Mary Bennett, in launching the ‘Galway Transport-Engage for a liveable city’ said; “An efficient transport system is vital for the well-being of our citizens” -an excellent start, but then ruined it by continuing; “and to making our city an attractive location for tourism, industry and commerce”. All very well, but it is the unfortunate sidetracking of our citizens’ transport needs by business and commercial needs that has got us into the unholy mess we’re in.
If we genuinely wish to improve ALL transport options/infrastructure in Galway, then we need a complete break with the commercially oriented/focused transport concepts of the past and engage sincerely with with a vision of how a city like Galway can change from a largely unplanned road network foisted upon a largely unplanned urban sprawl. The focus here should be on REDUCING traffic volumes in the city primarily, as well as the attendant and necessary engineered/technological solutions to speed-up volume FLOW. If this is not something that the people initiating the Transport Forum are willing to even consider, THEN READ NO FURTHER.
There are 2 main problems with traffic in Galway currently, and they are:
1. The large volume of traffic that flows INTO and OUT OF Galway to towns in the city’s hinterland every morning and evening:
I have travelled to many countries, and several European ones exemplify modern transport systems that are NOT designed around cars/trucks. Switzerland is a good example. In any medium to large Swiss city, there exists a RURAL bus transport system that operates within a radius of 10km-50km depending on city size. This means that there is a cheap and accessible bus network at 20-30 minute intervals that connects with the various urban centres. In tandem with their excellent commuter rail network, Switzerland is a country in which you rarely see traffic gridlock – even in Geneva or Zurich. We don’t need to invent the wheel in Galway, and why this has never been tried here is beyond me. You can’t even get a commuter bus from Oranmore or Barna into Galway!! If a bus network operated connecting places like Spiddal, Headford, Oughterard, Tuam, Loughrea and Gort, at 20 minute intervals during rush hours, this would eliminate thousands of cars from our city roads every day. If it works in other countries, it will work here also. However, I am long enough living in this country, not to naively believe that this sort of futuristic concept will soon be adopted.
2. The enormous proportion of road users that do not use public transport or do not walk/cycle WITHIN the city limits-especially those travelling less than 3km:
We have a lamentably poor public transport system in the city. Bus routes are haphazard-e.g. there is a very good service here in Knocknacarra by the City Direct Bus Co. to/from the CITY CENTRE, but nothing at all by this company that will take me ACROSS the city without having to get another bus in Eyre Square. For a DIRECT bus to e.g. Renmore, I have to walk 15 minutes down Clybaun Road to get to a stop run by Bus Eireann, and even then it is only every second bus that actually goes across the city. Bus- stop timetables by either company do not display the actual times that buses stop there, and many stops have no timetables at all and some have not even got shelters. And of course there is no bus transport in Galway Winter or Summer after 11.30pm!!
School/College-going students are the biggest target for a good city bus network. The biggest proportion of people who use cars to travel less than 3km in the city are students of all ages. This ranges from children being driven to schools to older students driving themselves to the 2 colleges and all because a decent school-bus network has NEVER existed in the city. If this particular schools related problem was all that the Transport Forum addressed then I would regard it as a major success.
In addition, if more people were able to walk and cycle safely in the city, then this too would reduce our dependence on cars. I own a bicycle, but yet, 10 years after completion of the Western Distributor Road, (no, it DOESN’T have a cycle lane) 18 years after completion of a dual-carriageway into the city centre and 25 years after the completion of the Quincentenary Bridge, I can’t cycle across town to say Merlin Park using cycle lanes. Those that do exist are poorly constructed and dangerous to use because they exist for short distances only.
All of the points I have made in relation to these 2 issues above have been made by others in this city since traffic volumes became a menace to the quality of life in Galway about 25 years ago. They have been completely ignored and I don’t suppose anything will change in relation to either of them as long as commercial interests control transport strategy in the city. The building of several large high-rise car parks in the city centre over the last 20 years is evidence of the medieval thinking that has been associated with transport policy here, and all because of the involvement of business interests. Business is important to life, but if we really want to improve transport quality in Galway, then a more enlightened approach is needed. I am not optimistic though.