— Council discriminates against bicycle users who are disabled
— Barriers block bicycles but dumping ground along route left open
— Gates put up after greenway section opened by Tánaiste
Restrictive barriers on the Royal Canal Greenway in Dublin were only put in place after the €2 million route was opened by Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) Joan Burton and former minister for transport and tourism Leo Varadkar.
Around a week after the opening, readers started to complain to IrishCycle.com that the barriers installed on a new 2km section of the Royal Canal Greenway, between Castleknock and Ashtown, were too restrictive. Some users of the route said that they had to lift their bicycles over the barriers which are designed to keep motorcycles off the path.
The section of route is supposed form part of a premium commuter cycling route for the Greater Dublin Area, and part of the 290km Dublin to Galway greenway. But a report published in January 2013, which was commissioned by the National Transport Authority, labelled such gates as “an intolerable barrier to cycling” which should be removed.
The report, which covers another to-be-upgraded Dublin greenway — the River Dodder route — states that: “All kissing gates along the route should be removed. These are an intolerable barrier to cycling and other means of controlling anti-social behaviour should be identified, including CCTV. A bollard or two at the entry to a 4m wide track would prevent vehicular access but can accommodate cyclists.”
It adds: “Occasional abuse of the greenway by motorbikes may be a problem but the solution to this should not be to render the proposed cycleway unusable by the vast majority of responsible pedal cyclists.”
It’s our understanding that the National Transport Authority (NTA) has been unhappy with the use of restrictive gates for some time, holding the view that such barriers limit the potential of cycle routes. Adjustments made to the kissing gates on the Grand Canal Greenway, which was opened by South Dublin County Council in 2010, were deemed to be unsatisfactory. Regardless of this, Fingal County Council went ahead with the same type of barriers on the new section of the Royal Canal route.
We asked Fingal County Council does it accept that the price being paid in this case to restrict motorbikes is to also exclude legitimate users including people who have bicycles adapted to suit their disabilities, commuters and tourists with loaded panniers and families with children in trailers, cargo bicycles and cargo trikes.
A spokeswoman for Fingal, Florence White, said:
“The council sincerely regrets that dangerous misuse of this wonderful public amenity by a very small number of users could prevent it from being used to its full potential by cyclists and pedestrians including those specific groups you mention. However as a public authority we must and do take our responsibility for public safety very seriously and therefore we have to take the steps we can to minimise what we believe is a potential risk to public safety caused by motorbikes or scramblers that have caused a nuisance on this route in the past. As outlined, the use of the Greenway will be promoted and reviewed to see if restrictions can be relaxed if the problem with motorbikes and scramblers is resolved.”
Excluded from the greenway — unless they are willing and able to lift their bicycle over the barrier — are the users of bicycles with large panniers, bicycles with trailers, cargo bicycles, recumbents, and other bicycles adapted for people who have disabilities. The council has the means of locking the gates in a less restrictive position without construction alterations but it would not confirm if it will ever do this or if this would allow all types of bicycles to pass.
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Keith Byrne, the chairman of the Dublin Cycling Campaign, said: “The use of these barriers will hamper the development of first in class routes that Ireland needs to build for a sustainable smarter travel future.” He said the route should be attractive to people using “any type bicycle” including heavier city bikes, electric bicycles, bicycles with panniers or trailers, cargo bikes and mobility trikes.
“We see this route as a very important off road and quiet route that will attract a large variety of cyclists to go about their business. We would expect people to use these routes for commuting and leisure with their kids on a variety of bicycles,” said Byrne. “It is not to be underestimated the importance of building and encourage cycling on quieter off road routes, and by trying to stamp out a small problem it will exclude a much larger number of people from enjoying a fantastic piece of their community the way the project intends.”
He added: “There has been no statistics provided for this problem and without that, it is building in restrictions for something that may be so rare. It should also be noted that these types of restrictors may well be compromised by other ways to gain access to the same routes. The actual problem needs to be addressed first. It is imperative that if there are issues raised by a few individuals that these be enforced by the Gardai.
The Department of Transport said that Galway to Dublin Greenway “remains a priority” and noted that the NTA issues with the barriers.
A spokesman for the department said: “The NTA is the body responsible for the implementation of this cycle way and they share your concerns in regard to barriers on the route. The NTA is working towards developing a new access arrangement which will meet the needs of users while at the same time restrict undesirable use by motorcycles and other inappropriate modes.”
While the department claims that Ireland’s first intercity cycle route is a priority, it did not directly reply to how the route is this supposed to be attractive to tourists traveling on bicycles with panniers. We were also left in the dark on how it is expected that our routes will be attractive to Dutch and German tourists when the Netherlands has comparatively no barriers on 4,500km of national cycle routes.
For its part, the NTA said that the use of restrictive gates on key off-road cycle routes is “undesirable” but it added that local authorities and other public bodies “have well-founded concerns over unimpeded access in certain situations, leading to potential use of such cycle routes by motorcycles and other inappropriate vehicles.”
Sara Morris, a spokeswoman for the NTA, said: To balance those competing needs, we have designed a new access arrangement which facilitates access by bicycle without dismounting but which restricts undesirable vehicles. This new bike gate is scheduled to be trialled with South Dublin County Council and Waterways Ireland on the Grand Canal over the summer period. It involves a combination design suitable for all bicycle types (within reason) but precluding motorcycles etc. If that trial is successful it is intended to retrofit that new access arrangement into appropriate locations, including along both the Royal Canal and the Grand Canal cycle sections.”
The NTA did not reply to questions on the detail of the trial.
In an earlier statement, Fingal County Counil said:
“While at design stage the council did consider an access control system that would exclude vehicles but permit free flow of cycles (ie removable bollards). However, this could not be included in the final design as we were forced to prohibit the unauthorised use of motorcycles and the like from the path as this had been a problem in this area. Even before the current gates were erected, there were complaints from the public about motorbikes, scramblers and quads travelling along the path at excessive speeds. Regrettably, the minority of users have negatively affected the use of the Greenway for everyone else. However, we must take measures to protect the safety of all users including local families and young children availing of the traffic free status of the greenway. This is why we had to put up the gate restrictors.”
“While the council has largely adopted the same design as per the Grand Canal (as requested by Waterways Ireland), we have incorporated minor improvements so that the gates can be adjusted to cater for larger bikes. We have also installed a second socket for the gate locking post so that the gate can be locked in a partially open position, thus giving a little more room to pass. The strategy at the moment is to leave the gates in a restrictive position in an attempt to eliminate nuisance use of the greenway and to open them to the less restrictive position for the long term. This plan is dependent on how the greenway is used in the years ahead and we hope many people will be able to enjoy it.”