Irish Commuter Connectivity — Our Goal is to be Kept Apart

Too Long, Didn’t Read: I wanted to reduce my cycling commute distance by 29% by having better connectivity to a nearby “bike commuter route”. But I realised that since people want to be kept at safe distances from “anti-social behaviour”, they’ll seek to maintain that distance, and car distances make it sustainable to live far enough away from each other.

From where I live, this is the best route to take by bike or by foot to get to the city centre of Limreick, Ireland. It brings you along the River Shannon, past the old Guinness Bridge, along the old canal, and into the city centre. The route is 2.7km:

Current route in Limerick
The existing situation: no connection from housing estate to canal.

My current commute by bike. It takes me on to the road, in through another estate, until I get to the river. There, it’s a “commuter smart link”, with no cars. Although there is the odd swan that gets in the way.

And here’s my suggested route tweak to get the ~200 people living in this housing estate 29% closer to the city by bike or walking:

Shorter route in Limerick
The proposal: connect the housing estate to the core “commuter greenway”. Aha, we don’t want to, we want to keep eachother apart as far as possible.

There’s currently a high fence at the back of the housing estate. For this proposed shorter route, there would need to be a pathway made to connect us directly to the existing canal route.

My home city of Limerick was given part funding to help implement a “smarter travel” policy. It’s funding infrastructure development.

The project’s stated objective is to “have a significant positive effect on smarter connectivity across our community” (link to PDF). Public servants are doing this in order to help hit their government-set targets of reducing the proportion of car usage.

How would you implement a “smater travel” policy?

My naive approach to implementing this “social habit change” would be to:

  • Prioritise bikes and pedestrians over cars in infrastructure decisions
  • Make it as short as possible for bikes and pedestrians to get to their work place and shops
  • Maximise the usage of pathways with no cars. Limerick has historical infrastructure of the Shannon river and a connecting canal, which used to bring horse-drawn barges in and out of the city.

Objections to connectivity

Our housing estate is right on one of the three commuter routes being developed for cyclists. However, there’s no direct access to the estate from the route. I suggested my idea to connect our housing estate directly to the commuter route, and these were the main objections I heard:

  • Objection A: “Anti Social Behaviour” could make its way more easily into the housing estate
  • Objection B: Children would be at danger, having access to the canal
  • Objection C: Local Travellers would be walking their horses into the housing estate

For “Anti Social Behaviour”, my interpretation is that people feel that making it easier to walk between the city centre and the housing estate, that there’s more a chance of people from potentially poorer areas making their way into the housing estate to Cause Trouble.

If you follow this logic to its conclusion, surely wouldn’t you close off all access to the housing estate, blocking it off from the roads that lead to the city?

At the very least, it says to me that people are happy to drive a little further and feel more protected than to live effectively closer to the city.

For the danger to children and water, I do find this to be a reasonable objection. Following this logic again, though, if you valued the safety of your children you wouldn’t allow cars to drive at speed through the length of your hosing estate. The car rules, even inside our housing estate.

On the objection of horses being walked into the estate, that’s probably a question for the Gardaí or the court system if something is being done illegally. It’s not a valid reason to not improve quality of life.

Living reasonably distant is the goal

Underlying all this is that people happily live reasonably far from amenities, including the city centre, in order to feel protected in their cocoon.

What makes for a reasonable distance in the mind is enabled by our cars (this isn’t a judgment, but an observation). What’s another 90 seconds driving along a 1km road, if it means our houses are effectively safer and further away from perceived threats?

My original intentions

In my naive view, here was how I thought increased effective connectivity would look like, bringing everywhere closer together:

My thought on connectivity

I suppose this is close to my ideal view of the city of Limerick. Residential areas would be effectively as close as possible to the city centre by means of connectivity.

Acceptance of reality

However, I’ve accepted that this is more the reality of how Irish society wants to be laid out geographically, made sustainable by our cars:

Actual connectivity in Ireland
Our shared assumptions results in us living FURTHER apart, despite living in the same city.

Residential areas would effectively like to be further apart than “as the crow flies”.

Despite Limerick’s civil servants’ stated objectives of innovative commuting in order to hit their targets, they’re embedded within our car culture. I only found resistance in the smarter travel project to increase our “community connectivity”, and it’s ironically against a backdrop of car commuting. Car commuting, in effect, held back the ambitions of the funding project that set out to reduce car commuting.

The ultimate conclusion is this: if you want to live within easy distance of the city centre, then live right there.