Here’s a fantasy light rail network for Cork

Patrick Street, Cork. Image: Dylan/Wikimedia Commons.

Here we go again: another fantasy metro network courtesy of a young reader…

Transport in the city of Cork hasn’t managed to keep up with the growing demands of its population. The greater Cork City area has seen an immense amount of growth over recent years, as more and more investment and development has been created in the city. Because of all this, Cork has become a very attractive place to live and work, and the city boundary has even enlarged to account for all this growth.

And these increases in population and development are set to continue into the future. In particular, the former Docklands area is set to receive a multi-million euro redevelopment, and development is planned for other areas of the city. And along with this will come a dramatic increase of population: the council estimates the city’s population will more than double to 500,000 by 2050.

Yet the city already has one of the worst rates of congestion in Ireland – commuters spend an average of 40 minutes stuck in gridlock each day, and rates are only increasing. Between 2015 and 2017, areas such as the South Link Road added 4,000 cars to the daily load.

Herein lies the problem. If transport is ineffectual now, think - what on earth might it look like in the future?

It is clear that the state of public transportation in Cork City needs a long term solution. Though some efforts have been made, these are all short-term solutions. While made with the best of intentions, they will not significantly halt congestion, nor prevent the gaps in public transport service from worsening as time goes on.

So what is the long-term remedy to Cork’s transportation woes? To follow Dublin’s lead in the creation of a light rail system in Cork.

The prospect of a Luas for Cork is certainly not a new idea. The boom years of the mid-2000s reignited interest in a system, as the positives of Dublin’s own newly opened Luas became evident. A promised investigative study never finished, due to the burst of the housing bubble.


But the prospect of a Cork Luas has recently become more probable: the Ireland 2040 infrastructure plan has promised one, albeit in very scant detail. The long-awaited Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy is expected to give detail on a potential light rail in Cork. 

Such a scheme would have several goals in mind – to connect suburbs with the City centre, link areas of development, and connect with as many services and amenities as possible. Such plans will be most effective in two different lines - one going east to west, and another north to south.

The primary route, from Ballincollig in the west to Mahon in the east, would serve a variety of Cork’s institutions, including the colleges and the future Docklands area. It also can connect the suburb towns of Ballincollig, Bishopstown, Blackrock, and Mahon.

A secondary route running from the Airport to Hollyhill would connect some of Cork’s most important facilities, such as the airport, and a variety of business parks, notably Apple’s European Distribution Headquarters. Of course, the city will look rather different in the future, so there’s always the possibility for expansion. Connections to the Suburban Rail at Kent Station, which serves areas such as Carrigtohill, Cobh, and Mallow, are also a must. 

Click to expand.

Once up and running, the Cork Luas will benefit the city in a number of ways. Usage of public transportation will increase, especially in areas situated near the route. Cars will be taken off the road, improving journey times for drivers, while public transport will become more reliable due to the lane-separated nature of the system. A decreased numbers of cars on the roads will be a positive step in reducing the amount of carbon emissions, helping Ireland to achieve its EU-set climate goals. In addition, the higher capacity of the Luas would mean that the city is future-proofed for expected population growth. 

There will of course be the expected challenges associated with introducing light rail to Cork, but these must not deter us. The introduction of light rail to Cork will provide the city with the desperately needed long-term solution to public transport problems. Such a service will alleviate an increasingly significant problem throughout the city, all while providing Cork with a valuable tool for further growth and development. 

Ciarán Meers is a secondary school student. You can read his full 80-page proposal here.

 
 
 
 

To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”