Transport planning is one of the biggest changes that has gone unnoticed during lockdown. Will these changes be accepted once their full consequences are understood when normal life resumes?
All over Ireland, traffic planners have been busily implementing long dreamt-of plans to introduce more lanes for buses and bicycles and more space for pedestrians. Many of these plans come at a cost of car exclusion or restriction.
These changes reflect new social values, evident in the election of parties and candidates that support stronger environmental policies. This gives planners confidence that these changes will be approved and accepted by the general population.
'Overreach' is a term used by policy analysts and lawyers to describe a situation where actions exceed legal or established authority. Is overreach beginning to afflict our transport planning?
Is it possible that groupthink delusion is setting in among transport planners that has become detached from the views of the general population?
Worse, is it possible that policy has fallen into the grips of moralisers bent on spending public money to inflict real harm on our economy and our society 'for our own good'?
Many are unaware of the 'de-growth' theories that drive the policy-making of some environmental parties. These 'naive nativist' policies seek to limit economic activity to serve only the local population, ideally by publicly controlled production.
Mobility of people, goods and services is one of the most important factors in determining the productivity of an economy. The huge capital costs of public transportation projects are justified by cost-benefit models of achieving journey-time reductions measured in minutes for each worker or delivery.
Millions of these minutes saved every day add up to billions of euro of increased annual output. These savings easily offset the project costs. More importantly, the social benefits of mobility and connectivity are easily overlooked. Easing access to employment is a great leveller, while better transport of all types improves access to social and health services.
Many of these benefits are unequally spread, with female car drivers being much more likely to use cars for helping friends and family or feeling more secure while travelling alone at anti-social hours.
It is important to remain focused on reality. Ireland is exactly the same as the whole EU, where cars account for 83pc of passengers, with buses and trains making up the rest.
Realities about economic productivity, social opportunity and gender equality will increasingly begin to counter anti-car dogma in transport planning.
The commencement of a new school year in September will coincide with the restarting of the economy.
Only then will we witness the re-emergence of more normal patterns of traffic demand.
Only then will the full consequences of dramatic changes of transport planning become apparent. Only then will real opposition to unbalanced traffic planning begin in earnest. If evidence of unacceptable disruption and congestion to the majority begins to emerge, then these plans must be re-evaluated. It would be a tragedy to squander the hard-won reputation of our traffic planning professionals by attempting to justify indefensible ideals in the face of evidence-based opposition.
Monitoring, evaluation and adjustment are critical elements of good transport planning as it tries to accommodate an immensely complex and unpredictable set of interconnected forces. The reputation and effectiveness of transport planners lives or dies by achieving a balance between driving change and responding to reality.
Transport planning will never be perfect, anywhere. There will never be no peak-hour congestion. A day will never come when a bus or train will not be packed at rush hour.
These extremely expensive and highly disruptive systems have to be designed to be just good enough for peak demand and adequate for the rest of the day. It is always a fine balance between too much and too little.
The best that can be hoped for is to have the 'least wrong' system in place that meets the needs of most of the people, most of the time.
However, this acceptance and understanding of acceptable levels of expense, disruption and inconvenience must never be allowed to cross a threshold of unfairness.
If our transport system unfairly becomes dominated by the values of a small cohort of activists with strongly held views, then an injustice will have occurred.
Irish citizen activists have shown a willingness to use the courts to right wrongs in the planning system. They have a good track record of being successful.
Correcting injustice is slow, but effective. Reversing decisions about transport infrastructure is highly disruptive and ruinously expensive. It is a bitter irony that the ill effects of poor transport planning fall twice on the general population, once when they are put in place and for a second time when they are remedied.
The best defence will be the ability to show that decisions have been guided by evidence of actual demand and the principles of fairness and equity.
This will require an accommodation of all needs that is demonstrably weighted towards the needs of the majority of society.
It is a fact that for the foreseeable future, the vast majority of transport in Ireland, and all over the world, will continue to be by cars, electric or otherwise.
For this reason, in a system of better public transportation, more robust cycling facilities and better pedestrian connectivity, cars will still need to be a priority that reflects the reality that it is the means of transport of the majority.
Any policy denial of this reality would be as ineffective as it would be unjust.
Transport is an expensive use of public money. Each change must be carefully planned and measured to ensure effective and fair use by all.
The old carpenter's advice applies here - 'Measure twice. Cut once'.