Saša Novak Uí Chonchúir

Green Party Councillor for Limerick City North

Candidate in Local Elections on 7th June

South Circular Road – a week later (and none the wiser)

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Image by a Twitter user of one of the most narrow stretches on South Circular Road where parking will be retained following Daniel Butler’s amendment.

The ‘active travel’ scheme for the South Circular Road proposed by Councillor Daniel Butler of Fine Gael and supported by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil councillors (with the exception of Councillor James Collins) includes the following elements: 

  • Electronic retractable bollards will be installed across the South Circular Road preventing vehicular traffic going down it. The only exceptions will be for people with a key fob or electronic tag to activate the retractable bollards, and it is understood that these will be issued to local residents only. It is not clear at this stage how exactly or by whom the system will be managed.
  • There will be no vehicular access from Summerville Avenue onto the South Circular Road, assuming that the residents of Summerville Avenue are not given key fobs for the retractable bollards.
  • Laurel Hill and St. Clements schools and the Redemptorists Church will only be accessed by vehicles via Quin Street.  
  • On-street parking will be removed from the section between the Redemptorists Church and St. Alphonsus Street. (Note: this was in the original proposal by the Council Executive. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil* and Sinn Féin councillors did not put forward any change to this)
  • It is almost certain that footpaths between Mary Immaculate College and the Redemptorist’s Church will be narrow and considerably below the minimum widths set out in the design guidelines so as to facilitate car parking on this stretch of the route. 

The above scheme is a lot more complicated than the original that was put before councillors and has more restrictions for local residents, and is sub-standard for pedestrians in places. 

It was not supported by the Green Party, the Labour Party, the Social Democrats and Councillors James Collins and Fergus Kilcoyne. On the day of the vote (Monday 20th February) these councillors asked for more time to consider the changes being proposed by Councillor Daniel Butler of Fine Gael. It was not clear what was being proposed and what the implications would be. The Cathaoirleach of the Council, Councillor Olivia O’Sullivan of Fine Gael refused repeated requests for an adjournment to consider the Fine Gael proposal and insisted on proceeding with the vote. Clarity arrived four days later (Friday 24th February) when the Council Executive issued the revised and final agreed scheme. Clarity is probably too strong a word since it is still not entirely clear how this new design is going to work and what the implications will be.

The scheme may – in the end – work from a cycling point of view, depending on the frequency of vehicles activating the retractable bollards and some tweaks, but it is not a victory for consultation, good design or democracy. In the weeks leading up to the vote, the councillors of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin councillors repeatedly stressed that the scheme must be safe. Yet, at the eleventh hour they introduced and then pushed through changes they themselves didn’t understand – let alone anybody else – and which certainly didn’t undergo any kind of safety audit. The staff of the Council were put in the position where they had to somehow make the scheme work with the constraints that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil* and Sinn Féin councillors had put on them, and this is the result. 

It is a poor outcome that creates more challenges than the original proposal. The amendments proposed by Councillor Butler of Fine Gael are purely political in nature and have no basis in good design and proper planning. In the scramble to accommodate these last minute political amendments that had been rejected previously as unworkable by the experts, I fear they are going to create a space that is not only unsafe but also unnecessarily negatively impacts the residents of the streets adjacent to South Circular Road.

*Councillor James Collins differed from his Fianna Fáil colleagues and opposed the scheme that was proposed by Councillor Daniel Butler and subsequently voted through by Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and the other Fianna Fáil councillors. 

Image from Twitter: Rue de Florence, Paris showing sustainable ambition, pride in the city and true leadership that serves the citizens