urban

“We can say, ‘Stop with all these plans and make something new'”

O’Connell Street, Limerick, Ireland with the book “Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality” by Melissa and Chris Bruntlett, with permission. Quotes further down this article.

Limerick, let’s learn from Groningen from 1969. In 2019, cycling is “part of their DNA”. Let’s say STOP, and let’s propose what we DO want.

If you want to see pedestrian and cycling networks in Limerick city, read on. (Or if you feel like you could possibly be convinced.)

Limerick’s O’Connell Street Proposals (July 2019)

Limerick’s main street redesign proposes to not cater for a two-way segregated cycle lane because:

“Due to the existing one-way system within the city centre, and the limited cycle network, it was not proposed to include cycle lanes on Phase 1 of the O’Connell Street Revitalisation as it would not provide additional cyclist connections over the relatively short length of the scheme.” … [followed by we could if we wanted to.]

O’Connell Street redesign, 4. Design Statement (registration needed). Note mine in replacement of excuses.

Translation:

Because we don’t have a cycle network, and because we currently have two, three and four-lane one-way roads in our city centre for vehicles, we will not provide for a segregated cycle track when redesigning this public space.

My translation. What?

No!

NO! Dear enlightened Limerick folk, say it with me: NO! We want a generous two-way bike way through our city centre which we are happy for our 7 year old kids to bike to school on. We want the silence to allow laughter and chatting in our city. Before bikes, even, we want people walking to be prioritized. We want a city centre with smoking ban-quality air. No, “shared space” is not shared space, when it’s in the established dominance hierarchy. We want human space. Humans who walk, cycle, shop, eat, drink, laugh, live.


Let’s Learn From Others: Act

Groningen, Netherlands offers us an example of what was before and what can be. It’s a city where cycling is the most commonly used mode of transport. Let’s jump to Chapter 3 “Fortune Favors the Brave” of “Building the Cycling City” (thanks so much for allowing these extended quotes; typos mine):

Max van den Berg was just 24 years young in 1969 when he decided to throw his hat into the circus ring of municipal politics, mere months after obtaining his sociology degree. … Dramatic plans to “modernize” his once-fortified hometown – similar to those being executed 250 kilometers south in Rotterdam – convinced Van den Berg to leave the world of academia and commit himself to a higher calling.

… “They wanted to bring big roads through the city, and make totally new neighborhoods”, he recalls. … As they had attempted elsewhere in the country, planners and policy makers were scrambling to create the ideal conditions for mass motoring, and were prepared to sacrifice Groningen’s centuries of history and character in pursuit of the monolithic, monocultural modernist ideals. …

According to Van den Berg, a willingness to get his hands dirty developed at an early age. … “It means every person with conviction can participate in the democratic process, and has the power to change things.” …

[He won a seat on the city council], based on a platform opposing these car-centric plans. But rather than latch onto the existing social movements arising in other Dutch cities and towns, he opted to shape his own Groningen-specific solution. “If we don’t like this, we don’t have to say ‘Yes,'” he remembers telling his constituents. “We can say, ‘Stop with all these plans and make something new.'”

For the first two years as alderman, Van den Berg and his allied council members were in the minority, and he behaved as such. “I caused a lot of debate, and that debate created a lot of support. I had support from the traditional labor class, students, professors, and the middle class,” he recalls. In the face of that vigorous dissent, four members of the opposition resigned in protest, and Max and five other progressive aldermen were named to the city board tasked with developing the urban and traffic plans. This newly reconfigured board had the support of the majority of the city council, and Van den Berg – at just 26 – found himself deputy mayor assigned with Traffic and Urban Development portfolio.

Max wasted no time taking advantage of his newly secured mandate, drawing stakeholders from the business community, residents’ associations, law enforcement, urban planners, students and cycling advocates, and he gathered them in a room in the Martinitoren (“St. Martin’s Tower”), the 700-year-old church located in Groningen’s main market square. The goal was to create an alternate proposal for the city center. “We brought in enough coffee, and we say ‘no one leaves this room unless you have to do a specific task,” Van den Berg recollects. “Step by step, we will create this plan. And the technical translation we did in more or less four weeks.”

To read the rest you’ll need a copy of “Building the Cycling City“.

Do you feel fired up? Are you ready to say no? Are you ready to help bring people together using whatever influence you have in your life, and come up with a new proposal, together? What’s your next step?