For the love of god just try an east-west bus service for a while.
All roads lead to Rome – which is about a 29 hour drive from Galway. It’s also the average amount of time it takes to commute for a week in Galway. This commute would have been greatly shortened if Rome had sustained its expansion as an empire and consumed Galway, but luckily for the rest of Europe, while not well documented, Galway clearly defeated the Romans, and drove them back to their unsophisticated marble pillared hovels in sunny Italy. Romans were clearly not up for the sesh, or, the craic. When we think of empires, Roman, and, well, our close neighbours who are currently having a bit of an identity crisis, and the American one spring to mind. The Celts are never referred to as an empire because the Celtic expansion was a cultural adoption, a technological empire more so than a forced domination. We took the Celtic language, and to this day you will hear it on the the streets of Galway.
The largest single structure ever to be constructed in Galway city is soon to be brought to the table, and it is the latest wave of the fastest growing technological empire in the history of humankind. The car, the automobile, the automotive empire of the 20th century has caused more uprooting and damage to the Irish landscape since, most likely, the Normans, and before that, the big lumps of Ice.
Ok people, cool, we’ve got scale, time, size in our heads now. We can move onto the main course of long term thoughts. A quick update for the uninitiated: between 2000 and 2006 a road design was funded, it was cancelled because it ran right through the middle of the environment, then they drew a new picture of it and this year they want to make it go through the planning and the environment all at once.
NOW, if you are a person who comments on articles like this using strings of F-Bombs and C-bombs with the words ‘traffic’ ‘stupid hippy elves stopping progress’ I suggest, just this once, that you stay tuned for the paragraphs between here and the comment section, just so A) you can select the appropriate string of F-Bombs to lay down or B) we can go on a cool trip to the future, then you can F-Bomb me. It’s not a real article till it’s got a few F-Bombs in the comments to be honest. VW, one of the worlds largest car makers spend almost 7 billion a year on advertising. I’m spending most of a Tuesday evening, give me a chance.
Instead of boring you back to the rest of the internet talking about the actual road, let’s talk about the things that go on the road, because, as it turns out, that’s where the party really is this time. Facts: The planet is running out of oil, Galway is projected to almost double in population, traffic is a pain in the crevices, technology is moving faster than ever. These are things we know, and as far as I can see, there are three distinct ways the story of Galway will progress during this uncertain time in the automotive empire.
Outcome 1 – All transport remains the same.
As Galway’s population expands, car ownership stays about the same, car usage stays about the same, as do other modes such as bus, train, walking and biking. With a bypass what will be the outcome of this? I could bore you with the details of induced demand, Braess’s theory, or many more studies, of which there are many – but long story short, building more roads is actually making more traffic. Not less traffic, More traffic. Once more, with block caps:
MORE ROADS ACTUALLY MAKE MORE TRAFFIC, MORE ROADS DO NOT REDUCE TRAFFIC.
If we build this thing, we are building more traffic and committing a large portion of the next century to traffic jams in Galway. However, transport isn’t really all that likely to stay the same. Oil, for Ireland, only really has about 20 years viability before we start slowly falling off the list of countries that will have an abundant oil supply.
Outcome 2 – Cars electrify, become largely self driving robots.
The electric car and the hybrid car were not big sellers in Ireland in the early 2000s because they didn’t really exist. Then a few bearded guys in California bought toyota priusii while they were designing the iphone and pretty quickly, the electric and hybrid models came to the Irish market and now they occupy 1% of the market here, while diesel will be all but unavailable by 2030. The self driving car, even with its tragic teething program, will make it to the market, maybe around 2030, which would be about five years after this road is due to be complete, and boy oh boy, that’s when stuff gets weird, man. It could be great, it could be awful, but, when people with 7 billion euro set aside entirely to spend on trying to sell it to us, the motor industry will most certainly make it look viable – they have to if they want to keep their industry going.
With car automation, we must not imagine cars working as they do now, because they won’t. As soon as the slightest hint of a traffic jam occurs the cars will start co-operating and slipping through junctions like bottles through a bottle factory, all while we are doing the non-driving things like reading and yoga and commenting on articles. Not only have they the potential to talk to each other in traffic, but signalling, such as traffic lights and parking space counters, will most likely enter the data loop too. When every car within a certain proximity knows where every car wants to go, it’s possible that traffic lights, roundabouts, and even multiple lanes might become obsolete pretty soon, and traffic as we know it will die out. This is only one side effect of self driving cars. Car sharing becomes much more realistic. Bike sharing has quietly pedalled into our collective normality all over Europe and car sharing has driven up, carefully, behind it, and for all realistic purposes, the cheapest mode that satisfies our needs is the one we will use. Also, young people who share bikes tend to grow older. People today don’t actively choose to use cars in Galway, they simply are the only current realistic option being presented for a problem that has multiple solutions. What becomes apparent very fast, is that once you automate cars, they start to resemble public transport really fast and the line between car ownership, taxis, private buses and public transport will fade. Why would you leave your car outside your workplace all day when you could be leasing it to the taxi service and doing somebody’s school run? Would you own a car, or just lease one for the 3 hours a day you need one? Car sharing, traffic automation and economical usage of roads combined would mean Galway’s current road network could end up being an oversupply.
Outcome 3 – Oil runs out, Electricity Runs out, Imports Run out, Money Runs out, No new roads ever, Partner runs out.
Unfortunately, this is the paragraph with the most facts in it. There are around 45 years of Oil left in the ground, and we can be pretty certain that the last few years of that supply will be split up between the superpowers and their military hardware, and their hospital backup generators. Most of our power in Ireland – North and South – is still coming from coal, oil and gas turbines, so if we must all have an electric car we must do it with about half our current electrical grid, which would most certainly start to point towards electricity rationing for personal transport, as charging an electric car runs quite high in terms of appliance usage. Importing new cars that weigh less, and generating power every time you drive them past an attractive person on a Friday night will be a lot more expensive to do if the freight ships and aeroplanes that deliver all this tech have no crude oil to use, as development of electric ships is at a very early stage. Roads are built using oil-based machinery like earth movers and hydraulics, and unless some politicians actually want to get the shovels out and personally build the roads this time, an oil recession in Ireland could lead to a massive slow down in heavy machinery-based maintenance. Current predictions show that if we burn all the oil in the ground, we’ll change the dynamics of the planet to a point we really aren’t ready for in any capacity. In fact, current predictions show that we are really supposed to basically stop burning oil, coal and gas right now if we’d like to continue breathing and living. On top of this, if any trend has been visible, it’s that we are needing more supplies to get through colder, longer winters than we have before. A lot of our employment has evolved around an oil-based world in terms of living/working locations, powered processes and working in the cloud. More or less everything that isn’t cutting turf and catching mackerel off the back of a curragh with a pointy stick to be woven into short trousers and horse exciters for the races, has been virally invaded by the need for oil or electricity, and although there is some worry about another property boom leading to a recession, it is nothing like the rainy day that will come if there is any shift among the superpowers in who chooses to sell us oil. This is where Ireland stands in resources in terms of dependency today; our city and county planning needs to reflect reality at every opportunity.
Kittiwake nestling – (Photo: Laura Glenister – originally posted on birdwatch ireland).
Well, that was awkward. People clicked on the thing thinking I was gonna write some hippy crap about how the road will mess with the cool birds (THAT ONLY LIVE HERE) which saved us from the road last time, and instead it’s turned into a merciless scorched earth trip into a future as cold as forgetting a jacket in the pub where every problem on the planet is single-handedly the fault of about 16 km of road. This city bypass idea is really an idea that was great in the year 2000, and is slipping out of realistic focus in 2018, not because Galway is slowing down, but, the likelihood of us driving cars that have today’s needs in 2030, 2045, 2050 fading to a point that building a road of this nature could be the great folly of the current Galway empire. If it is built with its current specifications; it is a single mode design, not allowing a footpath, a cycleway or a provision to be re purposed for light rail. Galway’s largest structure is betting entirely on the motor industry staying exactly staying as it is, and our transport desires and population not changing. Basically we are being asked to spend 600 Million Euro on continuing to have only one option for transport across Galway. For a brief window of 2-3 years, just before it turns into another traffic jam, it should serve well for election purposes, but beyond that, the move towards multi-modal transport is really not likely to slow down, or in time, even be an option.
What might happen in the city, between now and 2025 is much more interesting than fighting for a late 20th century road that doesn’t exist, because, Galway actually does exist. I’m certain all of you have heard of the GTS, all of you know that stands for the Galway Transport Strategy, all of you have read the damned thing from cover to cover and will know that it is a wonderful, much more up to date and relevant study on Galway transport, even if some of that data requires revision to include the move away from cars in the 2016 census (about 5%). If the financial weight and political bravado that is being spoken of, was thrown entirely towards developing the elements explored in the GTS rather than the stupid bypass from the last century (no really, it is) such as park and rides, massive investments in the cross town bus service, focus on walkability around school districts, cycle corridors, and making the city greenway ready, pedestrianization, last mile delivery options, development on the east city rail line, and, yes, oh here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for – when the population justifies it, the Gluas, then we’d be looking at a city that isn’t tethered to an unsustainable automotive empire for its livability, its economy, and for its long term survival as a desirable destination.