dublin, temporarily restricts vehicle access to the school gate during drop off and pick up hours. Photo:- Fingal County Council

Secondary schools

“Child-centred schools begin on the school drop,” says Alan Curran of Galway School Cycle Bus, who is also a teacher at Coláiste Éinde on Threadneedle Road, Salthill. “Walking and cycling has to be a convenient and safe option.”

Bike parking at schools

He continues, “My concern as a second level teacher is the mixed messages about cycling and the impact on bike parking. While all the Covid-19 guidance is about encouraging children to walk or cycle where possible, schools cannot allow students to gather in groups.”

“Up to 80 teenagers cycle per day here at St Enda’s secondary school. We need guidance and funds to make safe and socially-distant bike parking. Some schools have re-allocated bike sheds to create additional classrooms, and so need a completely new provision of bike stands.”

Cycle lanes on school routes

Covered bike stands at Coláiste Éinde are full every day. Schools are seeking guidance to maximise the provision of bike parking while also discouraging students to gather in groups. Photo: Galway Cycle Bus

“Temporary pop up cycle lanes on the access roads to schools should have been a priority for the city council prior to schools reopening from next Thursday,” says Kevin Jennings, chairperson of Galway Cycling Campaign and lecturer at NUI Galway.

“To facilitate safe cycling routes to schools, Dublin City Council is installing a 3.5km segregated cycle lane along Griffith Avenue. This will act as a ‘spine’ to local schools and DCU.

A similar 3.5km school route in Galway would stretch from Coláiste Éinde and Salerno in Salthill to city centre schools like The Bish, Our Lady’s College, and St Patrick’s, Mercy, and St Nicholas’ primary schools via a plethora of schools such as Scoil Éinde, Scoil Róis, Dominican College, Scoil Fhursa, St Mary’s College, and the Jes primary and secondary schools.

“There’s still time to create temporary cycle lanes en route to NUI Galway and GMIT,” he says. “Higher education institutions are busy planning some form of on-campus learning experience, which will be vital for incoming first year students. We need to protect their mental health, provide quality education, and create a community for them. Cycling is fun, sociable while appropriately distant, healthy, and smart in a university city.”

A 3.7km cycle route from Threadneedle Road to Woodquay could act as a ‘spine’ for school children to access seven secondary schools and nine primary schools.

“Tweaks to pre-covid public realm and transport plans are not fit for purpose for our needs this autumn-winter,” concluded Mr Jennings. “One third of this city’s population goes to school at all levels as students or workers. We need better and safer routes to school.”

Bikes boost businesses and back re-opening Galway

Galway Cycling Campaign is backing local businesses as Galway city knuckles down to kick-start the economy again.

Ravens Terrace, Galway’s Westend

The movement to ‘Change Our Streets’ is moving up a gear to make Galway city more family friendly, as Covid-19 movement restrictions begin to ease. Chairperson Kevin Jennings welcomed the publication of the City Council’s mobility plan, and sent a letter to the City Mobility Team on Monday to wish them every success.

He said he is delighted that the two principles of our ‘Change Our Streets’ initiative for More Space and Less Speed are at the heart of our city’s plans to get Galway moving and thriving again.

People on bikes spend 40% more in shops

Transport for London research, 2018

He pointed out that Galway Chamber and Westend Traders are two of the business supporters that recognise the value of people cycling.

“Customers using their bike to go shopping is good for business. People on bikes spend 40% more in shops than people driving, according to 2018 research from Transport for London (TfL).”

Open up streets for people on bikes and people walking through ‘Share With Care’ (‘Roinn le Cúram’ ) zones

Martina Callanan, spokesperson for Galway Cycling Campaign, said, “Research shows that people on bikes tend to shop local and are loyal to local traders. The social media hashtag #ShopByBike shows people doing their weekly shop and cycling home again. We have seen baskets and panniers packed with nappies, spuds, and all the usual items.”

Cycle parking outside shops helps keep shopfronts visible. Having a bike stand outside means space for potentially ten customers right outside the door. Per square metre, cycle parking delivers five times higher retail spend than the same area of car parking, according to European research.

Galway Cycling Campaign says that the city centre could open up streets for people on bikes and people walking through ‘Share With Care’ (‘Roinn le Cúram’ ) zones. Dublin City Council installed its first ‘Share With Care’ zone last autumn and cities like Norwich in the UK have used ‘Share With Care’ to revitalise their city centres.

“‘Share With Care’ gives priority to people walking and cycling. We can design our city to make it easier and safer for people of all ages and all abilities to come into town to shop, to eat, to visit a church, and do everyday business,” Ms Callanan said.

Campaign welcome Bike Share scheme but lament lack of vision

Galway Cycling Campaign has welcomed the launch of the city Bike Share scheme (Coca-Cola Zero Bikes) but has criticised City Hall for failing to maximise on the potential benefits of the milestone event.

As highlighted by the recent online petition by An Mheitheal Rothar, which has over 650 signatures to date, Galway Cycling Campaign has expressed its disappointment with the decision to remove current bike parking facilities in order to make way for the new Coca-Cola Zero docking stations. “Galway is significantly underserved in terms of bike parking facilities and the removal of already limited bike parking is a regretful decision by City Hall. Bike parking and docking stations for the Bike Share scheme can and should exist side by side”, explained Oisin O’ Nidh, Campaign PRO. The Campaign has estimated that 50 parking spaces have been removed in the city centre during the recent installation works.

Mainguard Street bike parking removed to make way for Docking Station

The Coca-Cola Zero Bikes launched on Monday with many unfinished docking stations and two fewer stations than originally planned. The station at Forster Street is to be installed in 2015 under the Fair Green Road Scheme but the planned station on University Road will no longer go ahead. City Hall, in a last minute U-turn, decided to remove one of the three largest docking stations from the entire scheme due to concerns over loss of car parking. “The decision to completely remove a station capable of holding up to 30 bicycles, one of only three of that size, seems to indicate the current priorities of City Hall. UHG and NUIG have lost their primary docking station link to the city centre even before roll out”, said Robert Mc Kenny, Campaign Chair.

The issue of one-way streets has also been highlighted by the local advocacy group. The Jacobs Report, which was the initial feasibility study for the Bike Share Scheme, described Galway as being ‘awkward to navigate by bike’ and recommended providing two-way cycling on one-way streets. The Campaign is quick to point out that this recommendation has not been implemented, “Two-way cycling on one-way streets has been in the City Development Plan for a decade now and The Jacobs Report stressed the importance of this in its Executive Summary. One-way streets lead to long detours for cyclists and we need to do everything we can to make the new Coca-Cola Zero Bikes scheme successful. City Hall have the power to do this”, said Mr. Mc Kenny

A Touch of Green Amid the Asphalt

Last Sunday 11 April, to celebrate World Health Day 2010 and Galway City Council’s decision to close Cross St. and Middle St. to motorised traffic for the afternoon, the Galway Cycling Campaign converted a small section of the road — the size of a single car — into a miniature public park for the people of Galway. It was the second time we created this mini-park in the city.

By temporarily constructing Galway’s newest park, our aim is to creatively explore how urban public space is allocated and used. Inexpensive kerb-side parking results in more motor traffic and less space in our city centre. This in turn hinders the movement of pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles; it adds to the level of CO2 emissions; and it obstructs the creation of a healthy, vibrant human habitat for Galway. We are re-imagining the possibilities of the city landscape.

Our re-interpretation of road space demonstrates that even temporary spatial redesign can improve the character of Galway City. We were also lucky to have a beautiful sunny afternoon. Many curious passers-by stopped to chat, to sample our delicious bicycle biscuits, to sign up to our mailing lists, to read our educational signs and our new Cycling Skills leaflets, and simply to watch the world go by from an unexpected green patch on the road.

We would like to thank Galway City Council for closing Cross St. and Middle St. to traffic for the afternoon, and we’re especially grateful to everyone who stopped and said hello. We’re already looking forward to the next outing of our mini public park!