Councillors complain of ‘toxic’ public debate around Salthill cycleway proposal

Controversial cycleway plan rejected at recent Galway City Council meeting

Galway city councillors have complained about the "toxic" tone of the public debate around a controversial proposal for a cycleway in Salthill, which was rejected at a recent council meeting.

Following a lengthy debate last week, councillors on Galway City Council rejected two options for a planned trial Salthill cycleway, which has been the centre of a heated local debate in recent weeks.

The first proposed route featured one-way vehicular traffic from the Grattan Road junction to the Barna Road junction, with the second option having two-way vehicular traffic along the R336 (the sea front) and one-way vehicular traffic from the Pollnarooma west junction to the Barna road junction.

A report summarising the public response to the proposals, showed the second proposed route proved more popular among those who were in favour of a cycleway. However, the proposals were divisive, with a significant majority of submissions – 63 per cent – taking issue with the plan.

Independent Cllr Colette Connolly, mayor of Galway city, said she had received "vitriolic attacks" on the phone from those opposing the cycleway. Those supporting the proposed measures had been "denigrated as crazy cyclists", who did not work or pay taxes, she said.

“I got abusive phone calls, mostly [from] women . . . launching into vitriolic attacks,” she said.

Ms Connolly said she was “completely disappointed” with the results of the recent council votes, which had “set this project back by a year or many years”. People who opposed the temporary trial were “stuck in the twilight zone on climate change,” she said.

Concerns over whether the changes would impact the number of disabled parking spaces had been “exaggerated” by those opposing the pilot, she said.

Independent Cllr Mike Cubbard said he had received several voice messages from one person stating he had “failed as a parent” for not supporting the proposal.

The former Galway mayor told RTÉ radio’s This Week programme the abuse was not coming from official campaign groups who supported the cycleway, but individuals and “fringe elements”.

Similarly, Fine Gael Cllr Clodagh Higgins said she had been called a "snake" after withdrawing her support for the cycleway.

Ms Higgins said she did an interview on local radio to state she had “got it wrong” in supporting the cycleway initially, and had changed her position.

Following the interview she said she received a number of “toxic” emails and phone calls. “I was called a snake, I was called a pig and I was called a female dog, and so forth,” she said.

Some of the people sending abusive messages said she “wasn’t a suitable parent” as she was opposing the cycleway, she said.

“The last number of months have been very, very difficult for all councillors on each side of the debate and the level of abuse that all councillors got. It wasn’t just people that weren’t supporting the campaign, people that were supporting it were equally faced with abusive comments,” she said.

National campaign

Meanwhile, a national campaign to encourage local councillors to endorse the development of a national cycling network began this week.

Co-ordinated by advocacy group Cyclist.ie, an information leaflet has been dispatched to every rural local councillor highlighting the need to prioritise the “Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland” published by Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan in September 2020.

Anluan Dunne of Kerry Cycling Campaign stressed the importance of community and stakeholder engagement: “Local authorities and councillors should see us as partners and allies as they consider plans for cycle routes. Our expertise and hands-on experience of cycling in rural communities will be invaluable in considering what makes a safe route for cyclists of all ages and abilities.”