In July 2022 Minster Minister Eamon Ryan has said every county has been asked to come forward with a ‘pathfinder project’ – a transport project that will decarbonise and also create a better local environment.
Details about what exactly constitutes a “pathfinder project” were thin on the ground, and the process of selecting them was opaque, even secretive.
NCI Proposes a Pathfinder Project
Navan Cycling Initiative made a proposal to Meath County Council for a Pathfinder project focused on the Ratholdren Road area:
Navan’s Active Leisure quarter is the location of the largest public park in the town, has two schools, the town’s only public leisure centre, a large residential population, and will soon be the location of the southernmost trailhead of the excellent new BVLC Greenway. This area is ideal for active travel, and rapid deployment of active travel measures can be delivered to coincide with the opening of the BVLC Greenway – well in advance of the Minister’s two-and-a-half year timeframe. It will also provide a template for other projects in the countyNavan Cycling Initiative, Pathfinder Transport Project, 9th August 2022
Our email got lost in their system, so we sent a reminder, and then at the end of August we received a reply.
Meath County Council Rejects our Proposal
Unfortunately Meath County Council decided not to do anything with our proposal:
We would like to acknowledge receipt of your email of the 23rd August, requesting the Council to consider making an application for funding for the scheme under the Pathfinder programme.
Unfortunately, at the moment the Active Travel Team don’t have the personnel to consider Rathaldren Road for a pathfinder project. The Active Travel Office are focussing on the Navan 2030 project and the projects identified for Navan as part of the Greater Dublin Cycling Network Plan where funding has been approved.
Active Travel OfficeMeath County Council, 29th August 2022
The response seemed to suggest that pathfinder projects would be selected from already-funded projects. Which projects had been put forward? Had councillors had any visibility? Nobody knows …
Dear Minister …
Because it was unclear, we emailed the Minister for Transport directly for clarification.
And then we waited.
And sent a reminder on 6th October
And waited again.
Eventually on 25th October the Minister replied with some generic information, and the following:
It is important to note that the Pathfinder programme is not a new funding stream. Instead, it is an initiative aimed at ensuring the projects selected are provided the impetus to deliver quickly and demonstrate what can be achieved with the right level of ambition and innovationPrivate Secretary to Minister Ryan, by email
This again appeared as if existing projects might be fast-tracked under this pathfinder project banner. We waited with interest to see which of the existing projects would be selected in Meath.
Meath Pathfinder Projects
On 17 October 2022, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan launched the Pathfinder Programme of 35 exemplar transport projects to be delivered by local authorities and agencies around the country within the next 3 years.
The projects were those selected following Minister Ryan’s call to local authorities throughout the to submit their most innovative, transformative plans for public transport, walking and cycling in their areas – the projects that could make the greatest difference to people living in their counties.
Interesting! What was this “Rural Cycleway Rapid Deployment” project? Again, nobody knows. Meath County Council decided not to publish any information.
Free the Information!
On the 19th October we submitted a Freedom of Information request to the National Transport Authority (NTA) requesting information about the pathfinder projects, and for all communication between Meath County Council and the NTA.
On 17th November we received three documents from the NTA. But no records of any communication. Presumably Meath County Council communicated telepathically with the NTA.
Document 1: Note on Pathfinders w/ Planning Info
Document 2: Pathfinder Summaries
(Track-changes was enabled, so I’ve left that in)
Document 3: 35A 20220907 – Meath Co Co – Rural Cycleway Rapid Deployment
“The project is centred on looking at methods for rapid deployment of a rural cycleway on the verges of regional roads in the county. If successful, the project could be a demonstrator project utilizing methods which could be scaled up for use on other regional roads in the county and adopted nationally.”
“Meath County Council propose to take a stretch of the R161 between Navan and Trim and adapt/hybridize current standards and some of the urban rapid deployment work that was carried out during Covid to a rural context.
The aim would be to start with a trial section which would see the construction of a segregated two-way cycleway within the existing road boundary. The trial would look at pragmatic ways and cost-effective ways to construct a safe, segregated facility quickly whilst dealing with solutions to deal with segregation, drainage, boundary treatments, junction/access layouts, signage, surfacing and safety.
The trial section would then be constructed and with construction supervision and engineering input any technical issues would be ‘ironed-out’ with the contractor.
If successful, the trail will be scaled up to longer stretches of regional road. This project could be particularly relevant to Meath as long stretches of Strategic Regional Roads were constructed in the early 2000s on the R150 (8km), R158(16km) and R161 (10km) which have cross sections which lend themselves to being adapted to retrofit cycling and walking.
In addition, significant stretches of former national roads in the county such as the R147,R135,R148 and R132 could also be adapted using methods developed during the project.
The Council will comply with its statutory procurement, appraisal, planning and environmental obligations but intend to utilize to the full extent section 38 of the Roads Act 1994 (as amended) to provide traffic calming measures which facilitate the safe use of public roads by different classes of traffic (including pedestrians and cyclists), The intention would be to devise a scheme which was ‘process light’ i.e. to legitimately avoid the Part 8 process, avoid environmentally sensitive areas, avoid land take, minimize excavation, minimize utility diversions and minimize interfering with existing drainage regimes. The hope is that by keeping costs down the appraisal requirements of the public spending code would be less onerous. The scheme will be subject to safety audits and ongoing monitoring. Note that there is no funding for this project. “
Wait, what? There’s no funding? Didn’t the Pathfinder project state that there’s no new funding? What’s going on here?
After four months, we finally had some insight into what was going on. At this point, it’s assumed that this is all a done deal. Meath County Council haven’t published any information, and there has been no oversight from our elected representatives.
If Local Authorities want to build trust and get support for active travel, this doesn’t seem like a good way to go about it.