12 reasons why the Liffey Cycle Route should be supported

Options for a Liffey Cycle Route along our capital’s quays are due to be presented to a full meeting of Dublin City Council on later today, and are then set to go to public consultation. A limited overview of the four route options were already made public recently, here’s 12 reasons why option 2 or 3 would improve the city:

1. The quays are more than just a transport corridor

Liffey swim
The yearly Liffey Swim is one event that brings people back to the river

All too often the quays are seen as little more than a transport corridor but the area is a residential area (see more below); they are a large part of the city’s link with water; they contain some of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the country; and there are local and international businesses along the river. We have to view the quays as a part of people’s commute, but it’s much more than that — people live, work, shop, dine, exercise, do business and relax along sections of the quays. These things should be promoted.

2. It’s not just about cycling 

The project should be called the Quays Walking and Cycling route, but walking along the quayside is currently unattractive and the project should address many of the issues.

There’s currently missing pedestrian crossings at many junctions along the quays: Here’s a map showing missing crossing on legs of junctions along the quays — drivers are often unaware that there’s no pedestrian crossings and treat pedestrians as if they are breaking the law when they usually are not:
missing ped crossings

In line with local policy and national guidelines, the cycle route project will have allow people to walk along the quays on the riverside without having to run across junctions which have no crossings.

Cycle paths and lanes often also act as barriers between footpaths and roads — putting some distance between footpaths and motor traffic. While walking along the quays, the planned cycle path will do just this.

At some points along the quays there’s other obstacles, such as across from the Four Courts, pictured below. There’s two lanes for general traffic here plus car parking and a bus lane, but the footpath is taken over by a tree — Is this how our capital should be treating people walking, pushing prams or in wheelchairs along its river?


3. Dublin City Centre needs extra capacity

If all things were logical, capacity would possibly be the number one reason for the Liffey Cycle Route. Both the working and residential population of Dublin City Centre is set to grow and there’s no space to expand capacity for private cars — the only viable solution is to make way for sustainable transport which can carry more people in the same space. This means giving space over to walking, cycling and public transport.

This has been illustrated in photos by a number of cities across the world:

space-car-bus-bike-750px transport-people-comparison

Protests in the 70s put an end any realistic new road building by knocking large amounts of buildings, so there will no little or no new road building in or around the city centre. The city’s Public Realm Strategy details the problem for Dublin:

“Over half a million people currently access the city centre daily. This includes 235,000 workers, 45,000 students and approximately 120,000 visitors for retail or leisure purposes as well as additional business-related visits. This figure is in addition to the 116,000 people living in the city centre. Projected figures for 2020, notwithstanding the current economic downturn, suggest a rise to 350,000 workers, 70,000 students and 180,000 residents.

This means that substantially more people will want to access and move around the city centre, and more residents will rely on the city itself to provide much-needed open space. Such increases put pressure on the public realm. As the amount of space available is restricted by the historic street patterns of the city, it will be necessary to reallocate road space or infill spaces to meet the public’s changing requirements.”

4. The plan is already balanced

A plan for the Liffey Cycle Route has not come out of nowhere. There has been about four years of planning after councillors included the route in the city’s development plan. The plan pre-dates the current city manager and it’s mandate comes from elected councillors.

While the public consultation will help, it’s not the start of consultation. Businesses and others have already been consulted to at least some extent, including at least two high-level stakeholder workshops. Options 2 and 3 balance has been struck between keeping priority for buses, keeping car access to the city centre and providing a safe and attractive route for walking and cycling.

A more radical option of reworking the south quays as well as the north quays has not made it near the final four options because it would have — for the better or worse — radically changed the city’s traffic and bus network.

There’s a bit of give and take for all users — even for those cycling. With options 1-3 people cycling who choose the two-way path on the north quays would have slightly longer journey times for the advantage of avoiding the south quays. But, for motorists and buses, options 1-3 will leave the south quays as they are. (Option 4, however, is so poor and so little of a change for now it’s hardly worth thinking about.)

5. It’s a residential area

homes all around
The roadway should be out of focus here — there’s homes all around

The average population density of the areas along the quays is a staggering 10,000 people per square kilometer (10,000/km2). This isn’t just single adults, there’s thousands of families with children living on and very close to the quays.

The cycle route will mean less air pollution, less noise pollution, and will add an excellently amenity for residents for city centre. It will allow residents of the city centre and further away  to safely cycle across the city — including to the Phoenix Park, the city centre, and the Docklands.

Population density for Dublin City in general is often underestimated, but at 4,569/km2 the city’s overall population density is comparable to Amsterdam’s at 4,908/km2 (the issues of low population density happens outside Dublin City’s boundaries).

Along the quays has well over twice the city’s overall population density — for example, the area electoral division of Merchants Quay A has in excess of 12,600/km2, nearly three times the city’s average.

The difference in population density of the areas within the canals and those outside it, unfortunately, isn’t well shown by the generally great interactive maps by the All-Island Research Observatory, based on CSO Census data. However, as highlighted below, a smaller electoral division along the quays (Arran Quay C at 10,973/km2) has over twice the of an above average area outside the canals (Ashtown A at 5,139/km2) — a lots of more people living in a fraction of the space:

quays population

6. It’s time to tackle our environment for our health

What other mode of transport with the range and potential of cycling is good for a healthy heart, weight management, mental health, joints and muscles, skin, and an improved immune system? Don’t just trust us, a senior health promotion officer with the HSE has previously written for us detailing the health benefits of cycling.

7. Protected cycle paths are good for business 


The New York City Department of Transport found that there was a near-50% increase in local retail sales along a protected bicycle route on 8th and 9th avenues. According to the Green Lane Project: “When San Francisco reduced car lanes and installed bike lanes and wider sidewalks on Valencia Street, two-thirds of merchants said the increased levels of bicycling and walking improved business. Only 4 percent said the changes hurt sales.”

But it’s not just retail that matters. Many studies have shown that commuting by bicycle is good for employee productivity. Last year, a comprehensive ten-year study of 18,000 people by the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School and the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York, backed this claim.

This isn’t just the stuff of medical or academic studies, over 170 employers in London backed a similar cycle route because they know cycling has positive effects for their companies. These included large firms such as Microsoft, Deloitte, Penguin Random House, Royal Bank of Scotland, Coca-Cola and Unilever

8. Cycling and walking is brilliant for tourism

hotels and attractions

Most of Dublin’s tourists do not travel around the city by car — fixing the current poor walking and cycling links along the Liffey should be a top priority. The amount of tourist attractions and hotels on and around quays is stunningly high, see map above.

When it comes to cycling tourism, the main attractor for people wanting to cycle for a week or just on a weekend trip is high-quality interconnected infrastructure. The Dublin to Galway greenway is one of many routes which will make up a national network of greenways — Dublin needs to keep in this game. The quays route is key to this. It will link the Phoenix Park, the S2S Dublin Bay route, the Dodder Greenway, the Royal and Grand Canals, and other cycle routes into an network around Dublin.

9. Cycling is now a serious mode of transport


The modal share for Dublin City is now estimated as 10% (based on Census figures and increases since then) and rising. In the city centre, cycling accounts for 27% of traffic at the Dame St / Georges St junction. DublinBikes, which has not yet even expanded to cover the space within the canals, is now averaging well over 10,000 trips per day (hitting nearly 15,500 rentals on its busiest day last year).

10. Importance of cars to city centre shopping is overplayed

As we reported recently: Over 80% of Dublin City Centre retail spend from non-car shoppers. A recent survey by Millward Brown for the National Transport Authority found that over 56% of retail spend in Dublin City Centre comes from shoppers who arrived by public transport, and a further 24% of the retail spends comes from people walking and cycling (the latter two alone combined are higher than the spend by people arriving by car).

A 2011 study by DIT, Shopping Travel Behaviour in Dublin City Centre, showed that city centre retailers sometimes underestimate how many people travel by sustainable modes while overestimating car shoppers:

Shopping Travel Behaviour in Dublin City Centre

Some retailers also have conflicts of interest between the goal of attracting shoppers and their income from car parks. For example, most of the businesses who wrote to the council against the quays route last year are owners of or have business interests in car parks. Brown Thomas — the retailer to most publicly go against the project — has been shown to be contradictory in its stance for cheap parking while licensing its name to one of the most expensive car parks.

11. Car ownership is low in the city

City councillors must ask themselves who they are supposed to be representing: Dublin City only has a car ownership of 342 per 1,000 people and car ownership per household is low in most areas. Within the canals, car ownership is very low:

KEY: Dark blue: ~50-80% households with zero cars | Light blue~30-50% households with zero cars | Light green: ~20-30% households with zero cars | Bright green: Less than 20% households with zero cars

Households with no cars

12. It is supported by policy by the bucket load

The city council is often accused (rightly or wrongly) of not following through on policy. This project, however, is supported by more policies than most projects. The plan originates from the current Dublin City Development Plan — which was agreed on by city councillors in 2010 and promises a high-quality cycle route along the Liffey by 2017. The Dublin City Public Realm Strategy — also mentioned above is quoted extensively above.

Improvements to walking and cycling along the quays would fit in with the council’s commitments to accessibility for residents and visitors with disabilities, and with commitments to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

It also follows national policy. The Smarter Transport says: “need to give priority to walking, cycling and public transport as the primary means of accessing these facilities”. And the Department of Environment’s Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Sustainable Residential Development in Urban Areas says it should be an aim to “prioritise walking, cycling and public transport, and minimise the need to use cars” and to “Deliver a quality of life which residents and visitors are entitled to expect, in terms of amenity, safety and convenience”.


  1. Excellent piece, covered everything. Dublin City really needs this. The people who live in the city need this, even if some of them don’t know it now. Future generations need this.

  2. Well stated Cian! Just what was needed.
    Spot-on Kevin.
    We have to act as boldly as the Wide Street Commissioners did when they re-imagined our city.

  3. Thanx Cian for a comprehensive outline of the POSITIVE arguments for supporting a potential game changer in Dublin City. This proposed project has the potential to open out the Liffey Quays for the citizens’ and visitors’ use and enjoyment!
    In your 1st point above I would be inclined to emphasise the creation of SPACE FOR PEOPLE, in that context of being more than a Transport Corridor!
    Great graphics as well

  4. Good piece. But remember the cars will divert elsewhere. Such a change will have wider implications for traffic elsewhere.

  5. I’m all for better cycling/walking in the city but I’m not in favour of punitive measures to unduly punish motorists. Car ownership in the city centre is irrelevant, most drivers don’t live there. Allowing cars a reasonable way through the city will actually benefit the environment. Making cars sit in traffic and divert around convoluted routes is counter-productive as it only increases congestion and pollution. The priority should be on carrots to make alternatives more attractive rather than sticks to beat motorists with.

  6. As a person who lives in the city (liberties), cyclist and a dublin bus driver I say cyclists & pedestrians and even taxis are not given enough priority the system must be developed on the needs of many and not the few however their point of view & needs. its simple more cycling lanes = more cyclists, look at the cycle lane on the canal on baggot street.
    taxis should have more of the parking spaces in town and the traffic lights need to become pedestrian friendly, with a toll set up for private cars entering the city.
    Why should we be forced to live an unhealthy life & cost the tax payer over the needs and greed of a few.

  7. Fantastic work to all involved in putting the proposal together, It is a great tourist attraction, other countries have cycle routes and do well from visitors

  8. Nice article. I live in Meath and would usually either travel into the city by Bus Eireann Coach (preferred but expensive) or car (only when absolutely necessary). I would use the south keys to exit the city but seldom travel the north quays, except as a pedestrian. I think it’s a fantastic idea!

  9. Great article. Definitely all up for it. They need to get the Luas line(particularly the red) further out of the city. It should go a few miles past the red cow. The naas road is where the process of traffic congestion for commuters starts, the council needs to get people on the Luas far sooner in order to get them off the road … The city bikes available to tourists and inner city locals are a fantastic benefit to have. Great idea! However I don’t think the city roads, junctions and cycle lanes are prepared for these generally inexperienced cyclists ? I cycle my own bike everyday to work so am a familiar confident cyclist. I have minimal problems myself. But I feel the infrastructure available to these cyclists isn’t good enough and is a considerable danger. The council needs to make continuous developments for cycling especially as it is a healthy lifestyle improvement. They should advocate it enormously while they can ! They need to keep up with us.

  10. Why not suspend cycling/walking paths out over the Liffey itself? Same height as the streets so that Garda can monitor them just like surface streets but with no interaction between vehicles and bikes/walkers.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.