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