In-depth look at the Sandymount / Merrion to Blackrock Corridor Study, including S2S Dublin Bay route

LONG READ | COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Public consultation is ending today for the combined project of a large section of the S2S Dublin Bay cycle route, the Merrion Gates level crossing removal, and a bus and cycling upgrade on Merrion Road / Rock Road corridor. Our overview of this  project was reported here in our news section, and, now, here’s a more in-depth look:

This is the colour key for official drawings for the project:

The following two images show an overview of the costal cycle route and how it fits into the roads and parks along the route:

Not shown on the above maps is the section of main road along the Merrion Road and Rock Road — stretching from Ailesbury Road to the Blackrock bypass. 

We’ll start at the northern start of this section of the S2S Dublin Bay route:

The two-way cycle path starts in the above image is at Irishtown at the south end of the Sean Moore Road — around some road design which was popular in the second half of the last century. The stuff that tried to retrofit high-volumes of cars into an already congested city and never really worked for anybody.

We could look at the detailed design of this junction but a broader question might be what is it linking to? There’s no plan for a dedicated or attractive link to the planned Dodder Greenway (400 metres away), the Liffey Cycle Route (1km away) or the Grand Canal Dock area (around 1km away). This is all the more important given that the road network between here and the city centre is congested and has little in the way of space for cycling, even very basic space for cycling like cycle lanes.

The width of the path around this point seems to be 3.5 metres — we suggest that it should be widened to closer to 4 metres in this area where there are no notable constraints. There is a line of thought that because there are constrains on other parts of a route that the rest of the route does not have to be wide, but this is flawed — the extra space allows for more overtaking space before and after more confined areas.

Moving southwards, the cycle path route moves away from the roadway (at this point called Beach Road) and follows but is separated from then existing footpath in the Sean Moore Park.

The approach of using the inner area of the park has its pros and cons, but with the length of the park at nearly 500 meters, it needs at least one link across Beach Road and into the residential areas south of the road.

The above (non-official) image highlights the lack of link between where the cycle path is planned to be (blue) and a primary school (shaded in red).

At the end of Beach Road the cycle path route exits the parks and follows the road, this happens at the junction of Marine Drive. The detail on the cycle path link between the park and the road looks rushed — we’re gussing it’s not even close to a final detail, so, we’ll reserve comment.

Above a Google Street View image shows a buffer between a walking and cycling crossing of a road and a two-way cycle path behind (and seprate from) the crossing. Where possable, the cycle route should take this approach — the T-junction between Beach Road and Marine Drive is one of those locations where it can work, even if the cycle path and footpath have to bend into the park.

It should also be used with a buffer on the Rock Road, as we’ll focus on later. 

Basically the route south of the Marine Drive junction, where the route opens to a direct view of Dublin Bay, is a mix of fitting everything inside the sea wall and putting pedestrians on the coast side of the sea wall on a boardwalk.

At Newgrove Avenue the coastal footpath transfers from inside the sea wall to outside, where a boardwalk is planned.

Along this section there is a clear absence of crossing points between the cycle route and coastal footpath to the residential side of Beach Road.

These are the two cross-section types for this area.

Note: while the cross-sections show private boundary wall ‘set back’ or ‘cut back’, the maps show that this is mostly not the case — most of the work is within existing public property.

As shown by the two different views above, the roundabout at Newgrove Avenue is relatively large. Crossings for walking and cycling are vital at locations like this.

At the Sandymount Promenade the cycle route leaves the roadside and follows alongside the existing coastal footpath.

There are a number of car parks along the promenade. To avoid the mistakes of the S2S Dublin Bay route on the north side, careful consideration needs to be given to providing a buffer between the car park and the cycle route to avoid cars parking into the cycle path and unloading passengers and from boots on the cycle path.

South (left in the above drawing) of the promenade the cycle path switches back to the roadside before the main cycle route continues along Strand Road in low-volume mixed traffic (in the above image where the road is marked in green).

The text showing a “proposed traffic by pass of Merrion Gates” points to the planned overpass of the railway line. The Merrion Gates level crossing of the railway will be closed — there will be an underpass at the level crossing location for cycling / walking / wheelchair access only and the overpass will take all motorised traffic and also have footpaths and cycle paths.

The transition between the cycle path and the shared roadway is poor — the blue area seems to indicate that there’s a shared footpath between the two.

Priority should be given to cycling going from the cycle path to the shared roadway and not to cars entering / exiting the shared area.

The  above Street View image is the existing setup at Strand Road, the overpass turn would be to the right of this image, while the cycle path ending would be to the left.

The cycle path to shared roadway transition would be best sorted with away from overpass junction. To make this possable, the roadway pictured above could be off-set left and the two-way cycle path could be continued just beyond the junction with the overpass.

This is a cross-section of the short section of shared roadway from the overpass junction to the underpass (only around 250 metres in length). The green area is only for the first 50 or 60 metres before there are houses on both sides of the road. 

IMAGE: An artist’s impression of the proposed walking and cycling underpass

At the end of the shared roadway is the underpass which will lead to Merrion Road and onto the Rock Road.

The underpass is pictured above in blue above.

The bends look to be some kind of strange attempt at slowing cycling down, but it’s at the cost of making it harder to cycle up out of the underpass, the loss of lines of sight and worsening the perception and possibly the actual level of personal security.

The tree and shrub planting in the second last image are also likely problems for lines of sight and blocking of natural light. The inclusion of steps also adds conflicting movements (the path from steps to steps and from ramp to ramp crosses).

The underpass should and can be made wider, and walking and cycling can and should be kept segregated.

There is ample space on the Merrion Road side and if needed the car parking spaces there can be removed, and, on the Strand Road side, space can be saved by ending the footpath where the ramp to the underpass starts (it is mainly only access to three or four houses so is very suited to shared space).

Above is an example of an underpass in the Netherlands — with segregated space for walking and cycling and note how you can see clearly to the under side of the underpass. The details are important — from shallow gradients to the land around the underpass clear of clutter and banked downwards.

The above image (cropped for focus on the underpass), also from the Netherlands, is from the public consultation report… but why isn’t Dutch practice followed in the design drawings?

On the Merrion Road / Rock Road corridor the details of this project start at Ailesbury Road, so, we’ll backtrack to there before passing the underpass again….

At Ailesbury Road, one slip turn is retained and the other is removed. Retaining one goes against the NTA’s own advice and the advice in the Manual for Urban Roads and Streets. Slip turns increase danger and inconvenience for people walking and cycling.

While space for cycling might be seen as an improvement over the existing shared lanes on this road (or cycle lanes pained within narrow general traffic lanes), there’s still no getting away from the fact that 1.5 metre cycle lanes are sub-standard. The NTA guidelines say cycle lanes should be 1.75 meters.

There’s no bus stop bypasses even where there is space at least on one side of the road.

The junction of Nutley Lane is next to tokenism for cycling — when segregation ends away from junctions, that’s all it is: tokenism segregation.

There’s all sorts of wrong here for cycling and walking design: staggered crossings, narrow cycle lane between a filter lane and bus lane, narrow cycle lane generally, no segregation at the top of the T-junction, no cycling provisions on or off the side road, duel provision for turning for the brave (an advance stop line) and the less brave (a toucan crossing), and a lack of clarity how exactly a toucan crossing is usable for cycling when leaving a narrow cycle lane.

Above shows the entrance and exit to a filling station — note how the footpath and segregated cycle path are broken for the private access. The cycle path goes down and gives visual priority away to motorists entering and exiting the filling station.

The cross-section here shows some quality but it’s short lived….

A slip turn is removed at this junction but so is a crossing across the main road — meaning bus passengers going to St Vincent’s University Hospital and to the new national maternity hospital will a long walk around.

Despite the land acquisition, the requirement of a new left turning lane onto the overpass (shown here as the side road on the T junction) means that the cycle lanes again narrow into small lanes.

But even where there’s no turning lane width is given to keeping the general traffic lanes to 3 meters even where there’s hatching and cycle lanes are kept to a sub-standard 1.5 meters.

Back at the underpass again and there’s many issues:

  • There’s car parking inside the southbound cycle lane, this is bad practice.
  • There’s no legal way for people cycling up the underpass ramp (southbound) to get across the road and go northbound except to dismount and walk.
  • There’s no legal way for people cycling northbound along the two-way cycle route (shown in brown) to cross the road except to dismount and walk.
  • No bus stop bypass provided northbound even thought there’s only a large area of grass behind the wall of the nursing home.

Rather than following best practice and have a buffer between the two-way cycle path (brown) and the bus lane (browny-grey), all of the space is instead used for a central medium.

Another question might be: is providing a two-way cycle path on one side and a one-way cycle path on the other such a good idea in space terms? Two-way paths on main roads need buffer space to allow people to turn on and off the cycle path without getting in the way of others. 

With quality design and good links, Transport for London has managed to get most people to cycle on segregated two-way cycle paths on one side of streets, can’t the NTA do the same? Or marginal bits of space can be taken from lanes, etc and used as a buffer.

Above is a cross-section of the section before the two-way path turns into Blackrock Park.

Beyond Blackrock Park, the planned cycling provision on the Rock Road is generally good but the design comes with the following warning: “Provision of a continuous outbound bus lane will be reassessed at the next design stage.” There’s also details which could be tweeked. 

As with other sections of the project, why do segregated cycle paths dip down at junctions? The example here — as with others — show the footpath remaining raised, but the cycle path doesn’t. The message here seems to be: slow cars crossing the footpath but to hell with slowing them where where people will be cycling. Even the UK are starting to get this right, why not us?

At the very end of the Rock Road scheme (where it merges with the existing Blackrock Bypass scheme) there’s another case of space for a bus stop bypass but no will to put it in. 

Backtracking at bit: At Booterstown Dart Station the two-way coastal route diverts off into Blackrock Park.

The two two-way paths (brown) should join up with each other, like they do in many places (from the UK to the Netherlands), but instead we’re left with a very Irish fudge. Why?

In Blackrock Park it’s a big improvement, going from a shared tracks of less than 3 meters to two segregated paths — 3.5 meters for cycling and 3 meters for other users of the park.

The biggest improvement — subject to obtaining private land — is along side Blackrock Dart Station where the path currently narrows to a small pinch point.

After the Dart Station the route goes via mostly quite shared roads in Blackrock, including use of the Newtown Avenue contra-flow cycle track.

At the south end of Newtown Ave the route turns onto Seapoint Ave, where the road is planned to be converted to one-way to make space for a two-way cycle path.

Here’s a cross section of part of the street with on-street parking.

And a cross-section of without parking.

Although details have to be worked on, we understand that a large amount of residents of the area are in favour of the design.

*****

Overall the project has a lot of potential for cycling, but the narrative that it’s main a cycling project may not be reality the case — the project as much as public transport project in the way it  removes a railway level crossing and provides more continuous 24 hour bus lanes.

Not following the coast fully on included section of the S2S Dublin bay route is a compermise, but it’s a compermise with a silver lining of better cycling provision and continuous links between Irishtown, Sandymount, the Rock Road, Blackrock and Sea Point (just falling short of Dun Laoghaire).

The quality of the cycling elements varys a lot. In some cases that might be because the drawings are just quick drafts, but in other cases there’ll need to be a bit of work to fix the design to get cycling right.

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