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You should cycle on Limerick city’s footpaths

Perhaps against my better judgement I’m going to let myself have a <rant> 🙂

Let me pose the question:

Would you cycle on a 50km/h road with your kid on the back?

If you say not, I wouldn’t blame you either. The European Commission advises that 50km/h is an unacceptable speed to avoid fatalities when humans and humans in their vehicles are interacting. (You could argue that those humans on bikes are fine to be hit at 50km/h if they’ve got a foam hat on, but I won’t accept that argument.)

To carry on with this argument we’ll have to agree on one assumption: that in a city a human has a right to go somewhere in a public place, be it on bike or sitting in a vehicle. If you don’t agree with this point, I’ve more work to do with you than I can cover in this single post 😉

If you’re taking your kid to the creche on your bike, and you’ve the choice between a 50km/h road and the footpath, I think that for safety’s sake you should take to the footpath.

That’s a point of contention. Rule of the Road say (I presume) that you may not cycle on the footpath. Not to bring it down to an argument of “an eye for an eye”, but if you’ve a habit of parking your car partly on the footpath, or not giving right of way at junctions to people who are walking, you’re already in breach of those rules.

Why not cycle on footpaths? I thought before reading this that it was illegal, but it seems like it’s more that you must cycle on footpaths with due consideration (the negative phrasing of that as used on that page is “may not cycle without due consideration”).

It seems that the general thinking in our society is to maintain the safety of those using public spaces.

By this logic we can reach the conclusion that you absolutely must cycle on the footpaths when the road is higher than 30km/h speed limit, and do so with due consideration to all those around you as you always should do wherever you are.

citizensinformation.ie contradicts this point, saying that you may not cycle on the footpath. So if you’ve more insights into these laws than me, get in touch.

Residential area citizens

Should we have 100km/h speed limit for residential areas?

Think of an Irish residential area as a place with a bunch of houses built. Where people live en-masse. Where people live out their lives inside and outside. It’s where work on their gardens, walk to the shop, or walk to school. Where kids are brought up. Where people grow old.

Now let me ask you this question:

Should residential areas have speed limits of 100km/h?

If you replied yes, then this post is not for you, I kindly ask you to leave 😉

If you replied no, then why did you answer no?

I’ll assume that your reasoning has something to do with the view that it’s too dangerous.

The danger to you is not really the question, because you’re free to put yourself in danger. It’s the real danger you’re posing to other people  is the crux of the matter.

Why do you think it’s too dangerous to drive at 100km/h in a residential area?  Travelling at that speed means that:

  1. The time you have to react to an “obstacle” is minuscule
  2. The physical impact of your vehicle on the thing (person) it hits would be devastating

As a sidenote, an underlying working principle today in Ireland is: I am driving my car on this road, and you do not have the right to get in my way. If you are crossing the road and you do not get out of my way, I may not “see” you until it’s “too late”. This societal behaviour is part of the context for the next question:

If 100km/h is not a reasonable speed to drive at, what is a reasonable speed in a residential area?

I’d define reasonable as a speed where you’re highly unlikely of doing damage to another person, be it that the person is in a vehicle or not, and including the full cross-section of ages of people living in the area.

The European Commission cites a study by Tingvall & Haworth (1999), where they say the principle of “appropriate speed limits” is set on:

The driver/vehicle/road system should operate such that, in the event of an impact, forces are not exerted on vehicle occupants or other road users which are likely to lead to a fatality. 

Note that this study is looking at the WORST case scenario of death. They are not even considering what speed limit would avoid major brain injury.

That same EC page states that based on this study, “where pedestrians are present, vehicle speeds should be no higher than 30km/h“.

So the academics and EC have concluded that, no, residential areas should not have speed limits have 100km/h. That in order to “reasonably” avoid people being killed by others driving their cars, a “safe speed” LIMIT for our residential areas is 30km/h.

Irish Cities as Footpaths

Irish cities are roads. We could instead treat them as footpaths.

A road is a very specific place, a place that we designate with a function:

  • A way to get from A to B
  • Priority by law given to people in vehicles
  • Covered by laws encoding not slowing down those behind you

A footpath is much the default state of our world:

  • Walk where you please
  • You can’t fatally injure someone by walking
  • You’re not making much noise
  • You can bump into people and have a chat
  • You have the right to be there, no matter what your age

Let me give you an example in Limerick of the current situation. You’ve made your way into Limerick city. You had your lunch. Next you’re walking from a pharmacy called Roberts Pharmacy, to AIB bank which is about 20 metres away. You’re on the main street of Limerick city. You have one thing to cross, though: a four-lane-wide road called Lower Cecil Street.  There are two lanes of drivers on this road, driving onto O’Connell Street. And your crossing looks like this:

Lower Cecil Street in Limerick, Ireland.
Lower Cecil Street coming onto O’Connell Street. This is Limerick city as a road. Imagine you’re walking form Robert’s Pharmacy on the left to AIB Bank on the right:best of luck to you! Imagine your route if Limerick was instead a footpath. Copyright Google.

The reality of that situation is that you’re using Limerick city, and Limerick city’s core emphasis is on being a road. If you’re driving in your vehicle, you can power on through. If you’re walking “across” Limerick as a road, you only have the speed of your legs to get out of the way of people using the city as a road.

Our cities in Ireland could be footpaths. We can make them that if we wake up and realise that’s what you want. That’s where you can wander from shop to shop. You can buy your lunch, walk to grab a coffee. On a footpath, you’re not typically open to being fatally injured by vehicles. You’ve got the chance to either walk as fast as you like, or bump into friends and have a chat with them. You don’t need one-way footpaths, or traffic lights, or speed bumps, or flashing lights on a footpath.

You can be human on a footpath. Our cities can be footpaths.