COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Last year we were cycling with an Irish group on a study tour of a Dutch city and something strange happened while waiting at a junction. It was a protected cycle path the junction but our host still apologised for his city’s high level of traffic lights. Most cycling friendly Dutch cities use more bicycle-priority measures, such as roundabouts.
The prevailing thinking in Ireland is that roundabouts are not cycling-friendly. The fact is that the prevailing Irish roundabout design are not cycling or pedestrian friendly. But that doesn’t mean that the designs of roundabouts cannot be changed to be cycling and walking friendly.
The below video went viral, with Scottish tweeter @crabbitcopy saying: “Feel like I am on another planet cycling in the Netherlands. This is a roundabout. Amazing”:
Feel like I am on another planet cycling in the Netherlands. This is a roundabout. Amazing. pic.twitter.com/QefVVeNL1I
— Claire C (@crabbitcopy) September 3, 2016
Optimal use of Dutch roundabout design in Ireland wouldn’t be a matter of just replacing our current roundabouts with Dutch design, but also following in their footsteps and replacing some signalised junctions with roundabouts.
Some Irish councils — namely Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Galway City Council — have recently been doing the reverse of what Dutch cities do: They have been replacing roundabouts with junctions, partly in the name of cycling.
To understand the problem more, first here are some examples of Irish-style roundabouts:
An example from urban Mullingar, at the edge of the town centre: Note the issues with this crossing which can be found on roundabouts around the country: there’s pedestrian crossings missing from some roadways off the roundabout, the geometry is designed for speed, there’s two lanes approaching two of the legs of the crossing (this is bad for lines of sight for motorists and makes the crossing distance longer), and the location of the crossings are at uneven distances from the crossing:
Here’s an example from suburban Galway City, on the Old Dublin Road: Geometry clearly designed for speed and no formal crossings:
And a recent example in Lucan is a case study the NTA are proud of. But as we have reported, cyclists must by law dismount at this zebra crossings and the inclusion of shared use paths around this roundabout and a second one north of it is yet another case of pedestrianising cycling. There’s more than enough space at this location for a Dutch-style walking and cycling priority roundabout:
To our knowledge, the modern Dutch-style urban roundabout design has not been tried in Ireland. We don’t want to dwell on the past too much, but it’s hard to write this article without referring to the failed cycling priority design tested at the Killiney Towers roundabout in south Dublin. There’s a lot to the Killiney Towers story but we don’t think it’s productive to go into in at this stage, so we’ll focus of the design flaws.
Below is a picture of the Killiney Towers roundabout before the change (very motoring focused). Street View currently has a mix of images of before and after — after in this case, means after the cycling priority was removed and the design was changed a second time to have shared use footpaths around it (which is still better than it was before). Before the roundabout was very large and very cycling friendly:
When cycling priority was introduced for a short time, the roundabout carriageway width was significantly reduced and a cycle lane was added at the edge of the roundabout carriageway with a low plastic kerb / buffer between the general lane and the cycle lane:
We cycled around the roundabout around 40 times between a few visits to it while it had cycling priority — motorists yielded the vast bulk of times and in other cases there was time to stop. But the problem with the design was that there was only a plastic kerb between the cycle track and the general traffic lane around the roundabout:
There was no buffer space between turning cars and the cycle track. Note: In the below and above images we were stopped / dismounted / at at the footpath while taking these image, it is just an illustration of the proximity between the cycle tracks and where motorists had to turn, it’s not a case of the motorist not yielding:
The better practice with Dutch design for roundabouts with cycle paths includes a larger buffer space between the roundabout and the cycle paths. In this photograph from Utrecht, note that this design is not used on roundabouts the size of Killiney Towers, it’s for smaller roundabouts:
When Killiney Towers was first redesigned there was talk of it not being suitable for busses. It might or might not have been (we’re not going to debate that now), but the Dutch design is: It allows for bendy buses, so there should be no issues with any bus or truck used on Irish suburban roads:
On larger roundabouts, there should be even more space between the main roundabout carriageway and the cycling and walking crossing points: This allows for cars to deal entering and exiting the roundabout and navigating the crossings separately: This example includes a two-way cycle path but the same principle works with single-directional cycle paths:
The following two satellite images are of examples of Dutch-style cycling priority roundabouts in an area between Utrecht and Nieuwegein:
While cycling priority roundabouts can generally be found in suburbs or in towns, Amsterdam has applied the concept to a very built-up area:
The excellent BicycleDutch blog has a detailed look at the Amsterdam example, including this video:
Where a road is very busy, another option is to have grade segregation (underpasses or overpasses) between cycling/walking and motorists. BicycleDutch has a number of blog posts about grade-segregated roundabouts.
Underpasses don’t have to mean a long ramp down for cycling, it can include a rising the road or lowering the cycle paths or a mix of both: As per the below example in Houten:
In rural areas cycling does not have priority, but the roundabouts are often still not totally design for speed and there are safe crossings set back from the roundabouts:
On the issue of cycling priority roundabouts, Ireland is fast running out of excuses. Our roads and legal systems closely follow the UK’s systems and the UK Department of Transport recently approved the Dutch design for use.
The first example of Dutch-style roundabout in the UK is expected to be constructed in Cambridge:
We also have small-scale cycling priority roundabouts in Limerick:
Interesting roundabout design in Limerick. Cyclists get priority over traffic from the circulating carriageway. pic.twitter.com/ezwJ7Z2fVg
— Dimitris Karakaxas (@dkarakaxasd) January 8, 2016
And we have a combined zebra/cycling crossing in Westport — not directly at a roundabout, but it shows the concept of merging zebra crossing and a cycling crossing can be done:
Although the above crossing example from Westport is in need of this type of yield sign:
So, what’s stopping Ireland from having Dutch-style roundabouts? Political will is the only reason. Largely political will to stand up to bureaucrats who say there are other problems. Can that be changed?