14 Aug 2022

What Kildare town is worth living in if it's just traffic jams?

What Kildare town is worth living in if its just traffic jams?

Not to pick on Sallins, but this is a common sight there and in many other of our towns and villages.

Honestly, who among us goes through Clane if we can avoid it at all? Sorry to pick out Clane — because there’s also Sallins, if you get caught at the wrong time of the day, and Caragh, likewise.

That’s not mentioning the entire length of the town of Newbridge. Elsewhere, it’s long been established that Athy is practically strangled by traffic. And most of the large towns in the north of the county are similarly afflicted, Celbridge and Maynooth being the worst.

The R403, between Carbury/Derrinturn and Clane and which serves as the route towards Dublin for many of us living in the rural parts of West Kildare, is to be avoided at certain times of the day. For somebody who grew up near Prosperous, the traffic lights and the associated traffic jam that stretches almost back out of the village takes some getting used to.

We all know, of course, that our towns and villages have an awful lot to offer and that seeing them as nothing more than a traffic jam is to do them a grave disservice. But if, as the residents of this county, we’re starting to think like that, to be forced to constantly consider the likely traffic situation every time we get into our cars, then the time has come to implement solutions that don’t involve building new roads, or widening existing ones.

From Copenhagen comes the news that bike sensors have recorded a first — there are now more bikes than cars in the heart of the city. In the last year, 35,080 more bikes were added to the  daily roll, bringing the total number to 265,700, compared with 252,600 cars. This is no accident. It’s not something that was dictated by market forces or chance. This was clearly as a result of a deliberate intervention by the big, bad, terrible nanny state.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have the imprimatur of the public. In New York when Mayor Bloomberg decided to make Manhattan cycling friendly there were vociferous objections, until the cycling lanes were installed and something quite tremendous happened — New Yorkers quietly and in their thousands started using the cycling infrastructure to such a degree that there would now be riots if it was removed — and the place would clog up even further. Another finding from the New York experience is that those who object to cycling infrastructure always use arguments which are by and large actually wrong.

A prime example here in Ireland, is the oft parroted 'fact' that it rains more here than in those far off cycling utopias. That's factually incorrect. There are considerably fewer rainy days in Dublin than in Amsterdam and just a little bit more than New York. If you want to wade through the statistics on that, be my guest!

Everywhere that successful cycling infrastructure has been introduced, the reaction has always been “and look, the sky didn’t fall” (in direct contrast to dire predictions). Whether those formerly opposed to it will ever admit that there is now a noticable reduction in traffic congestion, noise pollution etc, remains to be seen. The anxious and over reactive personality type is stubbornly resistant to logic and reality. That’s why I never pay a blind of attention to them. Ultimately, they always object, they always protest, they always say that it will kill business and lead to the fall of western democracy – and it never ever does.

And that’s why, in full socialist, dictatorial North Korean mode, a huge rollout of cycling paths, lanes, roads, bridges and tunnels should be imposed on the people, against their will (or at least against the will of the unrepresentatively loud over-reactive minority). They have nothing to lose but their traffic stress, their mediocre cardio vascular health and their noise pollution. 

I’ve written elsewhere in this paper about the sheer build up of traffic along major and minor roads in our county — and it’s written in the context of a lack of long term strategic planning to deal with the increase in traffic that has arrived with our economic growth. We all know parts of the county that we now avoid if we’re trying to drive anywhere and that certain times are better than others.

But back to Copenhagen, the local municipal government has been carrying out traffic counts there since 1970, when there were 351,133 cars and 100,071 bikes. Cycling traffic has risen by 68% in the last 20 years.

“What really helped was a very strong political leadership; that was mainly Ritt Bjerregaard (the former mayor), who had a dedicated and authentic interest in cycling,” Klaus Bondam, technical and environmental mayor from 2006 to 2009 and now head of the Danish Cycling Federation is quoted as saying in the Guardian. “Plus, a new focus on urbanism and the new sustainability agenda broke the glass roof when it came to cycling.” 

That’s the crux. Many cities are now asking themselves what the Dutch asked in the 1970s — “What kind of city is worth living in, if it’s just a series of ever lengthening traffic jams?” The only solution is to remove as many of the cars off roads as possible — and for short term commutes in an urban setting, bicycles are the most obvious answer. 

That’s what lead to Amsterdam, Copenhagen and all the other amazing cycling cities around the world. It's time we in Kildare, if not at national level, had that discussion.

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