The Limerick Delusion

Post update (Mar 11, 2018): I found statistics specific to Limerick city and suburbs for both censuses referenced in this post and have updated the figures accordingly.
public relations
noun
  • the professional maintenance of a favourable public image by a company or other organisation or a famous person.
propaganda
noun
  • information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.
delusion
noun
  • an idiosyncratic belief or impression maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder.

PR, propaganda or delusion? What’s the difference? Is there any? I suppose public relations (PR) is a more acceptable, gentler, term than propaganda but they are essentially the same when you cut through the nonsense. Delusion? When someone like Mark Zuckerberg believes Facebook will ‘spread prosperity and freedom, promote peace and understanding, lift people out of poverty, and accelerate science‘, is he in PR mode or just completely delusional? Unfortunately I think it’s the latter but for all our sakes I hope it’s the former. So what has all this to do with Limerick’s cycle infrastructure? Well, like Mr. Zuckerberg, I sometimes worry if Limerick City and County Council are just engaging in your typical run-of-the-mill PR campaign or are they completely delusional?

Since I have been on this earth, Limerick has had a less than favourable reputation nationally, some of which is merited. Over the past few years, any negative commentary on Limerick is usually met with an exaggerated response about the positive aspects of Limerick. There is nothing wrong with challenging negative perceptions but responding with PR does nothing to address the issue that gave rise to that perception in the first place.

If you look around Limerick, you will notice signs here and there that state something about Limerick that would make you ask, “is this just PR or are they delusional”? Take the signs still at most entrances to the city promoting Limerick as ‘a’ European City of Sport for 2011 (there were 6 other cities with the same title that year, in 2018 there are 19). Ah yes, the prestigious European City of Sport. Forgive me if I missed something but what exactly does/did that entail? We also have the signs advertising Limerick as a candidate city for European Capital of Culture 2020 (which was lost). Not sure what the point of having these still in place 2 years after the decision was made to award the accolade to Galway. Another curious set of signs you’ll find closer to the city centre are the ones advertising Limerick’s Fashion Quarter. Yes, you read that right. I’m glad there are signs there telling me because you’d miss it if you only looked at the shops around you.

limerick_fashion_quarter
Fashion Quarter inspired by Julia Roberts in 1990 classic Pretty Woman

Then of course there are the biggest and best of them all – the Limerick Smarter Travel City signs. These Goliaths can be found anywhere but they are usually located where they will be seen most. On seeing one of these for the first time, I was impressed that a city like Limerick was taking “smarter travel” so serious. If they were going to spend that much money of advertising signs, imagine what they must be spending on infrastructure!

limerick_smarter_travel_1
Welcome to the Smarter Travel City. Ironically the only way to travel on this route is by car as there are no footpaths, cycle lanes or bus routes here.

 

Not a lot it turned out. We did get a website, some nice bike stands, some storage lockers and a number of “behavioural change” programmes. As you can see, keeping everything ‘on brand’ was the priority so great attention was put into making sure that the Limerick Smarter Travel visual identity was consistently and diligently reproduced across all treatments but what exactly did Limerick Smarter Travel achieve?

According to census 2011, 2.5% of people within Limerick City and suburbs used a bike as a means of travel to school, college or work. In census 2016, that number had increased to 2.7% (+0.2%). In Galway, this number increased from 4.8% to 5.6% (+0.8%). In Cork, the numbers went from 2.8% to 3.6% (+0.8%). Neither Galway nor Cork were designated smarter travel demonstration cities like Limerick was during this period but growth in cycling as a mode of transport far outperformed Limerick.

On page 42 of the Southern Environs Local Area Plan 2011-2017 is the following:

Since 2005, much progress has been made by the installation of cycle-ways along St. Nessans road (from the City boundary to Raheen roundabout) and along Dooradoyle road from the junction with St. Nessans road as far as the N20; along St. Nessans road from Raheen roundabout as far as the City boundary. The proposed routes as shown in Map 3 are designed to extend the network further, placing emphasis on routes to schools and shops and forming links to the City and along open space amenities. Ultimately it is hoped that there will be a coherent network of off road and on-road cycleways, linking Mungret, Raheen and Dooradoyle to the Crescent Shopping Centre and Limerick City.

Really? When you look at Map 3 referenced in the report, you see a continuous line illustrating the bike lane from the city centre to Raheen.

cycle-lane-lap
The cyan line on this map represents where LCCC think cycle lanes exist as part of a “coherent network of cycleways”.

If you were to believe everything you read, this would all sound quite impressive. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. While the lines in the maps are continuous, the cycle lanes are not.

Another feature of this incoherent network which diagrams like those in the Local Area Plan do not illustrate is how unsafe it is. You can tell it’s not safe just by looking at it but another telltale sign of how unsafe it is is how many people actually use it – practically none. Now those involved in the Limerick Smarter Travel initiative would say that due to the limited budget they received, they could only focus on a couple of infrastructure projects in the north of the city but that’s not the impression you would get when you see the great big signs promoting Limerick Smarter Travel at every entrance to the city. Maybe they were just for PR? More worrying than PR programmes like Smarter Travel is LCCC’s view on the progress it is making on developing a basic cycle network in Limerick. When they talk about “much progress being made” (+0.2% in 5 years anyone?), is this PR, propaganda or delusion? If it’s either of the first two then there is hope for Limerick as it at least signifies an understanding of the reality by LCCC and all this is just an attempt to fool the public. If it’s “an idiosyncratic belief or impression maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder”, then what hope does Limerick have or ever developing a coherent cycle network?