— False argument between cycling and the environment will damage Ireland’s ability to tackle climate change related emissions.
COMMENT & ANALYSIS: When The Irish Times cover the Dodder Greenway recently it said “opinions differ about whether it should it be a giant cycle lane or a peaceful nature trail.” But if we drop the hype and look at the route, we find that the Dodder corridor can accommodation cycling and current users.
But cycling and other users just have to be kept apart — this can be done with political will, good design and some extra funding. Sometimes that’ll mean compromising, such as diverting the cycle route away from the river bank or working harder with some local landowners.
In The Irish Times article, journalist Paddy Woodworth stated: “No environmentalist could quarrel with the broad aims of the greenway report, which aims to get many more commuters out of cars and on to bikes. That reduces our carbon emissions and is good for public health. But when you try to combine what one biking group hails as a ‘cycling superhighway’ with a ‘greenway’, goals inevitably clash.”
We’d take a different view: Many environmentalists, it seems, don’t understand or underestimate cycling’s potential to provide sustainable transport on a large-scale (not to mention help tackle inactivity issues, including obesity). Most people generally don’t understand how important getting routes such as the Dodder right can be to delivering a network of safe and attractive cycle routes for Dublin.
This route, if done right, has massive cycling commuting and everyday transport potential — it will link the mixed residential and employment areas of Docklands, Lansdowne Road, Donnybrook, Ballsbridge with residential areas such as Ringsend, Rathfarnham, Terenure, Milltown, and Templeogue. In the Docklands it will link with the Royal and Grand canal greenways, the Liffey Cycle Route, and the S2S Dublin Bay route.
But can the Dodder handle a superhighway? A quick Google shows that the cycling or “bicycle superhighway” term linked with the Dodder is mainly from an interview IrishCycle.com published with Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize Design. Colville-Andersen’s company worked on the planning for the route, but afterwards he outline to us why he was not impressed with the route’s feasibility study — mainly because it mixed walking and cycling. As far as we’re aware no Irish cycling group have use the term “superhighway”, not least because it conjures up an images of a cycling speedway which is somehow equivalent to the M50.
The official picture, however, so-far indicates the use of a shared path. Despite the shared path design increasing conflict between walking and cycling, Dublin’s city and county councils and the National Transport Authority are still showing no sign of getting over their obsession of mixing walking and cycling in urban areas when use of both are high.
A shared path design causes conflict. It is unattractive. It has a debilitating affect on people who are blind, partly sighted, and others who don’t want to mix with bicycles. And it is ineffective when it comes to moving people on bicycle in large numbers. But it’s a cheap and easy solution for officials who are not being given the funding needed for Dutch-like cycling infrastructure.
The Irish Times reported that the official “study advocates that the cycleway element be four metres wide” — this clearly isn’t true. The official study (which IrishCycle.com also published first) aims for a four metre wide shared path, but only where space allows. The official proposed design includes compromises that go too far — including mixing walking and cycling where widths are confined.
This does not stop The Irish Times from reporting on photographs of a four metre wide stick showing the space where the path will be “carving out so much riverbank space for cyclists” — sadly this is all a distraction from the real issue: It’s not a four metre path which will make things worse for other users, it’s mixing large numbers of walking and cycling which will do that.
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The Dodder isn’t a section of greenway in rural Co Mayo. The route has very high everyday cycling potential, where many people will often be in a hurry. So, mixing walking and cycling will cause conflict and it will damage the experience across user groups. Both modes should and largely can be kept separate.
John Lacy, chairman of Dodder Action, is quoted in the Irish Times article as saying: “We are fully behind the greenway, but we want to avoid negative impacts on architectural and ecological heritage. We want it all to be well thought through. Everyone will have to compromise.” …but what is compromise?
The images published of the four metre wide stick extending over the riverbank makes you think it would be impossible to provide separate space for both walking and cycling, but for most of the route, this just isn’t case. Lots of the river bank is relatively wide and very wide compared to the canals.
The idea that a narrow and unsegregated path is a compromise which will help avoid conflicts is not supported by experience of such narrow paths in urban areas here or in the UK.
Looking at the route in detail, we think having a high-quality cycling environment is possible while protecting the current space for other users. The potential space along the Dodder route corridor could come from a mix of solutions, including:
(1) Existing wide grass areas: These areas along the river generally and in names parks can easily accommodate walking and cycling, separately. A large percent of the route is this way.
(2) Two-bank solution: Along some sections, one side of the river can kept for walking and the other for cycling (in some areas it may be desirable to provide cycling links on both banks).
(3) Local on-street sections: These residential streets are directly beside the river bank — the traffic on these sections are generally very low as most of them are already cul de sacs. These streets are already suitable or can be made suitable for mixing cycling and low volumes of cars. Such as at Orwell Park where the walking path across the river is narrow:
(4) Segregated on-street sections: This is where spaces can be taken from wide road traffic lanes or parking etc, but where the access traffic on the road is high enough to warrant segregation to allow for flow of the cycle route and subjective safety of its users.
Mixing walking and cycling — sometimes on narrow or 4 metre unsegregated paths — may be seen by our authorities as a good compromise. But such design is not a compromise, just downright compromised. Cycling and walking need their own space on the Dodder route.
Anybody interested in sustainable transport, reducing emissions and having an attractive riverside for all, needs to demand high-quality and separate space for walking and cycling along the Dodder. But if the planners of this route are unwilling or unable to spend the time and money on separate space for walking and current users, they should leave the route alone for now.