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Dublin Opinion >>
Walk This Way
Sunday September 25, 2016 18:44 by Joey Newell
Some observations on infrastructure in Ireland in relation to western European standards. Also, a case for a national path system.
What´s the story with infrastructure of the current European standard type in Ireland, and why does there appear to be such opposition to it? When after decades of delay, and multiples over budget, projects of this standard are completed, the hubris of the government is palpable. Godlike, as they walk their new creation on opening day, gazing with bemusement at why the serfs are not jumping for joy at having received anything at all for their tax money, seemingly oblivious that such offerings are common place, in the common market. Anywhere else in western Europe you have a functioning; road / bicycle / pedestrian / public transport system, in, and out, of the cities.
Clearly, fantastic projects have been completed, and in a really cool way that you would only see in Ireland, other times the approach is just plain odd. When the new speed limit signs started to appear some years back, some of them were no bigger than a dinner plate, adorned with completely inappropriate speed limits in relation to the roads in which they were planted, whether it was the 50 kmph limit attached to a dual carriageway just outside of Galway city, or the 80kmph sign in Clarenbridge village, on a road which ended 100 hundred meters after the sign. Then there is the curious incident of the newly installed bicycle path on the 10 kilometre stretch of road between Kilcolgan and Kinvara, which carries a lot of tourists and a lot of tourist money. This is a particularly treacherous stretch of road and has taken more than a few lives of those trying to leisurely make their way to Kinvara or the Burren Beyond. So when it seemed that out of nowhere a bicycle path was to be installed, there was a sense of relief. Though that relief soon turned to confusion when it was discovered that this path would take up no more than `one´ of that 10KM stretch, starting somewhere in the middle, and ending abruptly, though clearly posted so, in the bushes. What must these tourists think?, I guess that we´re a bit mad and don't really believe in reinvesting their tourist Euro into even semi safe access to the places of interest.
As Ireland is not a developing country, the level of poor infrastructure planning and implementation that exists is unacceptable. Higher tax rates are often cited as a reason why neighbouring governments have been able to provide so much more for the people. But the myth of higher taxes, for example in Sweden in relation to Ireland, is soon dismantled, on the level of actual tax paid, and the incomparable `bang for your buck´. It would be interesting to know, what for example, would Holland have produced, with the same billions that the Irish government received from the EU + Irish Taxpayer. While conducting a survey earlier in the millennium on European road building projects, a Danish firm discovered that Ireland was an average of 85% over budget.
A lot has been done, and things are getting better, and its important to have a positive outlook, but all the positive development in the world shouldn't negate the responsibility for the current lack of imagination, or the billions that were squandered, badly managed, or just plain robbed, by those in control. And, if it is just an extreme lack of knowing on how it should be done, why not simply emulate what other cities have successfully provided for their people `decades´ ago.
This small country has produced some of the best athletes, artists, musicians and creativity on the planet, clearly Ireland is capable of so much more, so why is it, that more often than not, so much less is the result. Cliches such as; cronyism, cute whorism, and “ara she´ll be grand” are no longer amusing nor charming enough to validate the crime that is the lack of value for money that Ireland receives for its infrastructure spending. It would at least be something if the problem was lack of funding, but Ireland has at the very least equalled the infrastructure spending of its European neighbours, with a vastly different ROI. Spend a few days in the neighbouring countries to `really´ compare what they have been provided.
Imagine if we stopped building unsightly and poor functioning housing estates, and instead focused on creating modern versions of sustainable and community friendly villages. What if instead of gambling the country´s future on the tax revenue of other countries companies, we developed a dynamic eco tourism industry, which would at the same time as protecting what´s left of our beautiful landscape, generate essential and ethical revenue. Why not instead of spreading the plague of grotesque shopping malls and foreign super chains, we aggressively promoted and supported the return of local growers, suppliers and retailers. Why not instead of allowing beautiful countryside robbing speculation buildings, we focused on designing a comprehensive, non intrusive, path system all over the country.
A system of paths that would provide easy access to the wonderful places in this country, with paths along the rivers, commuter routes to work and school, creating an invaluable asset to an invaluable country, not to mention providing simple joy for all the walkers, hikers, cyclists and dreamers of Ireland. That one could walk or cycle all over the country, or to just simply walk to the shop without taking your life into your hands. Imagine what that would do for; tourism and healthy lifestyles, reducing pollution, road deaths and traffic congestion, improving workplace production, while simultaneously increasing quality of life. They don't have to build the beauty, it´s already there in abundance, just some non combustion type means of accessing it.
As a builder myself, I know that there would of course be challenges, but most definitely not unsurmountable ones. It could be quite rudimentary to begin with, with continued development over time. The farmer question is of course, front and center, their concerns are legitimate, though the safer roads and increased tourist revenue alone might be a reason enough to make a deal.