00:00 Saturday 21 January 2012  Written by Leo McMAHON

Lives in danger at Convent Hill, Bandon

SEVEN cars which were damaged in a traffic incident on New Year's Day could so easily have been people, it was stated at a well-attended public meeting in the Munster Arms Hotel, Bandon last week, where deep concern about speeding and downright bad behaviour by drivers on school days in the Convent Hill and Kilbrogan area were highlighted.

On the top table were Mayor of Bandon Sean O'Donovan, Community Garda James O'Donovan and Catherine Quinn on behalf of the residents.

Mayor O'Donovan said the meeting was called as a result of the number of incidents involving damage to parked and other vehicles but also about the traffic situation in general along the main road to and from Newcestown route serving five schools: Scoil Phadraig Naofa Boys, Presentation Girls, Laragh, a Montessori and a school attended by foreign students.

Several minor incidents, he said, were unreported and he recommended the setting up of a residents' association for the Convent Hill/Kilbrogan area. The issue had been discussed by Bandon Town Council, which was seeking a report from the town engineer and Gardaí to see what measures can be put in place.

Garda O'Donovan said that according to Garda Pulse records, there had been 15 reported traffic incidents in the area in the past 12 years but the catalyst which brought about the public meeting was the one on New Year's Day in which seven cars were damaged.

There were one-on-one accidents, wing mirrors broken off and may have been more incidents which were not reported but sorted out between the parties involved.

Due to the nature of Convent Hill, with houses and parking on both sides, there was no immediate work that could be taken to widen it. The guards could only enforce the law that was there and there were double yellow lines by the school. Furthermore, traffic volumes had increased in the area due to higher numbers attending the schools and new housing. He didn't advise extending the double yellow lines in a residential area except perhaps in short segments to enable vehicles to pull in.

The Community Garda said he had been in touch with the boys' school about the situation regarding the dropping off of pupils but unfortunately some parents paid no attention to the double yellow lines even when there was a cartaker on duty. Garda Ray Ryan, who was investigating the accident on January 1st, was going to schools about the problem and officers would be allocated to the area but it wasn't always possible to enforce the traffic rules every morning and afternoon.

It was a case of trying to educate parents to go further up the road to turn and obey the rules and principals had written to them about this. However, he stated that tickets and cautions had been issued to those driving carelessly by turning on the main road or abandoning their vehicle on double yellow lines. The remit of the traffic warden didn't extend to the area.

As for speed ramps, Garda O'Donovan warned that these would increase noise and vibration along the street when heavy goods vehicles passed. It was a fact that tractors and agricultural machinery were much larger and the drivers of these from the age of 16 had every right to use the public road.

No quick fix

'There is no immediate fix', he stated, but the Gardaí would carry out a Gatso van speed survey, the Traffic Corps covering Mid and West Cork would have visible checkpoints there, and in conjunction with the council, Inspector Gerry Lacey would get a report on what measures could be taken. The matter would also be discussed at the next meeting of Bandon Joint Policing Committee in March and he too recommended a residents' group be formed which could be represented at it.

Personally, said Garda O'Donovan, he believed the clearly visible digital speed recording signs in the 50kph zone at O'Mahony Avenue/Castle Road had a huge effect and it was a matter for the town and county councils to see if these could possibly be installed at Convent Hill. Every avenue, he added, would be looked at.

Community worker Catherine Quinn thanked the many who attended. A resident of the area for 31 years, she had witnessed the change in the volume and type of traffic and thanked God no one was hurt in the incident on January 1st. 'It was seven cars but it could so easily have been seven people', she said. On one occasion, she recalled, she saw a boat being dragged up the hill which rolled back.

Working in the boys' school, she was on Convent Hill a lot and also used taxis to collect children. Her family was involved in two of the 15 reported incidents and on January 1st they lost two cars while her neighbour's was also written off. Other vehicles were also badly damaged. Her son's car was damaged to the amount of €700 in a hit and run. Overall, the stress and frustration was still ongoing.

'Cars of course can be replaced but my main concern is for the safety of people who use the hill', said Catherine. She believed there were acceptable types of anti-speed ramp that could be used and urged that every effort be made to improve the situation.

Ridiculous

The meeting was then opened to the floor. George Chambers said speeding along Convent Hill was 'ridiculous' with cars flying up. Houses as well as cars had been damaged and he feared that if youngsters were outside playing, they could be killed.

Cllr Margaret Murphy-O'Mahony recommended a group involving all interested parties, including parents of schoolchildren, be formed which would have a mandate to meet the council and Gardaí. The three local county councillors should also be involved because ultimately it would be up to the County Hall to take measures. She was told that 100% consensus would be needed for speed ramps.

Marie Hallahan of the Parents' Association and board of management in the boys' school, said there was correspondence on the problem with the council and guards since February 2010. She and others had worked tirelessly and on occasions, when standing outside the school, took abuse from some parents. It took two years to get the double yellow lines but she feared these and other measures would prove ineffective unless there was enforcement and a regular Garda presence.

Mornings were worst and it was a topic at meetings of the board for the past nine years. A 'walking bus' starting from The Brogan Inn was suggested and parents of older pupils were asked to park further away and let them walk the rest of the journey to school but in general there had been a lack of support with the same few people speeding up and down and making illegal turns. Two or three days after being warned, they were doing the same again.

There continued, she added, to be real concern about safety. Patron Fr Denis O'Leary PP said the school was prepared to fund flashing red hazard lights.

Another parent, Marchita Donegan, in full support of Marie, spoke of the possibility of acquiring land to put in a one-way system from the top of the car park to the girls' school driveway at Dunmanway Road. This could be a long-term solution because with new homes at the Tannery and other estates, traffic would be increasing.

Cllr Gearoid Buckley said greater enforcement would be welcomed and asked if cones could be put on the road. He also suggested a special anti-speed road table to alert drivers of the need to slow down.

Resident Philomena Chambers said vehicles were 'flying in' from the direction of Newcestown so any table or ramps should be well in advance of the schools. The speed limit signs at O'Mahony Avenue were very good, she added.

Speed ramps

Garda O'Donovan said cones worked in some cases but unfortunately tended to be ignored or driven over. Speed ramps, where appropriate and correctly located, could prove beneficial as seen in Deerpark. He and others paid tribute to the efforts of the different parents associations and school boards.

Parent Anne-Marie Daly asked if there could be a combined drop-off area for the boys' and girls' school by making the entrance to the school from Dunmanway Road more user-friendly.

The attendance of over 30 included Cllr Deirdre Lane and shopkeeper Tony Scanlan and residents. It was unanimously agreed on the suggestion of the mayor to appoint a committee to pursue the points raised and keep in contact by telephone or text. Catherine Quinn and Danielle Keohane were the first to volunteer and several more followed after the meeting.

The subject was also discussed at the January meeting of Bandon Town Council which Catherine Quinn and Louise Kavanagh attended. In reply to Cllr Murphy-O'Mahony, town engineer Mr Charlie McCarthy said an assessment of incidents which occurred at Convent Hill would be needed in order to try and solve the problems. Cllr Rachel McCarthy said some drivers didn't realise the speed they were doing coming into the town and called for more signs while Cllr Andrew Coleman said that if all new estates were completed, there would be even more traffic. Congestion was a problem, said Cllr Gillian Coughlan, and the mayor wondered if a 30kph limit could be applied as done in some parts of Dublin and Cork. It was agreed that the engineer and Gardaí be asked to investigate and report back.

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