Royal Canal Greenway route with strong commuting potential left in the rough

— Route part of Dublin to Galway Greenway

A planned 8.4km section of the Royal Canal Greenway which links Maynooth, the Intel Ireland campus, Leixlip and the Co Dublin border has strong commuting potential, but proposals for the route do not follow best practice on access, only includes lighting in urban areas, and uses an loose grit surface.

Best practice for access arrangements is to only provide bollards where needed and to only to install more restrictive barriers when problems arise. The planned access arrangements only allows one user to pass at the one time — an arrangement rarely used in Ireland for cars. It will result in users of bicycles trailers, cargo bicycles, and cargo trikes to come to a full stop to navigate.

Bollards alone are planned for the Dublin City Council section of the greenway and, where there is a need to stop cars from entering cycleways, bollards are best practice in cycling-friendly countries.

A part 8 report for the Royal Canal Greenway project, published last month on Kildare County Council’s website, does not include given reasons why a grit surface is used on sections of the route.

The greenway pathway is planned to be generally 3 metres wide, reduced to 2.5 metres in some locations. Less than 700 metres of public lighting will be provided.

As the part 8 public consultation process comments can be made on or before 12.00 noon Wednesday, 17 February 2016 under the heading ‘Royal Canal Greenway Maynooth to Dublin County Boundary’ and sent to A/Senior Executive Officer, Roads Transport and Public Safety (Level 4), Head Office, Áras Chill Dara, Devoy Park, Naas, Co Kildare. No email address was given.

IMAGE: Access arrangement set at “default” (also has a more restrictive setting):

 

access

MORE: Part 8 notice / description
MORE: Part 8 report and drawings

Images: From Kildare County Council part 8 planning files.

12 Comments

  1. Cian, this greenway section certainly has commuting potential but my understanding is that it’s main purpose is for recreational cyclists and as part of the national Dublin to Galway greenway. The higher specifications mentioned in your article, while nice to have, could add additional significant expense and I worry that we could never see the project happening. Remember, there is only so much that can be done on a narrow towpath with historic/protected bridges every few kilometers without major engineering work. We need to really consider what is needed if we are to ever see a full cross country route. As an example of my point. The short 2.5km greenway stretch from Ashtown to Castleknock overran it’s budget by 1 million and cost 1.7 million euros – an average cost of 680K per KM. As a comparison Longford County Council was able to build 17km of greenway on the same Royal Canal towpath for around 300K (17K per KM). Adding lighting, security, built engineering at road intersections, etc all just adds to the costs and makes these projects very difficult to justify from a cost benefit perspective. Your points are well made but let’s try to win the battles for cyclists in places where it makes sense from a cost benefit perspective.

  2. This route is part of the Greater Dublin Area transport cycling network. The transport potential means the cost-benefit return should be much higher.

    Using bollards rather than gates would be at worst cost neutral, and possible cheaper.

    Nothing in the article would need major works. Installing bollards is easier than putting in gates and would take up less space and less work than the gate arrangement as planned (where the path widens towards the canal at the point of the gate – no need for this with bollards).

    If a binded surface isn’t justifiable between two large towns outside Dublin, one with a university and the other with the massive Intel campus and both within cycling distance to a city, it would not be justified on any rural route. You mention other sections of the Dublin to Galway Greenway — a more rural and longer section between Athlone and Mullingar was fully/mostly tarred.

  3. As someone that cycles this route every week in the summer and is forced onto dangerous back roads from late October until March when it is impassable, I have to say that I am thrilled that at long last it looks like this might actually get done.

    I take Cian’s points regarding best practice, but there are a number of other factors. The route is not that heavily used currently, even in high summer. Though of course that would increase with a better surface, it is unclear by how much. It is a long and roundabout route to commute into Dublin, so it’s most likely users would be people commuting between North Kildare and D15 or vice versa.

    Also, it is still relatively scenic, and I have always had misgivings about the prospect of flattening the canal bank and hedgerows to install a high specification trail with lighting, so I personally would be happy if this proposal was implemented as is.

  4. @ aka — thanks for your comment.

    Just responding to both your comment and the other reader’s comment re widening the canal path: I never made such a point. As per my first comment, using bollards rather than gates would require less surface width at many points.

    The potential re commuting includes many different types of trips or different distances. For example: Maynooth to Leixlip; Leixlip to NUIM; Maynooth to Intel, parts of Leixlip to Intel; Dublin City to Intel; Leixlip to DCU; Blanch to NUIM; etc etc etc

    When talking about the city centre and less direct routes you have to look at this from a network perspective: people traveling over longer distances may be using more than one route. For example: Maynooth to the Eir HQ building could include the Royal Canal Greenway between Maynooth and Leixlip, before turning off at Leixlip. That should only take 1 hour cycling a conventional bicycle but it’s not going to happen with restrictive barriers in the way.

    The network effect also comes into play in locations such as Maynooth — will people cycle on poor infra half way across Maynooth to get to the canal? Some will, a lot more should when the cycle routes within Maynooth are upgraded.

    But also you have to take into account that many people will cycle a greenway a long distance before they would cycle any distance on the current crap N4 cycle paths.

    Once the canal path is upgraded even distances such as the ~11km between Killcock to Intel could be attractive on a normal bike given the poor public transport links and more so on an electric bicycle.

    But this isn’t just about commuting — barriers dotted along the route from Dublin to Galway or even just Dublin to Athlone for now won’t be fun. I’d rather cycle the costal EuroVelo route in the Netherlands or many other top notch routes in Europe and elsewhere. I’d live with barriers for shorter distances but not across the country or across half of it. The route will have other limitations which some of the best greenways in Europe don’t suffer from, so the aim should not be to add barriers in that mix too.

  5. A few points having looked at the plans and report:

    4.2 of the 8.45km of the proposed Greenway is tarred with the remainder comprised of compacted grit so the reference in the first paragraph to it using a “loose grit surface” is a bit misleading. I have never had a problem cycling on compacted grit even on a road bike with 25mm tyres. I also feel it looks more attractive and less urban than Tarmac though I accept this is in the eye of one beholder.

    There seem to be just two access gates over the full length of the proposed Greenway, one on either side of Deey Bridge. Given that cyclists need to slow at this junction with a local road anyway, I don’t think they will be a major impediment. They are a huge improvement over the kissing gates used elsewhere on the towpath but bollards would probably work just as well.

    It is good to see that the Greenway continues under all the other bridges on the route even though it narrows to 1.7m. It’s a pity this couldn’t have been achieved at some of the bridges on the recently adopted Dublin section of the Greenway.

    Hopefully this and other sections of the Dublin to Mullingar route will proceed to construction sooner rather than later.

  6. It says in the report that they expect the project to take 10-12 months to complete. I didn’t see it stated, but do they say when they hope to start.

    My preference would definitely be not for gates; and hard surface instead of grit, but I suppose something is better than nothing. I think it’s a collective shame and short-sightedness on our society when the needs of walkers and people on bikes are reduced to this ‘thankful for scraps’ attitude. :(

    Ireland has a massive network of roads, all perfectly good for cycling and walking on, and yet people are afraid to walk or cycle on them because of cars and trucks presenting a very real and present danger, as well as the environment degradation through noise. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of building dedicated new cycle networks, we had the gumption and wisdom to turn a small fraction of current roads into routes fit for cycling and walking. And that doesn’t even mean banning cars from using them (for local access for example) just that cars would be strictly limited in their speed and behavior. They do it in the Netherlands and we could do it here. But unfortunately……..

  7. Just to clarify my last comment; when I talked about making roads fit for cycling and walking I was talking in this case about rural roads.

  8. I agree that it is collectively short-sighted to be forced to be thankful for scraps, but there is still a long way to go before what we consider to be fundamental needs of walkers and cyclists are recognized as such by the wider public. There is progress being made, but these things take time. In the meantime, any significant progress is welcome, even if it is flawed. Perhaps if this greenway takes off and becomes widely used, the value of it will be more widely appreciated and there will be more pressure for future projects to be better planned.

    With regard to rural roads, there actually are or were a very large number of rural tracks that were never paved and would have been rights of way used by pedestrians and horses and carts in former times. These have been allowed to become overgrown and unused until they are unusable or in some cases eventually subsumed into the local farmers land. I’ve seen this all over rural Wexford, and I’m sure it happens elsewhere.

    Many of these would have been ideal for use as rural walking and cycling tracks, but that use never seemed to occur to anyone as the general attitude was and largely still is that the car is king, one-off houses should be allowed all over the place and old paths are fair game for appropriation. There seems to be very little sympathy for any effort to open up and live more in concert with the land; that is regarded as being delusional thinking for soft clueless city people. It is disappointing that these attitudes persists in many rural people I know that I otherwise really like and admire. That said, I think things are beginning to change in the younger generations. We’ll see.

    Rant over.

  9. I think we are all on the same page and want to see the same thing – i.e. more cycle friendly routes. Thanks for raising the discussion Cian and some great points made by CitizenWolf, Liam and Aka about using rural roads and byways.

    Getting an appropriate solution to develop greenway/cycleways in these rural roads could be a game changer for cycling in Ireland. The main issue I see is that Irish drivers don’t expect to see cyclists on most of these smaller roads. Possibly we could overcome this with better signage and traffic calming measures. I often wondered about a simple solution whereby some of this quieter country roads are fitted with those speed indicator signs and when a slow moving cyclists passes the sign provides an appropriate message to an oncoming motorist that there is a slow moving vehicle ahead. I think if motorists are warned that there are cyclists ahead then they would be more cautious. Any other road engineering such as speed bumps or traffic islands may not work due to the nature of traffic on these roads (e.g. tractors, horse boxes, etc). If we could come up with such a simple solution then we could potentially open up so much of the country side for safe cycling. We know how the approach of building a “motor type” greenway through farmland has gone down in Galway so an alternative approach is needed.

    Is there a simple solution to open up these rural roads that the cyclist advocates could suggest to the county councils to help them come up with solutions?

  10. I can’t really see a way for this to be achieved. Ireland has among the highest road density in Europe, and because of the dispersed settlement patterns we’ve allowed to occur, practically every road no matter how tiny (or prone to flooding) has several houses along it, and regular vehicle traffic as a result.

    Given that we can’t even persuade all drivers to slow down in housing estates when the risk of hitting a child is high, I don’t know how we can persuade rural drivers to pay much attention to the possibility that a cyclist may be on the road ahead.

    I am lucky enough to have access to a commuter cycle route that is reasonably well served for cycle path (which I use, for all it’s flaws), but when I am in rural Wexford, I am struck by the relative lack of cyclists except for the usual but much less frequent packs of weekend warriors on their overpriced road bikes (only joking, kind-of). When I ask locals why this is the case, they tell me that the roads are far too dangerous to cycle into the local village or let their kids go to school by bike, and from my limited experience cycling there, I would tend to agree. Narrow bendy roads with motorist moving at relatively high speeds just don’t mix well with cycle traffic.

    Perhaps if we were to introduce areas with local-access only restrictions, and make some through-roads into cul-de-sacs for cars through which bike traffic could continue, we could create safer zones for cycleways, but I don’t see motorists or local residents agreeing to this.

  11. @aka
    Many people I talk to say that one of the main reasons they don’t cycle is because they think it’s dangerous. And why is it dangerous? As we all know – because of vehicles hurtling around the place and smashing into people. I find it incredible that if I were to run down any road around where I live whilst juggling working chainsaws, people would rightly see the danger I was posing to everyone else, and I’m guessing that many would try to intervene to stop me. And yet a car is actually more dangerous than a chainsaw but they’ve become normalised that people have a blindness to seeing that we don’t have to run our society like this. It’s maddening to see.

    When people look at the United States and the horrendous issue they have around guns, most realise the problem is around the free availability of guns. But guns have become normalised in the States and so people there get mighty upset when there’s talk of gun control. To people outside the States gun control is clearly the best thing to do, but Americans (many at least) can’t see this, and instead see it as an infringement of their rights. Much like vehicles here (and in most countries). It’s maddening to see.

    And of course – even more ridiculous is the fact that over 3 times more people are killed by vehicles in the States every year than are killed by guns, but that’s never even on the table for discussion. Utterly maddening to see.

  12. Re the email from DublinGalwayGreenway and the statement … my understanding is that its main purpose is for recreational cyclists…. Your understanding is wrong. The introduction to the Part 8 Report states that Kildare County Council proposes to construct it as part of a cycling commuter facility. While most recreational cyclists cycle once a week, many utility cyclists cycle every day so a route for utility cycling has a higher rate of return that a recreational route. Also, you are incorrect in stating that it is part of the national Dublin to Galway Greenway. It is part of the Dublin to Galway Greenway and is part of the national cycle network.

    The statement that … The higher specifications …. could add additional significant expense is correct. However, providing high quality infrastructure is not cheap but is cost effective when you take life costs into consideration. All governments want the benefits of increased cycling but most, including the Irish government, do not want to provide the required investment.

    The statement by Cian about the loose grit surface is accurate. In dry conditions, dust is transferred onto the bikes and clothes and is blown to the surround environment including the canal. That is why dust surfaces need almost annual maintenance. Also, the dust softens after rain – you can see the imprint of wheel tracks – which make cycling harder for people. According to Sustrans, dust surfaces can be twice as expensive as blacktop so if you want to get it built sooner, you should be supporting a proper blacktopped surface which is cheaper as well as best practice internationally. The only reason for dust is that Waterways Ireland insist on it although they have no objection if it for the cars of boat owners.
    I agree that there is only so much that can be done on a narrow towpath which is why long term planning is required to ensure that additional trees, bushes are provided now in order to allow for widening in the medium/ long term when the planting has matured. Compulsory purchase orders may be required to acquire land but this is normal procedure for new roads and so should be done for the provision of cycle facilities, where necessary.

    Re your costs of the Longford greenway, I doubt that the rate of €17K per km is accurate. If so, it raises questions about the specification of the works and ongoing maintenance costs. Built engineering at road junction does indeed add to the costs but are you suggesting that such works should be omitted?

    I am afraid that we are not all on the same page. Some of us want mass cycling and see best international practice as the means to achieve it. Unfortunately, others undermine this by espousing low standards and being grateful for any crumbs.

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