Bus rapid transit plan for Dublin follows mistakes of the past

— Changes to affect O’Connell Street, Pearse Street, Drumcondra Road, and Swords
— Poor design for walking, cycling and buses
— Includes large sections of mixing people on bicycles and on foot 

Details of a “bus rapid transit” (BRT) route between St Stephen’s Green to Swords show that the plans are highly compromised. Draft drawings showing the details of street and road layout changes for the rapid bus route were uploaded in recent days to the website of the National Transport Authority (NTA).

However, even bus priority measures shown in the plans are highly compromised — including lanes shared with general traffic and right turning traffic directed to enter BRT/bus lanes. The NTA have so-far opted for the cheapest and less disruption options, rather than having two joined bus lanes in the centre of the road — a design which is usually a key element in most BRT schemes around the world. The project seems hardly fit to be called BRT.

Walking and cycling are also treated poorly. Large sections of the route includes shared use paths which effectively put bicycles on footpaths, including across bus and BRT stops. The often rushed-looking drawings show sections of cycle paths beside and even crossing some of the busiest footpaths in Ireland, including on O’Connell Street and Westmorland Street without improvements to the footpaths already in need of space.

A previous NTA draft plan, which we reported on, put a two-way cycle path on Westmorland Street between a planned Luas tram lane and a bus lane — the new files show the cycle path moved and now placed in between the bus / BRT stops and the busy west-side footpath. The designers some-how think one of the busiest footpaths in the country should not be widened even when space is taken away from motor traffic on the street.

In another part of the city centre beside Pearse Train Station, turning Westland Row into a bus and bicycle only street has also been dropped from the plans — the previous draft plans showed wided cycle paths and two bus lanes but the new drawings show two traffic lanes, a single bus lane and a single cycle lane. The pressure to accommodate private traffic was too much for the planners and road engineers.

Mistakes of the past are being repeated. Segregation of cycling in the city section of the route is only done where this is a benefit to BRT buses — “bus stop bypasses” are used for many BRT stops but it’s apparently ok to continue mixing people on bicycles and large buses where the planners also want to move the conventional buses away from the BRT route. Elsewhere shared use paths are used as a quick and easy compromise — mixing people on foot and bicycle even thought many TDs and councilors claim to be against such designs.

This will lead to more conflict with pedestrians and many cyclists will opt to use the BRT or bus lane. The NTA seemed to be caught off guard when the mandatory use of cycle paths law was revoked, and they will have a political battle to keep cyclists off BRT lanes given cycling provision is so poor.

This writer had been foolishly optimistic about the potential of BRT and Luas Cross City to offer better public transport and improve our capital’s streets for walking, cycling and city livability, but what’s now on offer falls unbelievably short.

This view is based on a detailed inspection of the drawings, which can be found here. There are many small, individual improvements such as some contra-flow cycle paths. But elsewhere long-awaited contra-flow is missing, the northbound cycle lane on southeast of O’Connell Street was removed in the plans for Luas and this is not to be replaced — overall cycling provision is far lower than we should expect at this stage with so many apparently pro-cycling policies.

Anybody who cares about cycling, walking and public transport should oppose the project. Slight improvements — if any — which may be gained by interacting with the public consultation will not be enough to improve the project overall. A clear message must be sent: The project fails to meet too many standards to be BRT, and cycling and walking are treated too poorly for the designs to be allowed to progress.