EVERY time I drive past a new stretch of the Macroom Bypass that is currently under construction, my heart gives a little fillip of joy.
Despite Covid, work on the new road artery that will replace a notoriously clogged-up stretch of one-lane traffic with a 22km dual carriageway, has been progressing speedily.
When it opens at the end of 2023, I’m not sure what will excite me most — the prospect of getting to Killarney in just half an hour, or the prospect of a rejuvenated Macroom town, free of the long queues of lorries and tourists heading out west.
I wrote an article about the bypass on this page a year ago, and the progress that has been made since can be seen by comparing the two photos in this story, above and below.
A few weeks ago, I contrasted the issues that affect the people of the Dublin Bay South constituency with those that affect folk like me in places like Cork North West.
In leafy Dublin Bay, they have been spoilt for decades on the transport front, with the Luas, Metrolink rail lines, bus corridors, cycle lanes, and whatever you’re having yourself. Indeed, they have had so much of a good thing, that many of the residents there are up in arms about all the fancy plans, and just want to be able to drive their car from A to B.
The backlash to green policies has begun there before we even get into first gear down here!
Here in Cork North West, to name just one constituency, we have been starved of transport infrastructure for decades — hence the giddy excitement for the new Macroom Bypass, a road that has been promised to us since way back in the 20th century. We are rather pathetically grateful.
The two Irelands — how are ya?
Of course, when I talk about the positivity that a new road will bring to the entire mid-Cork area, I am aware that I am going against the grain.
Cars, roads, and all the bad environmental stuff that accompanies them are so last century, we are constantly being told.
“I mean, can’t you mid-Cork people cycle to Killarney? And walk to Macroom, instead of bringing your dirty, polluting car?” (Which is not even electric, the hoi polloi add with a sniff).
To which the answer is not only a resounding No, but will remain a resounding No for many more years to come.
Some of you will remember an environmental film by failed American politician Al Gore called An Inconvenient Truth, in which the horrors of climate change were laid bare.
Well, the inconvenient truth for all the environmentalists in Ireland is that, in regions like mid-Cork, cars will remain the sole mode of transport available to us for a long, long time. And roads will also need to be maintained and — yes, built — to keep us from being prisoners in our homes.
We simply have no other option.
Let me briefly tell you about my own personal situation as regards my transport options.
I live five miles from Macroom on a road that is popular among cyclists... on days of the year when it is not lashing at least. There are, of course, no cycle lanes or footpaths, and I would describe the journey to Macroom by bike or foot as not for the faint-hearted. The thought of doing the weekly shop in the town and walking or cycling five miles home while lugging five bags is, of course, laughable.
Without a car, I would never go to Macroom at all, which councils really need to bear in mind when they start to see car parking spaces as the root of all evil.
I live 35km from my place of work in the city, and am not sure if even Stephen Roche would fancy that 70km daily commute.
If I went to work by bus using current timetables, I would face a 12 hour and 20 minute day, which would leave me precious little time for anything else.
Even then, I would be driving to Macroom and parking there for the day — if you also insist on me cycling to and from the town, then you can add another hour and a half to my working day.
We all would love an ideal world where public transport was universally available, universally reliable and universally cheap. That remains a pipe dream even for Cork city — never mind, for those of us in rural areas.
We have been building roads for cars for almost exactly 100 years — the first controlled-access public highway was a motor racing track that opened in Berlin in September, 1921.
Anyone who thinks we can stop doing so any time soon is simply not inhabiting the real world.
Sure, electric cars will help keep our emissions down and perhaps even help Ireland hit environmental targets, but this cloud cuckoo land where bicycles are king is simply not feasible.
However, these inconvenient truths are being ignored by the politicians and environmentalists.
A few weeks ago, the Welsh Government announced a freeze on its road building programme, pending a green review of all the schemes on the table. Ministers say it is a necessary part of Wales’ effort to reduce carbon emissions.
They want to shift money from new roads to maintaining existing routes and investing in public transport, as they strive to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
On their current rate, it will take until 2090 rather than 2050 to hit the net zero target.
This sounds like a laudable aim, and indeed the Scottish Government has been urged to follow the example and cancel its new road projects, while teenage campaigner Greta Thunberg has applauded the Welsh move.
Call me a cynic, but it sounds utterly unworkable here.
The amount of infrastructure that is required to wean people off the cars that have formed the basis of Irish transport policy since the railways were recklessly and foolishly destroyed in the early 20th century is just too great.
It will take decades to install new public transport infrastructure in our cities that will persuade people to dump their cars, so how long it will take for backwaters like Cork North West to have similar options is off the scale.
In any case, transport makes up less than 20% of Irish greenhouse gases, compared to 30% in the U.S, so there are other areas we can work on to reduce our numbers.
The problem is, private cars, like farming, have become a stick with which vociferous, snobby, pious city elites beat their country neighbours with.
Sure, idealism has its place, in society and in politics.
But realism — like the car itself — will have to remain king.