Cork Infrastructure – Getting the right transport strategy is vital for the future of the region.

CMATS, Cork Transport Plans

Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (CMATS)

In 2020 it’s very easy to make quick, inflammatory statements that sound great but do nothing to address the complex and holistic nature of the challenges we face as a society. Across the breadth of societal issues from housing and healthcare, to foreign policy and trade there is a growing tendency to oversimplify issues, and to jump fully into the silo of your choosing. Transport is one such issue where, for example, some would argue exclusively for public and active transport, while others heavily prioritise roads.

CMATS – Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy
Fortunately for Cork, Government policy and stakeholder consensus is on the verge of being enshrined in a National Transport Authority plan called the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (CMATS) which comprehensively demonstrates that the answer for Cork includes road, bus, cycle, walking and rail. To support the implementation of this strategy, the Chamber has called for a Cork NTA office and for the Strategy to be set in legislation to ensure tenacity and delivery.

Some Reasons CMATS is important:

  • 100km of new and upgraded footpath
  • 140km of greenways
  • 250% increase in footfall on St Patricks Street350km of cycle network & 60km of inter urban cycle network
  • 100km of bus lanes with 6 strategic park and rides
  • 22 new 2 car trains and 8 new suburban rail stations such as Kilbarry
  • 17km of light rail with a 5-minute frequency

CMATS also references roads projects such as the M28 to Ringaskiddy, the northern ring road, Dunkettle interchange and the M20 to Limerick which are important facilitators of the exemplary public and active transport that we wish to see dominate our metropolitan area. They take account of the National Planning Framework by enhancing the connectivity of Ireland’s 2nd and 3rd largest City regions. They enable the Port of Cork to make the historic move to Ringaskiddy, thus making our docklands and Tivoli the home to a thriving City community and solidifying the role of the Port in global shipping. They also pave the way for options such as a city centre HGV ban in doing so enhance City Centre air quality, pedestrian and cycle safety. They make journeys safer, quieter and less pollutant by removing hazards and congestion and routing necessary commercial vehicular movement away from communities.

Strategic Upgrades & Spend Ratio
A limited suite of carefully planned strategic upgrades is therefore a functional necessity for Cork. This accepted, the remaining element of debate in the well-worn battle line between the committed public and active transport advocate and the roads promoter is which should be prioritised and the spend ratio between the former and the latter. In a 2019 Citizens Assembly vote, 90% wanted to flip the roads to public transport spend ratio from 2:1 to 1:2. While the precise impacts of such a move are untested the sentiment is clear. It must also be noted that the Cork Chamber membership have consistently elevated public transport and housing as the top two priorities during the same period.

The Chamber has repeatedly called for the first €500 million to be made available for CMATS delivery with an immediate focus of the delivery of Bus Connects, the Cork Cycle Network and pedestrian improvements, and increased frequency on our existing rail. It is also important to acknowledge that the cost of bringing projects through planning is a fraction of the cost of delivery. The long-term nature of the process and tendency for objections creates a major frustration for project timelines. As such, there is a need for multiple activity streams to ensure that Cork does not stall based on over reliance on a small handful of enticing projects. It is also worth noting that funding models of various formats such as PPP can be used to make certain projects happen. There can be no reason for lack of ambition or delivery and the burden need not rest exclusively with the State. There is also no reason why the spend ratio in a place like Cork cannot fluctuate and evolve as specific projects are brought to fruition.

In 2020 building a new road may not capture the imagination like a cycle lane or greenway. However, the M20 offers an opportunity for Ireland to build the best integrated motorway in Europe. There is no reason why public transport cannot be the dominant mode of travel at the point of interaction with both Cork and Limerick Cities. CMATS and its Limerick equivalent can provide for this. At each city entrance bus corridors can be incorporated with park and rides. From this point, bus frequency and reliability are key to traffic free intercity travel. HGV’s can move unhindered and shoppers and schoolchildren can cross the road in Charleville and Buttevant without diesel engines churning around them. The town centre can become a quality space for people. With a national tree planting strategy of 22million trees per annum there can surely be room for a significant contribution to indigenous planting along the whole of the route corridor. The relative cost would be negligible. There should be cycle corridors adjacent, in parallel or incorporated to the new M20 or along the old N20 route.

True Mobility
The route to mobility in a city region like Cork will require an acknowledgement that all assets will be required. Following this is a question of prioritisation, what can be done, what is most strategic, which projects can be brought through planning while others are in construction. With gestation periods of decades there is no such thing as a quick win with roads infrastructure. But while a road rumbles through the planning process, multiple fine grain interventions can be delivered. Delivery of CMATS will define the success of Cork.

Thomas Mc Hugh, Director of Public Affairs & Communications at Cork Chamber

Published by The Irish Examiner, March 02, 2020

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