CORK city has wasted funding and an opportunity to ensure that people can cycle safely in Wilton, according to a board member of the Irish Road Victims Association.
Neil Fox, who lost his sister in 2016 after she was killed when cycling to work in Dublin, was speaking after the €4m Wilton Corridor Project was voted down by city councillors by a margin of 16 to eight earlier this month.
The Wilton Corridor Project aimed to provide six lanes on the busy Wilton Road, including two bus lanes, two cycle lanes and two lanes for regular vehicular traffic.
Mr Fox, who is now living in Cork, is a spokesperson for the Irish Road Victims Association (IRVA) and said the vote represents a missed opportunity for Cork.
“Cork has just wasted funding and a brilliant lifeline for our children to be able to cycle more safely in Wilton,” he told The Echo.
“It’s a disgrace and not something to be celebrated.”
The first phase of the Wilton Corridor Project, focusing on the stretch between the Wilton roundabout and Dennehy’s Cross, would have required the use of a portion of several front gardens along the western side of the road.
The plans also included the shifting of traffic flow through the busy Dennehy’s Cross junction slightly westwards, and the installation of traffic lights at the junction of Wilton Gardens.
The Wilton Community Action Group (WCAG) had claimed the proposed project would have an even greater negative impact on the quality of residents’ lives and their privacy, and called for a complete re-think.
Residents in the area had staunchly opposed the project and it was eventually voted down by city councillors.
“While I was massively disappointed by the outcome of the vote it was of little surprise given the huge and very loud opposition to it,” said Mr Fox, who applauded Sinn Féin, The Green Party and Solidarity Cllr Fiona Ryan for voting in favour of the scheme.
“My cousins actually not only lost their entire garden but their house too in a case of a compulsory purchase order when we were younger, so I obviously am not blind to the concerns of those in Wilton.
“However the very visible truth of the matter is that these are very large gardens and the portion needed to facilitate safe infrastructure was far from considerable given the overall size,” he added.
“It should be noted that there was to be monetary compensation for the owners.
“Cycling infrastructure will save lives.
“A small part of a large garden with compensation given — is that so outrageous given the greater good?” he asked.
Mr Fox’s sister Donna was cycling to work in Dublin in 2016 when she was struck by a truck.
“She had her helmet on, hi-vis on her bag, her lunch and bottle of water and phone were in that bag — a lovely bag our sister Leanne had given her,” he said.
“She was an experienced cyclist, cautious, and CCTV showed she did nothing wrong.
“Yet she had no chance when a truck hit her,” he added.
“Donna was a motorist, a cyclist, even a qualified jockey.
“Most adults who cycle also drive.
“I don’t drive, I’m amazed at how shocked people are when I say I don’t drive.”
Mr Fox said the ‘car-centric’ culture in Ireland needs to change.
“Wilton got a victory for cars not for residents’ health and the public’s safety.
“It stuck a knife into our environment, health, air quality and safety,” he added.
“It amazes me that this result is seen as a good thing for the community as it’s anything but.
“We desperately need to be encouraging people, especially children and teenagers to cycle, walk and use public transport.”
Mr Fox said it is not just up to politicians to implement change — the public must be that change.
“We have to wake up to the insanity of our car dependence.
“We must act now, indeed we should have done so long ago,” he added.
He said that he found it “deeply hurtful” that the WCAG refused to meet him and that it continues to do so.
“We need dialogue, compromise and we need to hear different views.
“Ministers, TDs, reporters, even the Taoiseach responds to me, but they chose to shut down debate,” he added.
“I come to cycling campaigning because I had two Gardaí come to my door to tell me my beautiful sister was in the city morgue in Dublin.
“I don’t come to it from any agenda other than creating a safer environment for all road users.”
Mr Fox recently returned from Strasbourg where he attended a Victims Support Europe conference in the European Parliament on behalf of the IRVA.
“Strasbourg opened my eyes,” he said. “It gave me vision for Cork. In Strasbourg cycling is unremarkable — it’s the norm,” he added.
“If Strasbourg can be a safe place for active transport — cycling, walking — why can’t Cork be? There’s no reason.”
Cycling in Cork should be a joy, explained Mr Fox.
“It should be unremarkable and normal.
“I love this city so much — it gave me back myself after a horrendous period.
“That’s why I feel passionate about us transforming it to a more liveable city,” he said.
“Wilton sadly represents a lazy attitude towards the radical change needed.
“Cycling and public transport infrastructure must be the priority and if that means compensation for piece of garden so be it.”
Since his sister died in September 2016, Mr Fox said he has found himself doing everything he can to promote better cycling safety.
“It’s how I deal with the horror I guess.
“We weren’t allowed to see her for days — it was hell on earth.
“I’ve zero anger — I have hugged the driver — but I have a huge passion and determination to change the culture here,” he added.
“I want Cork to see cyclists as valuable road users. Yes, vulnerable road users as well, but also valuable.”
Mr Fox praised University College Cork for being one of the greenest universities in the world — the university was the first to be awarded the Green Flag.
“Yet minutes away from it in Wilton we had people threatening to chain themselves to gates to stop a cycle path,” he said.
“What matters more — a small piece of land or a safe place?
“I guess only those of us who have been through the horror of losing loved ones on the street or roads really get it,” he added.
“It’s my job to try and put it across that cyclists are human.
“It’s mad to have to do that but with cyclists constantly been compared to insects, scourges, pests and more dangerous than lorries, it’s necessary.”
Mr Fox said that the Wilton residents will no doubt have to relent in the end as city councillors back another similar project.
“Those against the project may have won the battle but by God will they lose the war,” he warned.
“Dangerous roads will be as frowned upon as smoking in restaurants and bars in a few years.
“Future generations will be bewildered at how dependent on cars Ireland has been.
“The times are certainly changing.”
Wilton residents had said they were open to ideas on how to deal with traffic in the area but said the proposed scheme was not the way to go.
They raised questions about a lack of cost-benefit analysis on the project and its ability to effectively tackle congestion in the area.
The Wilton Community Action Group did not comment on Mr Fox's views.