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"A vibrant town centre is one full of life, not cars" - County Development Plan Review

Local Opinions On Draft County Development Plan 2022-2028

Joanne O'Sullivan and Liz Scott Hall are both active participants in projects embedded in the Carrigaline community. They have keen interests in planning, sustainable mobility, arts, culture and community and following the publishing of the Draft County Development Plan 2022-2028, they have cast an eye over the future vision of Cork in these areas of interest that may be relevant to Carrigaline. Submissions to the Development Plan from the public remain open until July 1st.

Thanks to Ciaran Dineen for compiling this.

Opinion: By Joanne O’Sullivan

I will preface this piece with an admission – I’m no expert. I don’t have qualifications in transport studies, planning or engineering. It started over five years ago, with a simple promise to myself – for the planet and for my waistline, I would walk or cycle any trip of five miles or less, no matter the weather.

They say you have to do something nine times for it to become a habit, so I suppose I’m there by now, and my habits have transformed how I see my native town. This simple switch has opened my eyes to the stark realities facing us as we transition from the most car dependant town in Ireland to something resembling a healthy, active town.

It has pushed me to research, to network, to discuss, with experts and others like me, people who are eager to change from the ground up. I’m no expert, but certainly I consider myself “boots on the ground” on the issue that is sustainable transport for Carrigaline.

The eagerly awaited Draft Cork County Development Plan 2022-28 has at its heart a vision for sustainable living, with densification and promotion of active travel mentioned frequently throughout.

That is nothing new – previous Development Plans have also mentioned such aspirations, but never truly followed through. The last County Development Plan had aspirations for “walkable neighbourhoods”, but I still experience a hostile pedestrian environment every time I walk to the shop or post office, so what makes this new plan different?

There appears to be a dawning realisation on the powers that be that a town like Carrigaline, now the largest town in the county, is fast running out of space. With 80% of houses in the Carrigaline metro area owning at least one car - this clearly cannot continue exponentially. From a merely practical space issue, a modal shift to walking and cycling is essential in order to accommodate the projected increase in population of over 4,000 people. All of those people will need to move around Carrigaline for their short trips, as well as be provided with commuting options that do not depend on the personal car.

Pic: Vision for Main Street Carrigaline proposed by the recently published Carrigaline TPREP

For this reason, the shift to active transport in Carrigaline, as outlined in the plan, is focussed on two main aspects: our connections to other places and our connections to our own place.

In terms of connecting Carrigaline with the wider harbour “cluster” area and onwards to Cork City and suburbs, the plan envisages that the current N28 is to be transformed into an active transport route “to include connections with the Greenway at Passage”.

This will transform Carrigaline’s connections with Cork City, something planned since the 1990s. Connections to Ringaskiddy to serve key employment centres in the lower harbour are also explicitly named in the document.

Meanwhile, connecting residents with local amenities using safe segregated infrastructure is far more vaguely mentioned as an aspiration to “increase active and sustainable travel movements in the town”, “expanded pedestrian links as part of placemaking”, “walks at northern boundary and bridges at the southern edge”. This vague wording does not go far enough to create safe routes for individuals to choose to walk or cycle to access their shopping, banking, post office, etc.

When discussing the Main Street, the plan only mentions that there should be “the highest possible level of amenity for pedestrians and cyclists”, with no specifics behind it. This is a glaring omission and something that needs to be rectified as part of both the final Development Plan and the Carrigaline Transport Plan (TPREP). Specific needs for Carrigaline that must be prioritised for speedy delivery include wider footpaths to allow for comfort, safety as well as social distancing, safe segregated cycle ways that connect residents with the town centre safely, passing by schools and community facilities to maximise their usability.

In addition, raised controlled crossings on all junctions, not just “uncontrolled” crossings, would give priority back to the pedestrian where it belongs, while calming traffic and lowering speeds so that the active transport environment is more pleasant and inviting to use.

It has been shown time and again that those who choose to travel by foot or bike into a town centre spend more in the local shops and businesses, spend more time in the town centre, visit more amenities and businesses and visit more frequently.

A vibrant town centre is one full of life, not cars. We all had the opportunity to experience a “quieter” or “simpler” life during lockdowns in recent times, and if anything positive can be gleaned from these times, it is the increased liveability of our town centre, increased sustainable transport, and a vision for what can be.

The Draft Cork County Development Plan 2022-28 is a vision for what can be done, if Cork County Council follow through and truly put sustainable living front and centre in all aspects of their planning.

Whether they do or not depends on a number of factors, not least of all the willingness of us as a community to demand change, seek a more liveable town, and change our habits with simple switches. I urge readers to formally submit their thoughts on the plan themselves.

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