Eamon Ryan: 'Crucial project must be flexible if we're to keep public on board'
For too long, public consultation was a box-ticking exercise rather than a real process of critical engagement. For all its stresses and strains, I believe the Bus Connects project is being designed and redesigned in a way that shows things can change. I think most of the public and their elected representatives came into this process with an open mind.
They were well disposed to the idea we need radical solutions to the gridlock, social division and pollution choking our city.
At the many consultation meetings held by the National Transport Authority (NTA), you could see public support starting to wane.
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People were at first worried about changes to their local route, and those fears increased when front gardens were at stake.
However, opposition really crystallised around the growing sense that running two traffic lanes in each direction was going to undermine some of our best urban villages and tree-lined streets.
The red ribbons put up to show which trees were due to come down brought it home how much was at stake.
People wanted solutions but not if the price was to turn every street into a highway where local character is sacrificed to provide for yet more vehicles.
It was interesting to see how the NTA responded to those criticisms.
In my opinion, it has been willing to look at different options rather than just digging its heels in. Not every route has been redesigned to everyone's satisfaction. But where a glaring gap in service provision was identified then routes have been changed.
In Inchicore there was a first glimmer of hope as the final design was adapted to keep the buses moving and the streets green.
In one of the worst-affected communities in Kimmage, residents worked well together and suggested practical alternatives, which engineers are now looking at with interest.
I hope something similar can happen on Mobhi Road so we keep the trees and still improve the cycling and bus conditions.
None of the solutions is an easy one.
Moving away from the four-lane design will require some restriction to car traffic, either by providing for local access only, introducing new one-way systems or holding motorists back a few seconds at each traffic light to ensure buses get through on time, every time. What we have also learnt is that providing a safe cycling network is critical to the success of the project.
The interesting thing about this consultation process is that by being open to change it has also helped nurture a wider understanding that the only way this will work is if we are willing to move towards a city that is no longer dominated by the car.
We now need political will to support the hard decisions that have to be taken in the Dáil and by the local authorities.
If we are willing to be brave and flexible in our proposals, then I think we might also have the public on our side.
Eamon Ryan is leader of the Green Party