KILDARE OPINION: Is the Poplar Square project in danger of being quietly scrapped?

Conor McHugh gives his views

Conor McHugh


Conor McHugh


KILDARE OPINION: Is the Poplar Square project in danger of being quietly scrapped?

File photo

A recent headline in this august publication gave me that familiar (though not unexpected) feeling that a long promised and undelivered project for the public good was in a degree of jeopardy.

It was, of course, the pedestrianisation of Naas’s Poplar Square, which was also set to include elements of cycling infrastructure, and obviously a through road for cars.

My colleague Paul O’Meara reported that sixteen months ago “Naas councillors had voted in favour of the plan, but it was a close run thing with the councillors split down the middle before the then Naas Mayor Fintan Brett gave his casting vote in favour.”The National Transport Authority’s plan is to pedestrianise part of Poplar Square, create cycle lanes along Dublin Road and provide new pedestrian crossings.

Now there is concern that if the money allocated to the project is not spent it could be lost, for this is the way of these things.

I’m told privately that it’s a question of capacity within the Council, which is being addressed.

There are, the article reported, questions over who is funding it, and what they might actually be willing to fund — which are surely matters that should have been agreed long ago? No?

For instance, the National Transport Authority has handed over €400,000 towards the project but it is looking at changes which would provide additional cycle lanes and a bus priority corridor into Naas.

It all sounds like a thickening haze of bureaucratic doublespeak is descending on the project - the kind of language that allows a good idea to be phased out of existence. Or maybe I’m being unncessarily cynical.

You may remember that the plan was controversial at the time it was first mooted. Some were concerned about the future of business in the town if parking spaces were to be lost, as the plan suggested.

But that was to miss the bigger picture. All over the world there is a shift in thinking about town centres.

The sense that streets can be living spaces, places where people live, work and congregate, rather than a series of shops lined up on either side of a traffic jam, is gaining ground.

Surely the way to get people back into a town, to get them spending their money in it, is to make it more attractive to them?

Greystones in Co Wicklow, for instance, is now held up as a great example of what can be done to improve a town — and they have statistics for considerable increased levels of revenue to prove it.

That thought process is running parallel to what is increasingly being seen as the end of the dominance of the culture of car ownership.

Cars are great and fun things to have if you have the space for them (remarkably similar to bicycles actually).

But they have become their own worst enemy. In centuries to come it will be seen as one of humanity’s greatest follies that we designed our roads, our towns and our lives to serve a technology that was meant to serve us, and consistently failing to notice that every time we built a newer, wider, faster, straighter road, it only ever created more traffic jams to make the problem we were trying to solve worse.

The problem isn’t that cars haven’t got enough room to move or to park. The problem is the car. We need to start relying on them less, and we need to starting re-thinking what it is they can actually do for us.

For instance, is there a more efficient way bring the kids to school?

On a national level, our newest transport strategies recognise this. To implement the change we need, somebody needs to be willing to be unpopular and defy misguided narrow self interests.

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