Forty, Thirty, Twenty, Ten: make Limerick’s transport work again

There’s evidence of a shift in thinking in Limerick about transport. My social media feed is alive with enthusiastic Limerick sustainable transport advocates eager to share best urbanist practice from other European cities. The government has set targets for a large reduction in emissions from transport, and there is an optimism that solutions to get us there might actually lead to a better quality of life for all. Thirteen councillors elected said they agreed or strongly agreed that 10% of the transport budget should go on cycling, in response to questions from  Limerick Cycling Campaign.

I’d like to go a bit further and advocate that 70% of our transport budget should go on walking and cycling. It sounds like a lot but it’s utterly achievable and would result in a healthier and happier city and county. It’s inspired by a graphic from the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (the cool transport nerds call it DMURS apparently. Here’s a PDF link), the official guidelines for engineers designing streets in Irish cities towns and villages.

If that’s the hierarchy of sustainable transportation, then why doesn’t Limerick’s €38 million transport budget reflect that? Here’s how I’d split the money.

Forty percent on infrastructure for pedestrians

Whether we drive, use public transport, or cycle, we all start and finish our journeys as pedestrians. The only way of spending money that benefits everyone in Limerick, regardless of income or other status, is to spend it on walking. Yes we need a superblock in the city centre to make it a world class walking environment. But we need more: in our suburbs, our county towns and villages, we need space to walk, where a family can walk two, three or four abreast comfortably, where kids can play and old people can sit and we can interact and be comfortable in our environment. Spending nearly half our transport budget on walking (with a special emphasis on those with special mobility needs, like buggy and wheelchair users) will transform our city, our towns and our villages.

Thirty percent on infrastructure for cycling

Spending thirty percent of our transport budget on cycling has the potential to take a huge number of cars off the roads. The majority of journeys taken in the city are of a length that could comfortably be taken by bike, even by someone who isn’t athletic (proud slob cyclist and owner of zero items of lycra clothing here). We could connect all primary schools in the city with top-quality, segregated cycle lanes that kids could use to cycle to school. We could identify all the main areas of employment and make sure that workers can get there easily and safely on bikes.

Twenty percent on infrastructure for public transport

We need fully segregated bus lanes between Raheen and Castletroy via a superblock in the city. If we had the infrastructure, we could get to town in 15 mins, even at peak times. The distances are shorter between Caherdavin/LIT/Moyross and Roxboro/Southill but some bus priority measures on those routes would make journey times shorter. The most important bit is to surround a mostly-pedestrianised city centre with bus lanes in either direction.

Ten percent on roads

We still need to maintain our roads, and driving will always be necessary for some. But cars should be at the bottom of our hierarchy: and we certainly shouldn’t be spending the vast majority of our transport budget encouraging more people to drive. The new Limerick Transport Strategy will undoubtedly contain some white elephant road projects. We should have the courage to reject them and focus on a more sustainable and better future.

Supercharging Public Transport around Limerick’s Superblock

Liveable Limerick are proposing a “Superblock” in the city centre (PDF link with more information) bordered by William Street, Parnell Street, Mallow Street and Henry Street. The Superblock would be accessible for vehicles, but would not allow vehicles to travel through the block on their way to somewhere else. It’s a fabulous idea that would allow us to achieve a really ambitious people-centered city centre that would act as a magnet for investment in the region.

Here is a simplified schematic of the current traffic configuration around the Superblock, with each lane shown in black:

Cities that plan to grow need excellent public transport. Buses in Limerick City are…less than excellent. The most frequent service from Raheen to Castletroy in particular suffers large delays because buses have to thread a meandering route through the city centre. There is also little integration between bus services. How could you configure the streets bordering the Superblock that would give priority to public transport? Here’s one idea, with bus lanes in green:

You would need to remove on-street parking from Mallow St to enable a third lane of traffic. But the benefits would be huge:

  • All buses have fully segregated routes in both directions around the superblock
  • All bus services interchange at the bus/rail station, apart from the Westbury/Fr Russell Rd service which offers a cross street interchange with all other services at Mallow St
  • Faster bus times
  • More reliable service

Here’s what the city bus services would look like with this plan:

For a stretch goal, Parnell St could easily accommodate an on-street terminal for private buses, allowing private buses run by Dublin Coach, Citylink and JJ Kavanagh’s to interchange with city services, and to take advantage of segregated routes around the city centre.

GetThere.ie – finally a good intermodal journey planner for Ireland

Notes on planning a trip between Limerick and Kilkenny
My laborious notes trying to plan a public transport trip *before* I found the excellent GetThere.ie

It’s always been a challenge to try and plan public transport journeys in Ireland that don’t begin or end in the centre of Dublin.  Irish Rail and Bus Eireann have their own journey planners, but they don’t integrate together with each other, never mind with some of the excellent new private coach operators who are taking advantage of the new motorway network to offer quick and comfortable direct services.

Enter GetThere.ie – a proper public transport journey planner for Ireland.  You can enter your origin and destination, and the site will spit out all your available options.  The site is very clever at integrating between different services, so for example a search from Kilkenny to Limerick will offer you the option of taking Dublin Coach to Kildare Village, and then taking Irish Rail to Kilkenny.

What’s more, the site has an integrated carsharing facility – you can request or offer a car share, and it shows up immediately in the search results.

The guy behind it is very responsive and responded very quickly to a comment I made on the site. I love the fact that something so useful and complex has been developed by one guy plugging away with (presumably) a shoestring budget. Although presumably his job could have been a lot easier if the National Transport Agency mandated that operators share their timetables in an open format. Knowing the NTA they’ll probably drop a few million on a competing website which won’t be nearly as good.