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Opinion: Bus Connects Must Be Radical If Cork Is To Rival Dublin For Regional Development

Writes Ciaran Dineen

In 2017, the late Dr Will Brady of the Centre for Planning, Education and Research at University College Cork, argued that for Cork to fulfil its role as the Second City, it would require “explicit public policy supports to compliment its credentials as Ireland’s key opportunity for effective regional development.”

Last week, as part of the future sustainable growth and development of Cork, the government published the latest document of Bus Connects Cork, compiled by the National Transport Authority (NTA), in conjunction with world-renowned transport planner, Jarret Walker and Bus Éireann.

The €600m investment proposal upon its full implementation as currently stands, will deliver 75kms of bus corridors across 12 different tributaries linked to the City, while also developing 54kms of quality cycle lanes that will encourage modal shift and promote knock-on impacts for future residential development within our core City Centre.

If Cork City is to increase its population by around 50% before 2040, as outlined by the National Planning Framework, critical investment in public infrastructure is required to create healthy, but economically attractive, market opportunities which encourage private investment. Moreover, if commercial development is to continue to prosper in the City’s commercial core area, extending to new proposals for the Docklands, creating reliable, frequent, and cheap public transportation is crucial as part of Cork’s ascendency to becoming an economic powerhouse, providing an effective alternative to the Dublin Central Business District.

While Carrigaline and other areas within the local area are not directly affected by the most recent design proposals, the implementation of bus corridors will have an impact on many commuters that live and work in South Cork. Some of those that are most relevant include bus corridors to be located at Maryborough Hill, the Airport Road, Douglas Road and Dunkettle.

This would also result in a redesign of some street networks, with a proposal to reduce Douglas Road to a one-way system in order to incorporate bus and cycle lanes in both directions, requiring inbound traffic via private car to use alternative routes.

The creation of quality bus corridors and safe and segregated cycling lanes for Cork is being driven by the realisation that dependency on private car usage is simply no longer a long-term solution for sustainable urban development. The latest document is light on detail, but this is most likely due to the fact that consultants are first waiting to hear from members of the public.

However, there are already efforts to torpedo the proposals, with proponents of car dependency feeling aggravated over the thought of a bus full of people overtaking their 2.0 litre diesel-engine car, as they crawl forward through traffic congestion-filled highways. Of course, the truth is that these people have no interest in the future wellbeing of our environment, towns, cities and thus its citizens. However, it is this contented class, which enables the status quo, that must be disrupted if future generations in Cork are to have any hope of living and working in a way that is deemed satisfactory and perhaps even utopian.

The reality is that there is likely to be a prolonged period of turbulance in energy markets, which may result in the days of €1.40 petrol and diesel being lost forever. Whether this is the reality or not in the short-term remains to be seen, but what is certain is that the phasing out of diesel cars and the depletion of oil supplies in the future will require significant behavioural changes in the way we approach personal mobility.

To combat rising inflation, which will continue to hurt peoples’ pockets over the course of the next 18 months, public transport in key cities has recently been subsidised dramatically, encouraging people to move away from private car usage where possible, in favour of sustainable transport. This summer, students will be able to travel from Carrigaline to local beaches in Crosshaven and Ringaskiddy or Cork City for just €0.80 using a leap card, while adults can make the same journey for €1.55. Long gone are the days when a return ticket on the 222 bus would cost just shy of €9.

With cheaper fares and increased frequency, all that remains is providing a reliable, on-time bus service that could revolutionise how people in Cork City and commuter towns travel around the County. Bus corridors, in effect, act as gateways to destinations, largely removing bumper to bumper traffic which acts as a barrier to modal shift. It’s simple logic really, if on one hand you reduce commuting times for public transport services, increase their frequency and reduce the cost of consumption, and on the other refrain from subsidising future rises in oil prices at the pumps, people will change their habits, forcing employers to do likewise.

There is much left to be said about Bus Connects, and the full story cannot yet be told until it has reached its final outcome. However, if Cork is to challenge Dublin as a serious contender for regional development, providing a service that is like that envisaged by these transport proposals is one step in the right direction.

There is already too much time and money invested in the future development of Cork for it to suddenly stop now, but getting Bus Connects right is by no means a forgone conclusion. Whatever happens over the course of the next 6-12 months will however be a once a lifetime opportunity. Bowing to faux-outrage and cries from fanatics of Robert Moses must be avoided, while at the same time respecting the inputs of those concerned. However, the big picture must be borne in mind at the end of the day, the future of our towns and cities depends on it.

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