DCC Notes for December 2020/ January 2021

Cyclist on Strand Road, courtesy of Irish Times.
Photo. Crispin Rodwell

Compiled by Dermot Carmody

SEAC Passes Emergency Motion On Strand Road
Interim Cycleway

The controversial Strand Road Interim Cycleway proposal was again a major bone of contention at the meeting of the South East Area Committee (SEAC) on January 11th, at which a motion proposed by four councillors was debated.
Brendan O’Brien , Acting Executive Manager Traffic at DCC reported to the SEAC on progress with the proposed cycleway and the process of engagement with the local community. Mr. O’Brien told councillors that traffic counts are being completed in Sandymount village and that air quality monitoring will take place soon. He said there was a productive meeting of the public forum but that more time needs to be devoted to safe cycling measures as there wasn’t time to complete discussion at the meeting. He also mentioned that his department has received a letter from STC Community Group, which is opposed to the Interim Cycleway, and he is awaiting advice from the DCC legal department in response to this.
The STC group is disputing the status of the proposed Interim Cycleway as “exempted development” and maintains that planning permission is required for the development, which should therefore be halted until such a planning decision is made.
Proposing the emergency motion. Cllr James Geoghan (FG) referred to some confusion over numbers given for various types of vehicle on the Strand Road, saying that a previous presentation to the SEAC had mentioned 1000 trucks per day on the strand road. Mr O’Brien pointed out that that number was for LGV’s (“white vans”) not trucks.
Cllr. Geoghan said the purpose of the motion was to acknowledge the recent meeting with STC Community Group which “somewhat extraordinarily” was attended by 300 people. He noted the level of objections by the STC group, saying that 5000 leaflets had been distributed in the area in the midst of a pandemic and that there were “very strong views expressed in that meeting.” He said that it would be fair to stay that the community engagement process is “not currently functioning the way it’s designed to function” and that people who favour the route are afraid to say so because of levels of hostility. He felt that the community is divided between Strand Road residents, who feel if they don’t support the NTA plan they will never be free of 500 tricks a day using Strand Road, and the rest of the community in the area who feel that the displaced commercial traffic will be coming down their roads instead. He felt that mitigating measures described in the presentation to the SEAC before Christmas would address these concerns. However, he said it is not changing minds among the community and he feels the council needs to address this in a positive way to end division in the community over the issue. A clear statement on a long term commitment to improved traffic infrastructure in the area would help, he said, but it doesn’t fix the current issue with trucks using the road.
Cllr Claire O’Connell (FF), also proposing the motion, said that the long term proposal for an off-road cycle path and the construction of a promenade on the Strand Road should go ahead, rather that an interim measure which is likely to become permanent, and reiterated that council should write to Minister Eamon Ryamn and seek a clear statement committing to this in order to stop frustrating the community as is happening at present. She requested that Lord Mayor Hazel Chu (Green) add her voice to this request.
Cllr Paddy McCartan, also speaking in favour, pointed out that not only does this affect Sandymount, but it will have a far wider effect on communities in Irishtown, Ringsend and Ballsbridge. He felt that people are much more likely to support infrastructure changes if something new is added rather than removing something that is already there. He expressed doubt about the usefulness of gathering statistics on the Interim Cycleway over the coming months as they will be irrelevant in the future once schools and businesses are open once again.
The Lord Mayor responded that she was happy to write to Minister Ryan as requested in the motions, but that she is in favour of the current proposals on Strand Road as it is part of Covid Mobility measures. She said these are not normal times and that the job of council is to provide safe mobility for people of Dublin, and that going in with a long term plan will mean failure to cope with the current crisis by giving people safe mobility during the pandemic. She acknowledged that there is a split in the community over the measures but said the job of the council is to bring everyone along and have safe measures in place.
Supporting the motion, Cllr. Mannix Flynn (Ind) believed that if the council pushed ahead with the interim measures there would be a court case. Regardless of “hair splitting” about the differences between types of vehicles, he believed the result of the currently proposed measures will be “a load of traffic” going through Sandymount village and and he feared that an injunction halting the measures could be put in place which would result in other important work being pushed back.
Cllr. Dermot Lacey (Lab), chairing the meeting, noted that though he has been involved in many controversies in his years as a councillor, he has never received the level of abuse in any controversy as he has on this. He said that “no matter what happens, Strand Road has problems.” He didn’t see why measures should not be taken to make the road safer regardless, but believed the temporary measures should be halted pending An Bord Pleanála decision. Cllr. Lacey said that in the past measures like this would never have been “rammed through” against the protests of councillors, and says councillors need to assert themselves. Supporting the motion he said he wants safe cycling measures in the city but that it has to be done in a way that doesn’t destroy villages and communities
Cllr. Mary Freehill (LAB) felt that the problem had arisen because the Covid-19 crisis had been used as an opportunity to put forward proposals without proper consultation in the first place. She agreed with Cllr Lacey that there has been a deterioration in working relationships between elected councillors and DCC executives and hoped this issue would cause reflection on what’s “gone wrong” with the Council.
Cllr. Pat Dunne (I4C), pointed out that the SEAC over time had agreed to going ahead with these measures and to the setting up of the public forum but now seems to seek to row back on these decisions. He said that in the past measures vehemently opposed by councillors, such as the pedestrianisation of Grafton Street, have subsequently been proved to be the correct decisions despite the level of opposition when they were introduced. (This was later disputed by Cllr. Freehill who said the Grafton Street pedestrianisation had not met with strong opposition). He wondered if councillors would ever reach agreement on the Strand Road measures, and expressed concern at concessions to powerful lobby groups under the threat of legal action.
A dissenting view on the motion came from Green Party councillors Claire Byrne and Carolyn Moore. Cllr. Byrne pointed out that the proposed building of a cantilevered promenade along the strand is not a panacea, because it would affect protected bird nesting areas, which would force traffic back into the road along that stretch and potentially affect residents on the road there as a result. She is supportive of the interim trial measures going ahead. Cllr. Moore said that Sandymount Strand is an amenity for the whole city and that traffic and parking there is chaotic at the moment. “It’s bedlam.” She said the proposals are a legitimate Covid Mobility measure and she was opposed to councillors delaying them. “It’s not just about Sandymount residents,” she maintained, pointing out that the Strand is in the 5km travel limit for everyone living in the city centre.
In response to councillors’ remarks, Brendan O’Brien said he thought that the DCC Traffic department should be included in the letter proposed by motion to the NTA, since that department has the legal responsibility for managing the road. He also defended suggestions that public consultation had not been properly entered into, saying that there had been public consultation with 3000 submissions, mosty in favour of the Interim Cycleway, last September and October. He said that the main concern expressed by members of the community at that point was that the trial would not go ahead. Mr. O’Brien again emphasised that the proposed Interim Cycleway is a Covid Mobility measure that takes account of the fact that traffic is down 50% in the context of the pandemic measures currently in force.
Cllr. Geoghan agreed to add the DCC Transport Department to the proposed letter to the NTA and the motion was adopted with eleven votes in favour and five against.