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Louise Williams is sitting on her couch, holding a mug of herbal tea. Behind her, a blue bike – her only form of transport – rests against a shelf.
Next to that is a small entrance hallway by the front door, where her flatmate’s bike is usually kept.
Williams, a journalist, has lived in this small terraced house in Harold’s Cross since 2001. With no back garden, and narrow footpaths outside, she says there’s nowhere else for the bikes to go.
About a year ago, some residents of the Mount Drummond neighbourhood of Harold’s Cross asked Dublin City Council to install on-street cycle-parking facilities in the area. For a time, it looked like that might happen soon.
But after other residents raised concerns that the facilities would remove car parking spaces, it’s now not totally clear where the plan stands.
“I think it’s profoundly unfair that we shouldn’t have facilities which would allow us to live without our bikes inside with us,” Williams says. “It seems that cars come first when it comes to deciding how to use public space in our community.”
Objections to the Plan
Ciarán Ahern, who’s on the committee of the local residents’ association, says he brought up the lack of cycle parking at a meeting about 18 months ago.
“I made the point that there is no bike parking in the area … 100 percent of any available parking in the area is for cars,” he said.
Ahern says he sees bikes locked to lamp posts, but that’s not ideal for anyone with a disability, anyone pushing a pram, or the cyclists themselves.
“Everyone acknowledges we should be doing something, and it’s a matter of where,” Ahern said.
Williams says a few neighbours got together and surveyed some households in the area about a year ago, and the majority of respondents said bike-parking facilities were nonexistent; they’d use the facilities if they existed; they currently store their bike in their house; and the best place for cycle parking is “around the grotto”.
The “grotto” refers to the Marian statue that sits on a grassy square on Mount Drummond Avenue, surrounded by wide roads.
Ahern says he and Labour Councillor Mary Freehill walked around the neighbourhood and identified a few potential spots; then, Ahern says, Freehill talked to the council.
“We made some suggestions, the council made the decision and didn’t consult us after that,” Ahern says.
It went smoothly at first, says Williams. Someone from the council came out and chose a particularly wide part of the street at the grotto to put in 10 Sheffield bike stands – those big metal loops that come out of the ground – next to the footpath.
When that plan was brought up at a recent residents’ association meeting, some people were in favour of it, but there was also “definite objection to it”, Ahern says.
Finding a Compromise
The job was about to go out to tender in early April, with construction likely to begin by the end of that month, according to an email Williams says she got from a council official.
Williams says that on 21 May, a contractor in a white van showed up, marked the spot with white paint, stayed for a bit, and then left.
A photograph, taken by a neighbour, shows a white van parked up, surrounded by orange traffic cones, and a temporary plastic fence up on the footpath.
A picture taken after the van left shows white markings on the road next to the footpaths. Williams says the work van never turned up again, and the bike racks still aren’t there.
Ahern says the residents’ committee held a meeting to try to answer the question: “Can we do the same thing in a slightly different area without annoying anyone?”
That was six to eight weeks ago, Ahern says. The committee put forward two alternative sites to the council engineer they’d been communicating with – compromises that wouldn’t reduce the number of car-parking spaces.
The first proposed spot is the gable end of a row of Harold’s Cross Cottages, and the second is on a wide median on Mount Drummond Avenue.
Ahern says he doesn’t think the council have been in touch with anyone on the residents’ committee. “We haven’t gotten a yes or a no on our submissions.”
“Ultimately, we don’t know if the proposal we put forward is workable. We’re not engineers, but we’re trying to think like engineers. We’ve made proposals, and it would be nice to know if, with a little bit of extra thinking, that we could make these work,” he said.
Ahern says there’s “a lot of goodwill in the community” towards providing cycling facilities.
“You don’t want these types of things dividing communities. It’s supposed to be a good thing,” he said.
Where Things Stand
According to a spokesperson for the council, “The cycle parking for Mount Drummond has been deferred following representations. The matter will be reviewed before the end of July.”
In response to a question as to whether the council paid a contractor, then pulled the contract, the spokesperson said: “The location forms part of an overall contract for Batch 9, that is currently under construction. No payments have been made to the contractor in relation to this location.”
“The installation of cycle parking in the Mount Drummond area remains a priority. It will improve access to dockless bike share for the local community,” the spokesperson said.
While DublinBikes has its own stands, that programme doesn’t extend to Harold’s Cross, and its expansion has stalled. The private “dockless” bike-share scheme Bleeperbike depends on council-installed bike stands as places for users to lock its bikes – and has to pay the council fees for the use of these stands.
Councillor Freehill, who lives in the area herself, is a member of the residents’ association but isn’t on the committee.
Although she hasn’t gotten an official answer from the council, Freehill says the area engineers are happy to examine the alternative spots recommended by the residents’ association.
Since the council doesn’t meet in August, that could take place in September, she says.
“It was a case where the council recommended a location that wasn’t very suitable,” Freehill says, of the original spot next to the grotto.
“When the association discussed it, it made an awful lot of sense to have them beside the cottages,” where there’s not a lot of space to store bikes, Freehill says.
The houses along Mount Drummond Square have front gardens, Freehill says, while the rows of cottages nearby don’t.
Ahern, the residents’ association committee member, says, “It’s not entirely clear where power lies in relation to the council with these things and what role residents’ associations have in objecting to or providing comment on planning issues to do with the council.”
Freehill says there’s no public consultation process for bicycle stands.