KILDARE CYCLING COLUMN: Change of tack needed for Blueway

Conor McHugh gives his views

Conor McHugh


Conor McHugh


KILDARE CYCLING COLUMN: Change of tack needed for Blueway

River Barrow

There is a lot of talk/thought floating around this week to the effect that, sure, if we could only talk nice to An Bord Pleanála or various county councils we’d be able to get around their objections to a cycling path being built along the Barrow.

And maybe you can, but I doubt it.

They’ve been all too consistent. All the county councils and An Bord Pleanála are opposed to the idea of touching the bank of the Barrow river— and at this stage that principle is far too well established to see them going back on it wholesale.

Certainly, I foresee a lot of sweet breath being wasted on the desert air if, as is likely the case, any campaign is launched to reverse these decisions.

I have an alternative suggestion.

The Blueway project was an ambitious one, and arguably too ambitious. Which isn’t to say that what they were trying to achieve wasn’t absolutely brilliant. It’s just that realpolitik killed it in the end.

The aim was to go from Lowtown down the Grand Canal towards Rathangan, Monasterevin and Athy before joining up with the Barrow and proceeding through Laois and Carow and ultimately ending up in New Ross, a distance of over 100km.

Anyway, no point crying over spilt milk.

The difficulty was always the Barrow. The canal banks are man-made, and can be tinkered with, unlike the Barrow bank.

So why don’t Waterways Ireland just put their thinking caps on again and create the Kildare Greenway, which simply goes from Lowtown to Athy via Rathangan and Monasterevin?

There is no good reason not to do it, and there’s no suggestion for a moment it wouldn’t be successful, or entirely marketable.

For instance, with Bono’s distillery proposed for Monasterevin, it could prove to a lovely fit. All three are fine towns but could do with a little boost like this.

Up to now, speaking to various officials, I felt a reluctance to separate the Kildare/canal element of the proposal from the rest in their thoughts, because they still hoped An Bord Pleanála would get it through. Now that the decision has come out against them, hopefully they’ll see sense in this.

The other important point to make is that if we don’t seize the opportunity to go for a cycle path on the canal we lose all of the potential that the Blueway had offered for sustainable transport.

I was chatting briefly to Declan Keogh the other day, who is Kildare County Council’s Sustainable Transport Officer, and that’s what was going through his mind.

He was thinking in terms of the local day-to-day traffic the Blueway could have taken off our roads, especially around the towns, not just about the tourists.

There’s no need to lose that resource just because the larger, more ambitious plan has been given a knockback.

As I’ve pointed out before, the studies have shown that peak usage of the greenway in Westport corresponds with school times, which means that kids are using, for day-to-day usage, a cycle path that was, in theory, developed for tourists.

To my mind, that had to be the single most important lesson from that greenway — that if we build it, they will come, because silently, they’ve been crying out for it and waiting for it for so long.

Also, as the success of the Part 8 planning process for the Grand Canal Greenway showed, there is considerable support for greenways on canals and only very few objectors.

And speaking of support, I think the tide is turning in the public’s minds. While there was, I believed, always soft support for the idea, there is now active support and campaigning for greater cycling facilities.

When you see politicians highlight the need for greater cycling facilities, as we saw recently from Deputy Frank O’Rourke in response to the statistics of Kildare cyclists who were injured, or a newly announced election candidate in Celbridge (Ciara Galvin, Labour) who, when asked for her first priority, said cycling lane s, because she spent three years cycling to and from college in Maynooth, then you know things are going in the right direction.