COMMENT & ANALYSIS: A new plan to change the central streets of Cork City, includes some hidden issues for cycling, Peter Barry of the Cork Cycling Campaign explains.
Cork City Council developed a City Centre Movement Strategy in 2013, the aim of which was to optimise access to the city centre for all modes of transport, including walking and cycling. The chief goal of the plan was to improve sustainable modes of transport, by prioritising and improving access for sustainable modes of transport. For public transport the strategy proposed improved bus lanes and bus gates. The report acknowledged that it would be difficult to increase access to the city centre for private motorised vehicles, and the best way to deal with them was by rationalising their paths through the city centre.
In general the strategy as planned will be beneficial to cycling, as it proposed the construction of a number of cycle paths and lanes. Some of the proposals have already been built, including extensive contraflow cycle paths along the South Channel which do much to improve access to the city centre. The return of two-way cycling on many of Cork’s streets is of huge importance to cycling in Cork, as it helps cyclists circumvent Cork’s extensive one-way system.
Unfortunately, one outcome of the movement strategy is the changing of an important section of two-way carriageway to one-way. This is Grenville Place and Batchelors Quay, which form the western and northern boundaries of the ‘Middle Parish’, The Middle Parish is a tight network of streets, which are mostly residential, but also contain a major hospital, the Mercy, and the Tyndall Institute, a major research centre run by UCC.
To understand why this is being done you have to look 300m to the east, at St Patrick’s Street, the main street in Cork City. At present St Patrick’s Street is open to all vehicles at all hours, but the city council intends to make this accessible to busses, taxis and bikes for six hours every day. This is a very welcome proposal, and one that the Cork Cycle Campaign heartily endorses. Unfortunately, the traffic that used to travel down St Patrick’s Street now has to go somewhere else. To deal with this, the council intends to convert Grenville Place to one-way northbound, and eliminate all south-bound movements along the street. That includes cyclists.
There are other effects of this re-arrangement. Grattan Street will be made one-way southbound, again without any contraflow facilities for cyclists. This will leave the Grattan Street Coke Zero Bikes stand isolated on a stretch of one-way street. Anyone approaching the Tyndall Institute or the Mercy Hospital from the north side of the city will be required to to take a circuitous route via Grattan Street and Washington Street, along streets that will have much heavier motorised traffic than before.
Despite the aim of the movement strategy of improving conditions for cycling, this is effectively a demotion, and will dramatically reduce permeability across the Middle Parish for cycling. Cyclists approaching the Tyndall Institute or the Mercy Hospital from the north side of the city will be required to circuitously negotiate six sets of traffic lights where previously there was none. Little effort has been made to accommodate the cyclists displaced by this new one-way system.
Of course, there is room for a contra-flow lane along the length of Grenville Place, however it is currently proposed that a footpath should be built along the western side of the street, in order to improve pedestrian access to St Vincent’s Bridge, which leads onward to the North Mall and Sunday’s Well. Currently the two-way traffic lane along Grenville Place is no less than 5.5m wide at its narrowest. There is room for a 3m traffic lane and a 2m contraflow lane, however, this would require removing the proposed footpath along the quayside.
This wouldn’t necessarily mean that pedestrians lose out however, as the possibility exists to construct a boardwalk along the quay wall from the Tyndall as far as St Vincent’s Bridge or beyond. Unfortunately, the quay walls are due to be reworked as part of the city’s planned flood defences, which means that any boardwalk would fall under that scheme, and by extension – ‘separate scheme hell’.
There are other workarounds, which are less ideal. One would be to allow cyclists cycle along Henry Street and provide a contra-flow along the Prospect Row, but this wouldn’t address the issue of cyclists coming across St. Vincent’s Bridge. Other complications include the presence of ambulance bays in front of the Mercy Hospital, and the need to provide new disable parking spaces. None of these should be insurmountable however.
The Cork Cycling Campaign is preparing a submission on this and would encourage others to do likewise.