One-way Footpaths are Flawed and Harmful

Limerick Council are trialling a logical, yet ultimately harmful, approach to facilitating access to our public space by way of one-way footpaths. The trial should be removed, and here I argue why.

WHO has advised staying 1 meter from people coughing and sneezing, to reduce the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 from them.

In Ireland, the HSE advise:

There is very little risk if you are just passing someone. But try to keep a distance of 2 metres as much as possible.

People have been graciously walking on the roadway, so that they pass others 2 meters apart.

Ask a roads engineer…

Limerick Council engineers are trialling an advisory one-way walking system:

Pedestrian violating advisory one-way paths system being trialled by Limerick Council. “How dare he, he’s putting me at risk of infection by being here.” Taken on Tuesday 21st April 2020 at Sarsfield Bridge on the Ennis Road, Limerick (Ireland).

The idea is that you stay on the right-side footpath while getting around the place.

The thinking is that if people walk at the same speed as each other and in the same direction, they don’t have to take measures like walking onto the roadway to pass each other by.

The engineers’ get-out clause is that this is advisory and not mandatory.

The result of this thinking, however, is both flawed and harmful.

Flawed thinking

A theory can be disproved by showing when it fails.

I live in Mayorstone in Limerick, and my local shop is Johnsey’s. Fair play to the staff who have continued to work there. Here’s my route:

This would make it impractical to try to buy from the shop:

  • I turn right from my house, walk toward Shelbourne Road
  • The right-side path veers right toward the city. I veer right with the road and now I’m on Shelbourne Road. Johnsey’s is toward my left, but I’d need to cross Shelbourne Road to do so. There’s no crossing at this junction on this 50km/h road, so I can back-track, and walk toward the city until I reach the zebra crossing a little further along, and get to the right-side of Shelbourne Road. OK, now I keep walking up to Johnsey’s along Shelbourne Road and North Sexton Street.
  • Now I’m at Johnsey’s, but it’s across a 50km/h wide road with no crossing there. Should I walk the paint shop, to get to a pedestrian crossing with a shared plastic beg button? To get home, I need to press two shared plastic beg buttons. Or do I give up and not leave my home in the first place?

So I simply can’t walk to my local shop following Limerick Council’s trialled approach, without perhaps doubling the distance. It’s a flawed system that is impossible to follow. My example here is within the city, up from the Ennis Road which their trial has been put on. It therefore affects my navigation of the public space even if they’re intending their trial to only cover specific streets of the city centre.

The proposal is intended to reduce risk of harm, yet it actually puts people in more harm’s way, by needing to cross roads that are 1.5 times the speed recommended by the EU Commission to avoid death upon impact, and where there are no crossings provided at each junction. Therefore, the thinking of one-way footpaths is a flawed attempt at increasing the health and safety of our residents.

Harmful effects of the flawed thinking

Other than increasing the risk of people walking from one place to another by forcing them to cross streets without crossings, perhaps a more socially dangerous side effect would be that it would encourage people in the public space to put judgement and scorn on others using the public space.

If a person is walking on the right-site of the street, and encounters a person walking in the opposite direction, the situation is now a hostile encounter. “Why are they walking toward me? Limerick Council have advised them to be walking on the other side of the street.” Yet that person walking toward you is there due to the very nature of the flawed thinking of the system being trialled.

The most vulnerable will be the least likely to put themselves in danger of crossing the road without crossings. Therefore, they would be the people under the most judgement and scorn of being in our public space.

The trial of one-way footpaths is therefore flawed, but also harmful. It’s harmful in that it’s increases the physical harm of having to cross the road (which may be statistically more dangerous than walking past another member of the public), and it’s harmful in that it encourages confrontations and conflict among people looking to share the path.

The least visible harmful effect of Limerick Council’s proposed solution will be the harm of people not bothering at all to use their footpaths. In other words, the proposal being trialled would discourage people in the first place to venture outside for mental space, or more direct reasons such as going to the shop. The proposal most harms the people using that space: all of us, since we all walk somewhere within urban settings.

A new approach

The solutions that we trial should, rather:

  • Give up the flawed thinking that the use of our public space needs to maximise use of motor vehicles at the real risk of all others
  • Give up the old assumptions that space currently dedicated to motor vehicles must be maintained and not reassigned, as all of this is public space, whose use should be optimised for its democratic use
  • Enhance the health and safety of those using our public space, and not increase their risk

Limerick Council roads engineers need to remove their trialled signs painted onto footpaths. The trial is flawed and harmful and should be immediately discontinued for that reason. Continuing the trial another day will put the people it’s meant to serve in harm’s way. Each day the trial is continued represents added harm posed to our residents.

Do you agree? Please share this, please contact your local councillors by email or phone to tell them, and please write to Limerick Council to tell them that their trial is flawed and harmful, and ask for a case number to track your issue.