Limerick, by and large, does not suffer from the same traffic problems as other cities in Ireland so it might seem unusual to say we should make a serious and dedicated effort to transition from driving cars to cycling as the main form of access to the city. The problem is we tend to think only as traffic as a problem if it involves traffics jams. Limerick has a traffic problem in that too many cars pass through the city centre. The issue is that cars are removed from the environment they traverse. A driver doesn’t have the same interaction either the street they drive down, or the city they drive through, that a pedestrian or a cyclist has. The effect of having two lanes of traffic as our main street causes Limerick city centre to be noisier, more polluted and less pleasant than it should be.
The word boulevard comes from the era when the defensive walls surrounding European cities were removed and replaced with wide streets where the walls had stood. It shows, in a minor way, how cities adjust over time. O’Connell street is currently a one-way dual carriageway running through and dividing the city centre when it could be pleasant boulevard. Most major cities are planning for a car-free or car-shared future (where people no longer own cars but rent them as necessary). Limerick is a long way from this point, or even needing to engage with this point, but Limerick city centre remains strangled by the unconscious effects that cars have on our streets. How we choose to develop O’Connell street will impact of the pleasantness of the city centre for the next twenty years.
For Limerick city centre to be a more pleasant place we need to find a way to remove or reduce the number cars that share our civic spaces. While certain road lay-outs and pedestrianisation attempts will make this inevitable, we should try to incentivise people to cycle by making cycling more pleasant rather than just by making driving unpleasant. There will always be a need for some cars to access the city centre, but it should not be the default mode of transport into the city centre, or at least, should not be the default mode of transport for distances that could be walked or cycled. Very often cycling or driving are presented as either/or options. In Limerick we have wide enough roads, and numerous distinct access points that allows cyclists and drivers share the road space. We should encourage people to cycle if that’s what they want to do and make it safe so that that they are able to do so.
How do we make Limerick city a more attractive city to cycle in? By rights, weather aside, there’s very little reason for Limerick not to be a more cycle friendly city. Unlike other cities in Ireland, we have straight, wide roads which should facilitate cycling. The city isn’t particularly hilly, our suburbs don’t extend too far outside the city. Even villages such as Cratloe or Patrickswell are theorically within easy cycling distance. A reasonably fit person would cycle 10 kilometres in 30 minutes or less.
The following table shows the distances involved in cycling to the GPO on Cecil street from various outlying suburbs. Only Patrickswell and Cratloe come anywhere close to the sort of distance that would probably start to discourage the casual cyclist.
|Suburb||Distance to GPO, Cecil Street (km’s)|
However, what the other areas lack is safe cycle routes into the city centre, and any discussion has to call for increased investment in safe cycle paths for cyclists to use. The cycle path to UL and the bike scheme in the city has led to more cyclists around the city, showing that people will avail of facilities if they are provided. The Dock road, Clare street and Musgrave street, in particular have poor cyclist facilities for what are a main access points to the city. The recent facility upgrades by the Condell road through Westfield park should be replicated on the Dock road.
Even if we had the infrastructure to allow people cycle safely into the city centre, would they feel safe in parking their bike anywhere in the city? Limerick smarter travel have set up safer bike locking stations in certain car parks around the city but these stations do not have continuous monitoring and are often in parts of the car parks where it’s possible to access the bikes without being seen by CCTV or staff.
A far more effective solution, albeit one that would be more expensive, would be to establish a monitored bike-only lock up in the city. This lock up would have one entrance and one exit, which would be monitored while the facility was open. Users would be given a barcode which they would later require to remove their bike from the lock up. Once inside the lock-up, users should also use their own locks to secure the bikes.
Apart from the cost of having this facility monitored, the equipment needed to maintain such a lock up would be pretty rudimentary. The cut de sac road by the old goods access point to Dunnes stores beside Sarsfield bridge would be an ideal temporary location for such a facility, it is central, it has good access points from Henry street via either Quinn street or the quays. It could effectively be utilised without disrupting the traffic in the city in a meaningful way. It is a straightforward way to making cycling into the city a more pleasant experience. People respond to incentives, if a cyclist could be absolutely certain their bike was safe while they were in the city centre, it is likely that more people would cycle. At the very least a trial run could be arranged to determine the feasibility of a more permanent facility.
If this concept was successful, it should, and ideally would, be utilised out by the Gaelic Grounds, Thomond Park and the Market’s Field on match days to ensure people who wished to cycle to the game had a secure place near the stadium to leave their bikes. People already walk to these games in significant numbers, having parked their cars in city centre car parks. This initiative would be an attempt to add another option for people who wish to cycle to games, it would not be an attempt to dis-incentivise people who wish to drive to games.
In addition to this rather simple proposition, the city bike scheme should be expanded out to UL and LIT as soon as possible, and bike stands should be built near popular destinations such as the above stadia, and Dolan’s gig venue and expanded out into the near-lying suburbs. Anyone who wishes to have access to the bike scheme should be able to avail of it, at least within the confines of the Caherdavin, Corbally, Casteltroy and Raheen area.
Limerick has a distance to travel before it could be considered a bike friendly city, but it has the fundamental attributes to make the transition relatively quickly, if the political will is there to achieve it.