Hundreds could make Dublin’s canals safer if barriers are removed

— Canal users say gates make crime and anti-social behaviour, but Waterways Ireland are not for moving them.

Hundreds of extra people using Dublin’s canal paths could make them safer if restrictive barriers –which obstruct most bicycles and totally block many types of bicycles — were removed.

The “eyes on the street” approach to planning and design shows that when there’s more people using a space, passive surveillance reduces the number of isolated places where crime can take place unseen and makes areas unwelcoming to anti-social behaviour. This was used to keep DublinBikes stations safe.

IrishCycle.com asked Twitter users: “Would you be more likely to use the Royal and Grand Canal greenways in Dublin if restrictive barriers were removed?” and 85% of 368 respondents said that they would me more likely to use the canals and another 8% said that they may be more likely to use the canals.

Users replying to the poll said that the barriers do not stop horses or mopeds from being used inside the barriers.

Katrina McGirr, a spokeswoman for Waterways Ireland, the all-island body which looks after canals, said: “The canal towpaths managed by Waterways Ireland welcome a wide range of users, including leisure cyclists, walkers and commuters. The barriers in place have been placed to assist the safe use of the towpath by these users. Anti-social and criminal behaviour is a matter for the Gardai.”

Asked what exactly the barriers are designed to stop,  McGirr said: “I can confirm that the barriers are in place to regulate the users of the towpath, encouraging safe speeds and recognition of the diversity of users. Anti-social people within some communities have always used a range of activity to impact on their own communities usage of the public recreational space on the towpath. Waterways Ireland has worked with the Gardai over many years in addressing these issues and will continue to do so.”

Waterways Ireland did not respond to a question on if it would be reviewing how such barriers block people with disabilities from using the towpath with disabled-friendly bicycles, trikes and other mobility aids, given that Ireland has ratified the UN Convention on rights of people with disabilities.

Commenting on criminal behaviour along the canals which made headlines last week, the Dublin Cycling Campaign said: “Shocking reports of muggings and anti-social behaviour on the Grand Canal in Dublin. The perpetrators are targeting cyclists who have to dismount at the kissing gates. Waterways Ireland please remove these barriers immediately!”

The barriers on the city council’s section of the Royal Canal are due to be removed and replaced with bollards as part of a long-delayed upgrade of the cycle route, but there is no sign that barriers will be removed on Grand Canal where restrictive barriers were put in place when that route was upgraded a number of years ago.

Users who replied to the poll said the barriers were ineffective and caused more problems than they solve.

One canal user, Linda Collins said: “Barriers are a complete nuisance, you end up confined into an uncomfortable space and totally vulnerable in the event of an attack. I would love to be able to cycle freely along the canal, but I can totally see the necessary for something more friendly for walkers, buggy and bikes.”

Chris Costello said: “I ride a cargo bike with my kids/stuff, barriers like this are completely hostile to me tbh.”

Arron Bolger replied: “Hostile to legitimate users like yourself, but those who want to drive quad bikes like lunatics always seem to find a way around. Clearly the barriers don’t do whatever job they’re supposed to.”

Peter H said: “Barriers necessary to keep out the feral youths on mopeds.”

Kev Kennedy said; “They get in anyway though. I’ve seen mopeds, horses, sulkie racing,.. you name it, I’ve seen it. There are so many gaps in hedges, fences etc.. the gates are pretty much redundant at this stage, and now they’re being used to target individuals for muggins. Take them out!”

Stephen Bourke said: “I’ve seen quads and scramblers brought through them so it’s not like they stop that.”

South Dublin County Council installed an adjustment to the original barriers (pictured above) on the Grand Canal but this design still blocks bicycles used by many people cycle with disabilities, some types of child seats, cargo bicycles, and panner bags used by shoppers, commuters and tourists.

Astrid Fitzpatrick, a resident of west Dublin who runs a bicycle shop in south Dublin said that the barriers block her family from using their bicycles — from a cargo bike to normal bicycles with child seats — which means they are more likely to have to use busy roads heading towards the city centre.

Fitzpatrick said: “I wouldn’t go near the canals on the way home in the evening, rather go on the main road, in the morning it is grand, as they [the people who case issues] are either still in bed or in school.”

She added: “The barriers slow you down so much they actually have a chance to catch up with you , or they loiter around the gates, blocking your way.”

Image thanks to Astrid Fitzpatrick of barriers on the Grand Canal blocking a child’s seat:

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade.

8 Comments

  1. https://twitter.com/CatrionaSwanson/status/1019310625355419650

    Used at, say, 200m intervals would slow down scramble bikes, etc., I think.

  2. The canals are greenways. If they contain these gated barriers, they will not be usable by anyone using a cargo bike, a double buggy, and especially not our Cycling Without Age (www.cyclingwithoutage.ie) trishaws, which are 1.1m wide with a wide turning circle. Thus, the canal ways will be off limits to our older and mobility-impaired citizens, when accessibility for all should be the plan. Even the very narrow canal paths in London allow cyclists and pedestrians equal access.

  3. Waterways Ireland have clearly not bought into the idea of the canal banks being designated as greenways. They continue to refer to them as “towpaths” a reference to a former purpose that has been obsolete for over a century, and the language they use in their statement clearly implies that they see the canal banks as a resource that they control and to which they grant access on their terms.

    This is not acceptable. The canal greenways are important public amenities (moreso than rural greenways in that they facilitate commuting as well as leisure cycling) and they should be equipped to allow traffic to proceed freely.

    That said, I frequently have to dodge kids on unregistered scramblers or mopeds roaring down the Royal Canal bank. There is clearly a need to control this, but enforcement must be the answer and not ridiculous obstacles that inconvenience everyone except the people they are intended to control.

  4. Waterways Ireland need to be told that they are managing an asset owned by the Irish people for the good of the Irish people.They do not exist to empire build or to enhance the value of WWI leading to its privatization. If they are unwilling to let us use the greenways properly by allowing proper access and allowing a proper bonded surface then councils or government needs to insist by means of planning law or legal means that they comply.Having farmers and such interest groups obstructing the greenway strategy is bad enough without a state company working against the good of the people.
    P.S. I was told by one of SDCC engineers that they were close to agreement with WWI to open the gates by this summer ,has this plan broken down.

  5. If Waterways Ireland are implementing a system to prevent families and disabled people use the canal banks by keeping barriers to prevent access, then it seems Ms McGirr and Waterways Ireland are the ones with the anti-social behaviour issue.

  6. Should we consider crowd funding a legal challenge using one of the organizations for the disabled as a stalking horse.I for one would be happy to contribute.

  7. Are these actually _greenways_? ie do they have funding thats tied to particular standards or Waterways Ireland their own boss? the Greenway strategy docs are out on the DTTAS website, and say “Projects funded under this Strategy will have to comply with the Transport Infrastructure
    Ireland (TII) Rural Cycleway Design (Offline) Standard. The TII standards docs shows staggered chicane barriers and self closing gates http://www.tiipublications.ie/library/DN-GEO-03047-02.pdf but even that uses the word “preferable”

  8. I think a major part of the funding came from the telecomm companies who laid comms cables along the route.

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