Fig leaf cycle lanes continue around new Irish schools (part 2)

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: This is part 2, please read part 1 first. The second example of a school which as recently got planning permission in Ballina is Culleens NS on the Killala Road in Ballina — my old primary school.

Given that it’s my old primary school, now is a good time to remember the note from part 1: None of this article should be viewed as criticisms on individual schools — these are systematic issues and it’s unlikely many schools in Ireland would know better.

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Culleens NS was given planning permission for a new school across the Killala Road from the current school. Unlike St Mary’s, a few children actually cycle to Culleens NS as it is. Although they use footpaths as the cycling infrastructure isn’t safe enough for children to use.

A bit of context is needed here: Both the old and new school sites are outside the town boundary and also in 80km/h speed zones:

The photo and Street View images above shows the current road design — the current school is on the right and the new school site is on the left of both images. There’s also housing estates on both sides of the road. The first image is from the 60/80km/h junction and then the second is the junction between the two school sites (about where the black car is in the first image).

There’s currently a shared surface footpath and cycle lane (which never got its signs besides a line down the middle) on the right here, but nothing on the left. So, it’s not uncommon to see people walking from the town along the road and/or grass here, and it’s also not uncommon to see children dashing across the 80km/h road to the current school.

The council reply to the school in the planning file seems to indicate that they will be providing a footpath (no mention of cycle lane). Unlike the St Mary’s planning application, there seems to be no plans to alter the main road here. And also no high-level mention of the 80km/h speed limits which are inappropriate around a school, housing estates on both sides, and businesses operates both sides too.

These estates were built outside the boundary of the town council by Mayo County Council (before the town councils were abolished) — so, the responsibility for the redesign of the road is mainly on the council. However, the designs submitted by the school are also not great:

Above is the drawing showing the new school to the left and the main road to the left (with the blue star). It’s around 100 metres and it connects to nothing.

The cycle path has no buffer, so, it puts children cycling right beside a roadway. It also seems wrongly placed on the school side rather than the town side of the estate and school access road.

At the school side, the 100 metre cycle path ends (circled in red) at the school gate, and it’s about another 100 metres to get to the bicycle parking (circled in purple). The cycle path should end at the front door and that’s where sheltered bicycle parking should be placed.

The cycle path is fig leaf. It doesn’t link to anything. It’s the definition of fig leaf — the planning files show it wasn’t part of the original drawings and that it added to show something was being done for cycling — but when cycling is added at such a stage, it’s usually too late to get it right.

There’s also no plans or indications in the planning file outlining a design to make the junction at the main road safer for cycling, walking or car users — for example, lowering the speed limit, narrowing the road, putting in a medium to make crossing easier or putting in a cycling/walking-friendly roundabout.

The transport planners for the school noted the issue but the conditions laid down by the council are at best vague — it’s possable the changes could be made but it’s also possable nothing will be done to the main road.

Given the mixed rural / urban / suburban nature of the area, there’s three possable approaches here to roundabouts. All three would require a redesign of the road up to the junction. This goes beyond providing a link to the school — this area is already suburbanised and has attractions on both sides of the main road, for both adults and children.

Approach 1: Cycling/walking priority

Approach 2: Rural / edge-of-town road with motoring priority

(note: priority given to the main road, but not to the side road)

Approach 3: Priority for all, using grade segregation

The underpass approach would be ideal, but is probably too expensive to be justified here given cost vs the level of motorised traffic and the lack of extra potential development given the newer zoning rules. The cycling/walking priority approach is probably also too far out of town because of the ribbon development of the Killala Road.

That leaves us with the at-grade rural / edge-of-town road approach — motorists have priority (unless someone walking or cycling has started to cross). But the narrowing of the carriageway and the central refuge gives people some changes of crossing. For the school it could be combined with school wardens.

Currently — and as with St Mary’s — there’s only fig leaf planning and design for cycling. These, however, are only examples. It’s happening across Ireland.

The Department of Education needs to have specify that walking and cycling access is paramount. Councils across the country need more transport planners, and a planning and design focus which allows people walking and cycling to get from A to B safely but also with relative speed — that means safe crossing points, far less mixing walking and cycling, and priority at least across side roads and around school grounds.

But, above all, it requires thinking about how people can not only get across a road, but also across neighborhoods and across towns, without using a car.

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