When a cycle lane does more harm than good

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: This is Mary’s Road in Dundalk (screen capture of Google Street View image).

Google Street View of Mary's Road, Dundalk, in 2014 IMAGE:Screen capture of Google Street View with map.

The photo was taken in 2014. To the left is St Mary’s College, a secondary school. At the time there were major traffic problems here at school drop-off/collection times. Drivers would not just double park, but sometimes treble-park to wait for their children to finish school. Since then the building of a whole new school building included improvements to infrastructure for drivers in the school grounds, which has alleviated this problem.

At the same time parking was removed from the north side of the street (left side in the photo), and a bi-directional cycle lane was installed, protected with flexi-bollards. It is one of the worst things that could have been done to cyclists in my town.

The cycle lane only runs from the school gate to a point just before the next junction. This means that cyclists travelling east (the direction faced in the photo) have to leave the stream of traffic by the school gate and enter the cycle lane. The start of the lane is not designed with cyclists already on Mary’s Road in mind, so there is nothing intuitive about entering the cycle lane from anywhere other than inside the school.

Start of cycle lane in Mary’s Road, Dundalk, facing east.

 

Closer view of the start of the cycle lane at the gates of St Mary’s College, Dundalk, facing east.

Most people I see on bicycles here cycle past the start of the lane and swerve into it farther down. This is problematic as the design was not intended for entry at this point, and matters are complicated when cars are parked illegally beside the lane. None were when I took the photos, and this is an exepction to the rule.

This same narrow-minded, bizarre focus might also explain why cyclists have to keep to the right for the duration of the cycle lane.

This allows whatever traffic flow system was in mind for the school, and the school alone, to work. It also allows the traffic system to not work for literally everyone on a bicycle who is not moving into/out of the school gates.

If you’re travelling west by bicycle, though, this disaster of a design reveals its true awfulness. At the junction preceding the start of the lane from that side, you must have sufficient local knowledge to know there is a cycle lane coming up, and that even though you plan to go straight, you must behave as if you’re turning right.

Cyclist’s view when intending to travel west along Mary’s Road, Dundalk, from Castle Street junction. Spot the cycle lane start.

Then you must move into that section of Mary’s Road on the right hand side, against traffic flow. Now you have a choice to either immediately use the drop kerb by the junction and illegally ride on the footpath to the start of the cycle lane, or keep cycling illegally on the wrong side of the road to the place where the cycle lane starts, and lift your bike up over the normal kerb.

Drop kerb at junction, the cycle lane starts just behind where the cars are positioned.
Close shot of actual start of cycle lane. The kerb is relatively low, but definitely not properly dropped.

Finally you must remember to keep right within the cycle lane, rather than keep left as you do in every other circumstance ever in Ireland, so as to enjoy the cycle lane…

…for three. hundred. metres.

After that three hundred metres of joy…

Pictured: “joy”.

…you have to cross the street again to go on your merry way.

Should you desire to turn into one of the two streets joining Mary’s Road before you get to the end of the lane, you have to leave the cycle lane at a random place with no provision whatsoever made in the design to recognise that people may want to turn into these streets.

Nobody does this, they just stay in the road if they’re planning to make one of those turns. What, then, is accomplished by this cycle lane, from a discourse perspective?

Firstly, it tells cyclists that they don’t matter. Sploodge monsers are designing their homes. If someone says “I’m hungry” and you give them a mud sandwich, that is not a neutral action without a message. This cycle lane is a mud sandwich, and I use the word mud because swearing is not appropriate on this platform.

Secondly, it tells drivers that providing cycling infrastructure is a waste of time and money. Because the entrance to the cycle lane is so poorly designed when you’re travelling east to west, and because the entrance to it is poorly designed AND ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE STREET when you’re travelling west to east, many cyclists don’t bother to use it.

Explaining why takes time and thought, and these things are lost as response to “well look at Mary’s Road, all that money wasted and parking taken away from poor drivers, and it’s not even used.”

That is supposing you even get a chance to try to respond to the question: the vast majority of people who see a cyclist in the road when there is a cycle lane will condemn and judge without discussion.

Third, by forcing those tenacious enough to use it to at the very least go against convention, most likely in fact breaking the law, the stereotype of the scofflaw cyclist is reinforced.

Compounding the tragedy is that this wide street really encourages speeding. I walk along here every single day, and have been shocked by the speeds at which some drivers thunder past. I don’t think there’d be any chance of survival if there were an impact. It’s a school gate, and there is no provision for pedestrians crossing the street whatsoever.

What would I rather have seen there? When it comes to road engineering I am a lay person. My specialism is media and design discourse, I am unfortunately the person who is very able to identify shortcomings, but I am not trained in the design of solutions. With that caveat, I can say that a design implemented in a street a short walk from this disaster site may have been a better option.

A segregated cycle lane is provided on each side of the street, separated from motor traffic by a row of parked cars. Lanes for motorised traffic are narrowed, leading to a reduction of speeding.

Why this design was not repeated in Mary’s Road, I don’t know. I don’t know that I’d want to know, because the logic of car addicts sometimes just makes my head want to explode.

Beyond car addicts the system, the regulations tying the hands even of engineers with the best of intentions, often starts from a point of utter deference to the convenience of drivers no matter the cost to all other road user groups. It may do my sanity more good to keep just taking deep breaths and trying to not think about it everytime I see the insult that passes for cycling infrastructure in Mary’s Road in Dundalk.

Nadia Williams is a postgraduate researcher investigating the role of social dynamics in cycling uptake and safety. She lives car-free with her family in Dundalk.

6 Comments

  1. Good example of the sort of cycle lane we have to deal with too often. It’s not hard to find similar ones unfortunately. There’s another impact of these bad designs you didn’t mention though. I prefer not to use cycle lanes unless I already know they are good. I’ve been burnt far too many times by cycle lanes like this one so when I’m in an unfamiliar area I am far more likely to stay on the road than risk being diverted out of my way, being endangered at side roads or having to jump through hoops only to be dumped unceremoniously back on the road I just left after a couple of minutes. Predicability is why I far prefer with traffic single direction cycle lanes than having to cross the road to use a bi-directional lane.

  2. The provision of cycle paths in Wexford is either as badly designed as this one, or simply non-existent. Several schools were redesigned or newly built without either any new cycle lanes or nothing at all. In some cases there was no provision for pedestrian crossing points on busy roads near the schools at all.

  3. The cycle lanes anywhere in irelIre seems like they were designed and implemented by a bunch of chimpl looking for a banana tree. They’re even worse in Killenny city. It’s actually safer cycling on motorway than in most cycle Lanes

  4. The quality of cycle lanes it’s very hit and miss, depending on the local authority. The new lanes being put in place in Dublin are generally pretty good. However, the old crappy ones need to be upgraded, and that will take a lot of time. A lot will be upgraded in the BusConnects project.

    It seems, from the comments to this article, the design of some new lanes are about 20 years years behind the times. In fairness, I have seen the same poor quality in other countries too, so it’s not just an Irish problem. There needs to be a minimum standard that tests the quality of design against defined criteria. If the standard is not met, then Exchequer funding should be withheld.

    Put the onus on the design team and the contractors to deliver the acceptable quality, and on the councils to define the contract correctly.

  5. The Dundalk Cycle tracks were controversial from the beginning and serve to highlight a fundamental problem with infrastructure provision in Ireland. The debate around Dundalk demonstrated that the Department of Transport Tourism and Sport does not accept that it has a supervisory role over how their funds get spent. There was a Dail debate on cycle lanes in Dundalk in 2012

    https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad/2012-03-15/20/?highlight%5B0%5D=alan&highlight%5B1%5D=kelly&highlight%5B2%5D=dundalk&highlight%5B3%5D=dundalk&highlight%5B4%5D=dundalk&highlight%5B5%5D=dundalk#s22

    This is what the Minister at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Alan Kelly) had to say at the time “I must stress the design of the cycle lanes and associated works was and is a matter for Dundalk Town Council. My Department is not in a position to undertake or supervise that level of detail for each of the many projects funded throughout the country.”

    Later on the Minister finishes “The final point I will make to the Senator is this is a matter for Dundalk Town Council. While she has brought it to my attention, it primarily is a matter for the council. That said, when I visit the area, if necessary I will discuss this and other matters with the council.” This response was probably drafted for Alan Kelly by his officials so this is the “Department” speaking through the Minister.

    If the funding Department refuses to accept that it has a supervisory role in cycling infrastructure design and construction then this creates an enormous problem for proposals such as Allocate for Cycling.

  6. I agree with Shane on this major issue that is limiting proper roll-out of cycling infrastructure and changing traffic management systems to make our roads safer and more comfortable for people who cycle, or who would like their children to cycle.
    The primary funder needs to have a methodology for checking that the road authorities have delivered a safe/comfortable ‘product’ meeting best-practice standards. We need proof that road safety audits were conducted by competent persons not connected with the design/specification of the projects too. The audit reports should be posted into the public domain.

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