Traffic congestion has been a problem in Mullingar for a number years.

Three things that would make life in Mullingar better

As 2023 came to an end and I was reading about what the year’s highlights and many lowlights were, I began to think about what measures could be introduced by the powers that be that would improve quality of life for the people of Mullingar, writes Rodney Farry.

Fixing the housing and health crises are national issues that at times seem intractable, so I decided to pick things that are specific, if not quite unique, to the Mullingar area.

1) Sort out the traffic

I have lived in Mullingar for more than 13 years and for most of the first decade, traffic seemed to move relatively smoothly thanks to the motorway and C-Link which kept most through traffic out of the town centre. However, many drivers will contend, this writer included, that the traffic flow through the town has become markedly worse since the introduction of the ‘smart’ or ‘intelligent’ traffic light system around four years ago.

Whereas in the past you might get caught up in traffic for a short time around school drop-off and collection times, in recent years gridlock seems to occur far more frequently and at times of the day not normally associated with things coming to standstill.

At certain intersections, such as the Curtain Street/Nugent’s Corner, the so called ‘smart’ lights often go from green to red in such a short period of time that only one or two cars make it through, which is leading to what seems to be an ever increasing number of frustrated motorists breaking red lights and holding up the traffic even more as they get caught in no man’s land.

This flagrant, though it has to be said understandable, disregard for the rules of the road is dangerous for other drivers, as well as cyclists and pedestrians.

Unless I need the car for something, I walk to work from my home in Bellview. In the last few years, it’s become a lot more common to see not one or two, but four or five cars break a red light at Nugent’s Corner or the Dublin Bridge, which only exacerbates the problem, and it is the same at other junctions around the town centre.

At the November meeting of the Municipal District of Mullingar Kinnegad, a member of the executive outlined to councillors that "government policy is town centre first, Active Travel, pedestrians, people with disabilities – ahead of bikes, ahead of cars and other forms of transport".

At present, however, that policy is patently not working for anyone as the roads of Mullingar have never been as clogged with cars.

If the end game is to pedestrianise the centre of the town (and after the success of last year’s fleadh, there may be more people amenable to that prospect than ever before), the decision makers need to be more upfront about it if they are to win the hearts and minds of the public.

They also need to implement a workable and practical plan. This means that those with mobility issues or a genuine reason can still drive their vehicles into the town centre when they need to.

A consultancy firm is conducting a study on traffic flow; we can only hope that the experts will come up with a set of recommendations that will improve things sooner rather than later.

It has to be said that motorists have a role to play too in solving traffic problems. If you are a parent that lives a kilometre or two from your child’s school and have enough room in your timetable, then you should leave the car at home for that run, at least two or three times a week. Likewise, if you work in the town and live within walking distance you should think about getting yourself a good pair of runners and shoes and start making the journey on foot.

2. Construct a shelter at the diving boards

Hundreds of people took a dip in Lough Owel on Christmas day.

While many thought that cold water swimming was a Covid fad that would go the way of banana bread and Zoom quizzes, in the Mullingar area the number of people going for regular dips and swims in Lough Owel and other local lakes appears to have grown in the last couple of years.

Every day of the year, in all sorts of weather, huge numbers of people make the short trip out from the town for their regular dip in the crystal clear – and in winter, positively Baltic – water of Lough Owel.

They are not put off by the absence of even the most basic of shelters to protect them from the elements; facilities that are available at The Cut on Lough Lene and at an many other bathing locations across the country.

In recent years, a number of councillors have highlighted the need for some sort of covered changing facilities at the diving boards, but the wait continues.

One of the arguments put forward against erecting changing facilities is that any covered building, no matter how rudimentary, could attract the tiny percentage of the general population who might engage in anti-social behaviour.

Go out to the diving board or any other local bathing site during a hot spell and chances are you won’t have to look too hard to find people drinking or consuming other recreational substances.

These fair weather visitors do not visit Lough Owel in the winter, when the wind and rain coming in from the lake can cut you in two, and a basic three-sided shelter will not act as a beacon to get them off their cosy couches.

However, the hundreds of local people who have incorporated cold water swimming into their daily or weekly schedules because of how it has a positive impact on their physical and mental wellbeing, aren’t deterred by a bit of inclement weather.

Surely, some of the tax these local dippers pay could be used to ensure that they have somewhere dry and sheltered to get changed.

3. Get a grip on overcrowding on the Dublin train

The government has to be commended for significantly reducing the price of train tickets in a bid to get commuters out of their cars.

However, their failure to add increased capacity in tandem with reducing the cost of rail travel has led to huge overcrowding problems on the Mullingar to Dublin service at peak times.

Chat to any commuter who takes the train regularly and they will regale you with tales of routinely having to stand the whole journey despite having booked their tickets, as the person occupying their seat refuses to get up.

There is no point in investing in a booking system if you don’t have the staffing levels to ensure that everyone is adhering to the rules.

Irish Rail and the government announced recently that some of the 41 new carriages they have recently procured will be allocated to the Sligo Dublin line by the summer of 2024.

While they will be warmly welcomed, those new carriages need to be the first of many additions if Irish Rail is to keep up with the growing demand from people eager to take the train to work.

Commuting is hard enough without having to deal with standing up for over an hour before your day’s work begins.