Whose line is it anyway?

In this article, Jo Sachs-Eldridge from the Leitrim Cycling Festival and Cyclist.ie reflects on the importance of good design and how we might achieve it using the input of diverse voices. 

The announcement of additional funding to create almost 300 jobs in active travel is a very exciting step towards a more sustainably mobile Ireland – as we reported here

As the Minister for Transport notes ‘Developing high quality walking and cycling facilities will encourage more people to switch to active travel and will contribute to tackling climate change. Really good design is what is needed to connect communities and make walking and cycling attractive, safe and accessible to everyone.’

He is absolutely right we need really good design. But we also need to consider the questions of who determines whether this is really good design? Who gets to make those decisions? Who is involved in the whole process of design? Are everyone’s voices being heard – particularly those who may not traditionally engage in the process such as women, young people, people with disabilities and other people who may be even more significantly impacted by the quality of the infrastructure. 

As noted in the recent TII ‘’ report, ‘Travelling in a Woman’s Shoes’, “Transport is often seen as gender neutral, providing benefit to all equally. However a growing body of international research highlights that this is not the case. Women and men can have different needs, constraints and expectations for using transport”.

Really good design is often a highly complex process with no definitive right answer but lots of wrong answers. There is guidance out there, good guidance, but that doesn’t guarantee good design. We know that. So how do we now do things differently? 

My experience in Cardiff, where I previously managed the programme for cycling, is that engaging with the right people at the right time is key to good design. It sounds simple and in some ways it is. But to do it right requires a considerable amount of time and effort. Every aspect needs to be considered – the timing, the information, the audience, the wording, the method. But the time and effort invested will make a considerable difference to the result.  

Because good cycle design is all about lines. To start with are the desire lines of the people who live, shop, work, play, learn in a place. The desire lines matter but they are not the only ‘lines’ that need to be considered. 

We also need to think about the line taken on introducing innovative design; the line we take on deviating from the status quo; on reallocating road space; on removing parking spaces; on reducing the capacity of a junction for motorised private vehicles; on prioritising active travel road users over motorised traffic. 

And then there are all the detailed lines, the lines that can get so easily lost in translation – every millimetre of road space reallocated, every kerbline, every sign installed, every barrier is another decision. Another line.  

Who makes these decisions? 

Who draws these lines? 

There is a myriad of conflicting needs and wants and a myriad of potential decision makers. 

And there are no simple answers. 

The only way we get can this right, the only way we can overcome these conflicts and draw the best possible ‘lines’ is through engagement and collaboration with as many people as possible at every stage of the development. 

From my experience I would argue we need: 

  • strategic cycle network plans developed in collaboration with the people who matter and based on real desire lines; 
  • the integration of these network plans with all other relevant local area and national plans; 
  • routes that are designed based on best practice and through collaborative design workshops that involve all relevant parties – members, internal officers, external stakeholders – all with a clear understanding of the ambitions of the scheme;
  • community street audits or walk-throughs incorporated into the design process – for both internal officers and external stakeholders; 
  • simple audit tools to allow a broader and wider range of people to be involved in the process and to ensure that no aspect of high quality design is overlooked; 
  • effort made to ensure that voices from those harder to reach groups are heard – the right lines to be drawn by the right people at the right time.  

We know that designing for the expedient movement of car drivers no longer fits with our policies, our future plans, our targets, or our long term sustainability. 

Cycling benefits all of us regardless of who is doing the pedalling through the reduction in congestion, pollution, pressure on the health service and improved community cohesion. 

Key to developing a high quality cycle network that will have an impact on travel behaviour is the answer to the question ‘whose line is it anyway?’

In order to create quality networks that make cycling an attractive option we must make the time and effort to engage with everyone that matters.

As ultimately no one has a claim to the line.

It is all of ours. 

Photo credit: Luciana Prado

Cyclist.ie submission on nta strategy for the gda

Cyclist.ie made a submission today (Friday 22 January 2021) to the National Transport Authority in regard to its Review of the Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area (GDA).

In our submission (a link to it is below), we stressed the point that, almost uniquely, cycling is a key enabler for the four challenges listed within the strategy overview:

–  Climate Change and the Environment
–  Health and Equality
–  Growth and Change and
–  The Economy 

We pointed out that progress has been slow in the early years of the 2016-2035 GDA Strategy on the development of the cycling network, despite the publication of the GDA Cycle Network Plan Strategy in 2013 .  

Given the extra urgency in regard to the need to decarbonise our transport system and provide a healthy mobility system, we now look forward to a serious focus and rapid progress in the revised strategy on all public transport projects and, in particular, on active travel projects. We need a fairer allocation of road space and reallocation towards active travel.  This needs to be prioritised as part of this strategy review.

We underlined the need for high quality cycle infrastructure to be provided throughout the region and linking in to public transport interchanges with state-of-the-art cycle parking provision.

We exhorted the NTA to be far more ambitious in its strategy development so that in the coming years, staff from Local Authorities countrywide – and even from abroad – will travel throughout the GDA to observe and to try out a wealth of super high quality, low carbon, mobility interventions and systems.

You can read our full submission here here.

And we wish to acknowledge the work of our colleagues in Dublin Cycling Campaign in drafting their submission (from which we have borrowed many points).

And you can read the NTA issues paper to which we responded here.  

Cyclist.ie Warmly Welcomes Active Travel Jobs Announcement

Cyclist.ie warmly welcomes the announcement today from the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan T.D. and Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton T.D. that up to 248 new jobs in local authorities will be created to expand walking and cycling facilities all over the country.

Speaking about the plan to employ up to 218 additional staff across the local authorities, with an additional 30 proposed for Regional Cycling Design Offices, Minister Eamon Ryan said:

“Developing high quality walking and cycling facilities will encourage more people to switch to active travel and will contribute to tackling climate change. Really good design is what is needed to connect communities and make walking and cycling attractive, safe and accessible to everyone. We’re providing €360 million in funding in the 2021 budget for active travel, and this week I announced that we will fund dedicated teams in all local authorities to deliver on the commitments in the Programme for Government. This project will more than quadruple the number of staff working on active travel projects on local authorities. This is a game-changer in terms of delivering high-quality infrastructure across the country in both rural and urban areas.”

Minister of State Naughton stated: “Today’s announcement, underpinned by our commitment to spend almost €1 million per day on walking and cycling, focuses on resourcing the shift towards more sustainable modes of transport. Local authorities are at the heart of what we want to achieve and we need to ensure they have the right level of resources available to deliver this in every city, town and village across the country. Vitally, we will use these dedicated resources to implement Government commitments such as the new Safe Routes to School programme. This Programme will ensure that children of all ages and backgrounds can travel to school safely, and in a healthy and active way.”

According to the announcement made earlier today (Friday 22 January 2021), the new staff will be dedicated to delivering and promoting active travel in Ireland and will work across design, communications / community liaison and construction oversight functions. The new staff will support the delivery of almost 1,000 kilometres of improved walking and cycling infrastructure by 2025.

Cyclist.ie warmly welcomes the announcement above having campaigned ahead of the General Election 2020 for increased investment in trained staff in sustainable travel – see here

Chairperson of Cyclist.ie, Colm Ryder, responded to the announcement saying that this could be a game-changer in how we plan for high quality sustainable mobility in Ireland over the next decade.
“We need to shift our emphasis towards low carbon and healthy transport, and it is extremely important that Local Authorities are engaging with the latest ideas in mobility planning and behavioural change through new staff trained in design, communications, community liaison as well as enhanced construction oversight functions. Additionally, the new jobs in every Local Authority will bring greater parity to the development of active travel across the country – in other words, this marks a shift from a mainly city focused approach to one where we will start to see real changes in walking and cycling provision in every county in the country”. 

Vice-Chairperson of Cyclist.ie, Neasa Bheilbigh, added:
“If we are to reduce the inequalities in mobility, and make it as normal for children to cycle to school in Ireland as it is in many European countries, then we urgently need this new cohort of staff in Local Authorities who will inject new thinking and ideas into Irish Councils. We must remember that everyone benefits when more people cycle. We look forward to hearing more details of the government plans following on from this announcement.” 

Further details of the announcement can be read in the formal Department of Transport press release.