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Submission on Draft Killaloe-Ballina Town Enhancement Plan

I live in Limerick City but I stay in Killaloe a number of times a month.

Killaloe and Ballina are not pleasant places to walk and cycle. There seems to be a lot of SUVs in the town and a lot of parking on footpaths.

The construction of the new bridge and bypass of Killaloe offers a really good opportunity to transform both Ballina and Killaloe for the better. A great aim would be to make it possible for people of all ages to independently travel between and within Killaloe and Ballina.

The old bridge should definitely be closed to motor traffic after the new bridge opens. To have cars still on it at any time of day would represent a significant failure.

Serious consideration should also be made to close the current R463 in Killaloe between the old bridge and the link road from New St to where the public toilet block is by the canal – it was built itself as a bypass and it should be converted to pedestrian and cycle use after the new bypass is completed.

After the bypass is built, streets in Killaloe and Ballina need to be transformed. Most streets, especially on the Killaloe side, should be made one-way to make room for segregated cycle tracks at least 2m wide to allow people of all ages to cycle safely.

Main Street should have all parking removed and the only traffic should be deliveries before 10am. The current situation where cars mount the footpath as they drive down Main Street is unacceptable.

In the context of the climate crisis and the need to make Killaloe and Ballina a great place to live and to visit whether or not you own a car, I urge you to take the opportunity to direct all traffic on to the new bypass, retaining access for cars but reorienting the roads and streets of Killaloe and Ballina towards people.

Town is dirty, let’s do thirty

Submission on Limerick City and County Council Road Traffic (30 kilometres per hour Special Speed Limit) Bye-Laws 2021

We’ve spent a lot of time and money over the last few decades in Limerick, building bypasses:

Map of bypasses built in Limerick
Bypasses completed in Limerick in recent decades. Satellite imagery from Google.

Limerick is on a crossroads between, Cork, Galway, Kerry and Dublin. We built a lot of bypasses to facilitate this interurban traffic that had no real business passing our doors. But, despite promises of a future city that would be focused on people (just one more bypass!), none of our streets ever changed, and the interurban traffic was replaced with intraurban traffic.

If we want a better Limerick, a more prosperous Limerick, a more inclusive Limerick, one place we can start is our streets. The current proposal is a fairly modest expansion of the 30km/h zone into a few more housing estates in Limerick City, most of which are on the northside. This is welcome, but it is a small change. We are not proposing to expand the 30km/h area in our city centre, and the majority of the city centre, where we were promised that pedestrians would come first, is still a 50km/h zone. The towns and villages of County Limerick are similarly prioritised for motor traffic.

Map showing Limerick 30km/h zones
Limerick City Centre, proposed 30 km/h zones are in blue

I would like to suggest a different approach, that we make all built up areas of Limerick City, and our towns and villages in Limerick County, a 30km/h limit, with certain exceptions, for reasons of safety, noise pollution, air pollution and climate.

Safety

The Road Safety Authority says that cutting speed from 50km/h to 30km/h will change the probability of a person in a car killing a person walking from 50% to 10%.

The main reason for this dramatic difference in the probability of fatalities is that the kinetic energy of the car is proportional to the square of the velocity: ½mv2. What’s also worth mentioning in passing is that the other variable in the equation, the mass of the vehicle, has also changed, the best selling car in Ireland last month was the Hyundai Tucson which has a real world weight of 1.8t, in contrast to the slightly under 1.0t of the Toyota Corollas who used to drive the city’s streets back in the 1990s. We need a reduction in speed limit to compensate for the motor industry’s tendency to build much heavier cars.

We need to cut the speed limit in all urban areas to save lives. The headlines below all refer to different cases of pedestrians being killed by people driving cars in Limerick.

Noise pollution

Limerick is a noisy city, and it is affecting our health. The European NGO Transport and Environment says that reducing the urban speed limit from 50 km/h to 30 km/h reduces noise by 3 decibels, or approximately halving the background noise, allowing more of us to leave our windows open, or to converse comfortably on our streets.

noise-map-of-limerick
Limerick City Noise Action Plan

Air pollution

We are exceeding the recommended level of particulates. Even during lockdown in April, we were exceeding WHO-recommended levels of particulates in our city centre.

Air Quality Report for Limerick, April 2020

Reducing the speed limit would particularly help reduce NOx levels from traffic.

Climate

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 mandates that the next two carbon budgets, covering the period to 2030, must represent a 51% reduction in emissions over 2018 levels and also mandates that a public body (which includes Limerick City and County Council) must, in so far as practicable, perform its functions in a manner consistent with the national climate objective (net zero by 2050) and the objective of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change in the State

The planet is literally burning and we need to do everything we can to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, 20% of which in Ireland comes from transport. We need to encourage people to walk, cycle, or take public transport in urban areas. Reducing the urban speed limit will make driving less attractive.

Exceptions

Once the 30km/h default urban speed limit is established in Limerick, we can then look at very limited exceptions, perhaps on one or two of the many bypasses that have been built in the city, where the limit could be increased back to 50km/h. Critically this should only take place where there is a comprehensive safety audit and the provision of infrastructure to ensure that pedestrians and cyclists are physically segregated from traffic travelling at 50km/h, including at junctions.

Vehicle ownership and per capita kms driven by Irish county

Which counties in Ireland drive the most and least? What are the car ownership rates in each county? Ranking by kms driven per capita. Private cars only. Vehicle and km data from the CSO Transport Omnibus 2019. Population data from the earlier 2016 census. Link to a CSV file with the data.

# County of owner Private Vehicles km (million) Pop Cars/ person km/ person
1 Roscommon 33,755 668 64,544 0.523 10,350
2 Tipperary  81,247 1,497 159,553 0.509 9,382
3 Wexford 77,634 1,379 149,722 0.519 9,210
4 Carlow 29,216 524 56,932 0.513 9,204
5 Leitrim 14,931 286 32,044 0.466 8,925
6 Clare 58,669 1,052 118,817 0.494 8,854
7 Westmeath 42,201 780 88,770 0.475 8,787
8 Mayo 62,069 1,121 130,507 0.476 8,590
9 Kerry 73,292 1,259 147,707 0.496 8,524
10 Waterford 58,966 978 116,176 0.508 8,418
11 Offaly 35,304 656 77,961 0.453 8,414
12 Meath 91,552 1,612 195,044 0.469 8,265
13 Longford 17,731 336 40,873 0.434 8,221
14 Kilkenny 45,473 815 99,232 0.458 8,213
15 Cavan 32,907 617 76,176 0.432 8,100
16 Monaghan 26,560 493 61,386 0.433 8,031
17 Wicklow 70,299 1,143 142,425 0.494 8,025
18 Galway 117,293 2,069 258,058 0.455 8,018
19 Kildare 106,621 1,782 222,504 0.479 8,009
20 Limerick 90,784 1,549 194,899 0.466 7,948
21 Laois 35,886 670 84,697 0.424 7,911
22 Sligo 29,610 515 65,535 0.452 7,858
23 Cork 264,071 4,231 542,868 0.486 7,794
24 Donegal 66,327 1,163 159,192 0.417 7,306
25 Louth 53,144 889 128,884 0.412 6,898
26 Dublin 552,558 7,370 1,347,359 0.410 5,470

Parliamentary Assistant


Some news: I started a new job this week. Digging through some of my old emails to prepare for the new role, I found this nugget from 2012:

I’ve said to you before that I think you’d be a fantastic candidate.  You’re young, articulate, personable, and most importantly I think you have the integrity and vision to help sort out politics in this city.

I also want to have a candidate (hopefully you!) ready to win a Dáil seat at the General Election after next, which is where I think there’s going to be a real breakthrough for the Greens again nationally.

That email was sent eight years ago to one Brian Leddin. At the time it was implausibly optimistic; the Green Party were polling at 2% nationally, we had never even won a council seat in Limerick, at that point I had one local election and one national campaign under my belt as a Green Party member, and I didn’t exactly have a winning mindset. I was also on the Party’s National Executive. With only a single part-time member of staff it was up to volunteers like me to help keep the party running, and I have memories of composing the national members’ newsletter from my kitchen table to try and keep our members motivated during that time.

Eight years later, I was proud to manage Brian’s election campaign where he won a historic victory by becoming Limerick’s first Green Party TD.

What motivated us through those eight years? I think it was partly seeing so many of our peers leave Limerick, either for Dublin or further afield, both before the economic crisis and after it. Our local perspective was that a different kind of regional development was possible, one that placed the development of compact regional cities, teeming with life and prosperity, at its core. A city that could hold on to its young people and offer a modern, sustainable, and European quality of life. A city that could play its part in responding to the great global justice issue of our time: climate change.

Which brings me back to the new job. When Brian asked me to leave my job as a software engineer and take a hefty pay cut to come and work as his parliamentary assistant, I didn’t hesitate for a second. We have spent so much time over the last eight years, debating the future of our city and our country, and working to make it better. It’s time to take the next step forward.

I’ll be working both in Limerick and in Leinster House, trying to support Brian as best as I can with his legislative duties and his responsibilities as a public representative. Irish voters (rightly!) demand a lot of their TDs. A number one preference vote is a serious vote of trust, and we will have to work hard to repay that trust.

I’m looking forward to it.

Submission to the public consultation on the Land Development Agency’s master planning of Colbert Station


The efforts made to engage the public on this project have been significant and should be welcomed.

In drawing up the master plan, consideration should be given to how the development should be phased. In some cases this might mean that buildings might have an interim use that is different from their final use. This was successfully achieved in Grangegorman.

The development should be an exemplar, demonstrating that our regional cities are capable of significant housing growth in a manner that is sustainable and compatible with our obligations on climate change.

The development should developed as a car free development. Any car parking should be placed at the very southern fringes of the site, in a manner that will will allow future conversion of the car parking spaces to more productive uses. No vehicular access should be available on the North, East or West sides of the site. Significant and secure bike parking should be provided.

The majority of apartments in Limerick are 2-bed apartments. Consideration should be made to increase the diversity of apartment sizing, especially 3-bed and even 4-bed apartments which might be attractive to families. Currently 4-bed houses attract a premium in the Limerick property market.

The site should facilitate through cycling for the public from Roxboro and Careys Roads to Parnell Street. In general the site should be developed with excellent permeability for pedestrians and cyclists from all sides of the development.

Public/affordable housing should be mixed evenly through the development. It should not be possible to visually distinguish public and private housing in the development.

Consideration should be given to prevailing winds on the site and how they can play a role in cooling buildings.
The development should include lots of trees and plants.

A specific biodiversity strategy for the site is needed so that insects and wildlife can thrive on the site.

The master plan should be ambitious in terms of how many housing units and square metres of office space can be delivered. However phasing should allow for a portion of the site to be developed relatively quickly.

Grangegorman built a playground on their campus as an early part of the development. This helped to encourage the public to come in to the development and provided footfall and community amenity at an early stage.

Transport and Mobility

This January I will be starting an MSc in Transport and Mobility in TU Dublin.

I’ve been a bit of a transport nerd most of my adult life, from being on the national committee of Rail Users Ireland when I was in Dublin, to being involved with Limerick Cycling, Liveable Limerick, An Taisce, Get Limerick Moving, and the Irish Pedestrian Network once I moved back to Limerick.

After so many false starts, starting with the excitement ahead of Transport 21 in the early ‘00s and continuing through the ‘00s and ‘10s, I think we’re finally at the stage where we’re realising how we can use transport as a tool to transform our economy, our society, and our environment.

Enabling the sustainable mobility of our population will have untold benefits. Our economy will have a great future once we can decouple its growth away from carbon emissions and gridlock. Our society will benefit from becoming more compact and more connected, both with each other and with places of work, education, and entertainment. Providing top quality facilities for people to walk, cycle and take public transport will improve our cities, towns, and villages. Supporting active transport will have a real impact on the health of our population.

an abandoned car in a park

Transport currently makes up 20% of Ireland’s emissions. We need a pathway to get this down to zero, and quickly. Electric vehicles are not a panacea and we need to find ways of prioritising walking, cycling, and public transport to grow our economy and increase social mobility without the limiting factors of carbon emissions or traffic jams.

Mobility affects many areas of life. Solving mobility means considering where we build houses, offices, shops, and schools. It means properly considering cells of activity in communities to make sure they are properly served. It means applying inclusive human-centred design principles to make mobility accessible to all. It means efficiently using all the arms of the state to deliver effective solutions.

cyclist giving a lift to her friend

There may not be a semantic difference between the terms “transport” and “mobility”, but I prefer to think that “transport” involves the outputs of investment: the cycle lane, widened footpath or tram service. I like to think of “mobility” as the outcomes or the “how it works” for people: it’s the safe cycle to school with a friend, a convenient commute to a new job, an easy trip to a hospital appointment, a Saturday adventure with a grandchild. There’s always a temptation to focus on the hard engineering of transport but considering mobility requires you to think of the person making their journey, and trying to make it as attractive and effortless as possible.

It’s going to be a balancing act travelling to Dublin to do this course while maintaining my commitments to work as well as the voluntary commitments I have in Limerick. But I really feel it’s worth it, because with the inevitable national shift away from funding roads to funding public and active transport about to get underway, we need access to the latest research and best practice in Limerick. Many of the mistakes made in the east of the country haven’t yet been made in the mid-west, and I believe we can use a relatively small investment in mobility as a force multiplier for economic growth and social inclusion outside Dublin.

I’m looking forward to it.

Limerick Pedestrian Network

Pedestrians should be top of the transport hierarchy but this can be difficult without a dedicated organisation to advocate for their needs. Neasa Hourigan was so frustrated last year by the inaccessibility of Dublin’s streets for pedestrians, especially walking with her daughter who has a visual impairment, that she set up the Dublin Blockers Twitter account to document some of the barriers Dublin’s pedestrians face in simply trying to get around. She later formed the Irish Pedestrian Network to try and formalise a group to advocate for pedestrians, inspired by the recent success of various cycling advocacy groups.

Neasa came to Limerick in September and there was good attendance for her meeting in Narrative 4. There was a sense that we needed a group in Limerick to be a local presence for the Irish Pedestrian Network, to be a voice for better facilities for pedestrians in Limerick City, and throughout the towns and villages of County Limerick.

A lot of people who attended the meeting in September got involved in the campaign to improve the plans for O’Connell St. The fact that we were unable to persuade councillors and officials to accept that even part of our main street should be reserved for pedestrians makes the establishment of Limerick Pedestrian Network even more urgent. Now that the council has passed plans for O’Connell St, it’s time to formalise a voice for pedestrians.

There will be a meeting on Monday 11th November 2019 in 2 Pery Square at 7pm to try and establish a steering group. The task of the steering group will be to properly establish the Network over the next six months, reaching out to different groups to make it as inclusive as possible, and linking in with groups who are already working in this area. No matter how we travel, almost all of us start and end our journeys as pedestrians. If you’re at all interested in helping to give a voice to footpath users, especially those with mobility needs, I hope you’ll consider coming along.

Submission to draft Limerick City and County Council corporate plan 2019-2024

I suspect I’m howling into the wind with this, but Limerick City and County Council have a draft Corporate Plan, and they’ve asked for feedback. Here is mine. The online submission process requires you to make a discrete ‘observation’ on each section, which makes the whole thing a bit disjointed, so I’ve put it together slightly differently here for coherency.

Please consider making your own submission. You can read the draft corporate plan online for the purposes of making submissions about it until 5pm on Friday 18th October.

The Corporate Plan is a playbook for what the Council plan to do over the next five years. A new Council is elected every five years, hence the time period. They define the Plan themselves as:

“Limerick City and County Council’s Corporate Plan is a strategic framework for actions over a 5 year period and is a central component of our business architecture, linking policy, organisational activity, governance and performance management and actions.”

Here are my observations. The Plan is divided into ‘Goals’ so I’ve followed their headings.

Inclusion of legacy road projects contradict the goal to transition to an environmentally sustainable low carbon resource efficient economy

Links: Goal 3 Invest in Limerick’s Infrastructure, project its natural and built environment and unique heritage mix, Goal 6: Transition to an environmentally sustainable low carbon resource efficient economy

Inclusion of legacy road projects make this goal contradict Goal Six.

The first aim of a “smart integrated transport network that improves connectivity and increased use of sustainable travel modes.” is great.

The second point listing off a bunch of legacy road projects is not.

Government policy is clear that transport emissions need to be reduced, not increased.

This goal does not need specific projects listed, especially if they will all increase emissions and unsustainable suburban sprawl. The list of projects could be replaced with a commitment that infrastructure will be built to encourage compact growth in Limerick city and in the towns and villages of County Limerick. This would directly align this goal with the National Planning Framework.

Removal of the list of roads projects will allow flexibility in the plan.

Plain English would make this draft plan better.

It should be possible and a goal in itself to simplify the language in the whole draft Corporate Plan. A lot of the draft plan is difficult to understand. It could be made simpler without any loss of meaning. If the plan was simpler then more people could understand it.

Consider this sentence:

“Provide direction and vision around digital infrastructure provision with an objective of Limerick becoming more attractive to new investors and supporting local business to gain competitive advantage in the digital market place. We will also work to yield economic benefits for Limerick from the impact of disruptive technologies.”

It could be replaced by this:

“We would like to make Limerick more attractive to local businesses and new investors. We will do this by helping businesses to take advantage of new technology. We will set an example by using new technology in our work and showing companies how to benefit. If we are successful we will improve the local economy.”

This document is incomplete.

This document is incomplete according to Section 134 of the Local Government Act 2001. The Local Government Act is clear on what is required in a Corporate Plan:

A. A statement of the principal activities of the local authority.

B. The objectives and priorities for each of the principal activities and strategies for achieving those objectives.

C. The manner in which the authority proposes to assess its performance in respect of each such

activity, taking account of relevant service indicators and of the need to work towards best

practice in service delivery and in the general operation of the local authority.

D. Human resources activities (including training and development) to be undertaken for the staff

of the local authority and, where appropriate for the elected council.

E. The organisational structure of the local authority, both elected council and staff, including corporate support and information technology and the improvements proposed to promote efficiency of operation and customer service and in general to support the corporate plan.

This document is missing C to E.

It would have been more appropriate to either present the full plan for public consultation, or to acknowledge that the public were being asked to comment on an incomplete version of the plan.

A smart bird box to measure traffic and air quality

Cities need good data. I helped Breandán MacGabhann set up the software for his air quality monitors around the city (you can check the readings out on Twitter – mine is on the Dock Road). Councillor Brian Leddin recently asked at a council meeting how many traffic counters were around the city – the answer was only three. We’ve a transport strategy coming up, a controversial incinerator planned for the outskirts of the city: wouldn’t it be great if we had more data to back up our decisions?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while but I lack the time to put it together – I wanted to write it down in case someone else was inspired to put something similar together.

Enter the Smart Bird Box

I’ve been following various attempts to measure air quality and traffic using the Raspberry Pi hobbyist computer. I think with recent advances in machine learning and solar power that it’d be possible to deploy a network of smart sensing devices that could measure traffic flow and air quality at various points around the city. The cost would be a fraction what commercial sensors currently cost. The data that they produce could be open to the public.

The enclosure

bird box
This costs less than €10 from B&Q

I think a bird box would be perfect for this. They are cheaply available and designed to be weatherproof. And they would also be handy for birds to nest in!

The power

A system would need to run without power. Solar panels on the roof of the bird box coupled with a battery pack would allow the system to run without mains power. The PiJuice project supplies panels and batteries that would be suitable for this.

Air quality sensors

Breandán has sourced relatively cheap sensors for temperature, humidity and particulate matter (). A NOx sensor could also be added.

Measuring traffic

Courtesy of Nathan Rooy

Using a raspberry pi camera, machine learning could be used to detect how many cars, trucks, bicycles and pedestrians are passing. This article describes such an approach. Traffic counts could be recorded every five minutes. It’d make a great introductory machine learning project if someone was interested in messing around with TensorFlow.

Uploading data

The system could incorporate a GSM modem to upload the data it records every hour to a server. Or if there was a nearby wifi network with a friendly owner, our bird box could connect to that. A server script could dump the data into a database, and offer a way to request data for different time ranges. The system doesn’t need to be complicated.

Not forgetting the birds!

A second infrared camera could be added to record images of any nesting birds who chose to make our nesting boxes their home.

Privacy

The bird box would be recording images but would not be storing them, the machine learning would be on the device and in real time. Source code could/should be open sourced and auditable.

Baby steps

I’m describing a complete, standalone, remotely monitorable system. But really the way to start would be to find a place where power and wifi could be delivered with a view onto a busy street. My balcony overlooks the Dock Road in Limerick and I’d be happy to open it up to hackers.

Cost

Here’s a rough estimate of the hardware cost per box.

Bird box: €5

Power management: €60 for controller, €30 for battery, €90 for solar panels

Raspberry pi: €40

Sensors: particulate matter €20, temperature/humidity €5, NOx €10

Cameras: €30 each

Modem: €80

Total: €185 if power and wifi available, an extra €260 for solar power and cellular access. Plus top-ups for the sim card.

Please get in touch if you’d be interested in working on this!

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.