BusConnects and cycling in Rathmines: Don’t support the plans, demand better

COMMENT & ANALYSIS | LONG READ: This is the fifth in our look at how BusConnects changes streets and how things could be done better on the Rathfarnham to city centre route. This article covers what is being called “Option A” for Rathmines — sub-standard cycle lanes within bus lanes on the Rathmines Road.

This is the draft route for all of the Rathfarnham route:

This legend shows the meaning of the key different colours and lines on the drawings:

There’s two option for the Rathmines Road — we already covered at what we termed “the detour option that should never have been“. Now we are looking at “Option A”, which is cycle lanes within bus lanes.

Just a recap: CSO Census 2016 data shows that the Rathgar-Rathmines local electoral area has 4,533 bus commuters and 6,012 bicycle commuters — 13.5% vs 18% modal share in the area.

The Rathmines Road canal crossing at the La Touche Bridge (aka the Portobello Bridge) is the busiest commuter cycle route into Dublin City Centre. In the morning peak in 2017 (7-10am), there was 1,637 bicycles and 1,325 cars/van, even with the traffic counts happening in November.

BusConnect’s drawings are generally unclear what is and what is not segregated. The cross-sections for the Rathmines Road seems to allow everybody to keep gussing — one side is a raised cycle track and one side is a level cycle lane. Both options are unsuitable given the widths, the level of cycling commuting and general use in this area, and the likely speeds of buses and taxis.

The Dublin Cycling Campaign has said on its website that Option A allows for “Kerb-protected cycle tracks and bus lanes in both directions on Rathmines Road Lower” — this is highly unlikely to be the case under the current plan which has cycling space of just 1.5 metres in both directions.

This width is not suitable for kerb-segregation on a primary cycle route — segregated cycle paths on main routes should be 2m (excluding kerbs). The image below is a section of the Dutch Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic. Portobello Bridge already has 545+ bicycles per hour inbound in the morning rush hour. So, even 2 metres would be below Dutch standards for segregated cycle paths.

Suggesting 1.5m cycle lanes could be kerb-protected is just not tenable on this route. It would be negligent to build such.

It’s even sub-standard as a cycle lane — Dutch guidance says a minimum of 1.7m, Irish guidance says minimum of 1.75m.

Regardless of their reasoning, the Dublin Cycling Campaign web page and flyer on this includes clear misinformation. People should be able to engage with the BusConnects consultation without being mislead by a cycling group. There’s enough misinformation out there already.

There is an alternative. As we have covered before: Rathmines would thrive with bus gates limiting thru car access. Now is the time to look for that alternative to be progressed.

The cycling campaign is telling people to “email cbc@busconnects.ie before 30th April saying you support Option A” and to “contact your local representatives to tell them that you support BusConnects and Option A” — both of these actions will increase the likely hood of a substandard option for people cycling within, to and through Rathmines. If you have done so, email them again and tell them you have changed your mind.

It is unclear why the NTA has suggested bus gates on other suburban roads but not here. Based on looking at the BusConnects maps for a number of routes, the answer seems to be that the NTA have gone bus mad and are being neglectful of its legal obligations to promote cycling.

IMAGE: A bus gate in Rathmines offers an alternative type of bus priority which not only allows for cycle paths but also space for people, trees and even some loading or disabled parking spaces.

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The design of bus drivers having to pull across a cycle track to stop at a footpath is unsafe. It is unfair to people cycling and also unfair to bus drivers and passengers. But it seems the BusConnects project team think it’s ok — it’s all over the BusConnects plans including on the Rathmines Road:

On the Rathmines Road this issue is already an acute problem at rush hour when there’s often a big line of cyclists. When cycle routes are improved it will mean more people cycling and then this issue will get worse along this route and it will also spread as an issue to other route. More people cycling is great, but designing cycling-bus conflicts and bus delay into BusConnects is shortsighted.

The route needs bus stop bypasses as explained by the BicycleDutch website — bus stop bypasses or island bus stops are a basic of segregating cycling. In many cases, the Dutch did added segregation at bus stops on many streets before adding segregation to the rest of the street.

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Looking at the detailed design we start where we left off on the article covering most of the Rathgar Road:

In the first part of the route in Rathmines we see next to impossible to make turns safety (yellow and red) with the given low-quality space for cycling provided — people would have to “take the lane” and wait in the middle of busy roads to cross.

Then we see a common issue with bus connects — cycle tracks / lanes interrupted by bus stops:

At the junction of Rathmines Road Upper the design is so far away from compliance with the Design Manual For Urban Roads and Streets it’s like the design team has never read the document.

Which is not hugely surprising as the overall drawings make it clear the project team have not read or have no respect for the hierarchy of transport modes outlined in the NTA’s own Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy 2016-2035 or Design Manual For Urban Roads and Streets or Smarter Travel. These are the policy documents the NTA and council officials often reference to justly projects.

There’s a list of issues here:

  1. The cycle lanes are too narrow even with the wider space.
  2. The pedestrian crossings are not compatible with standards which outline how crossings should be on all sides of junctions and not staggered.
  3. The inclusion of the slip turn is against advise against the Design Manual For Urban Roads and Streets and the NTA’s National Cycle Manual.
  4. The existing protected space for cyclists turning left into the Rathmines Road Upper is removed making things worse than currently.
  5. There’s no provision for cyclists turning right into the Rathmines Road Upper.

This is sheet 12A:

These following two junctions are made worse for cycling because no provision is made for cyclists turning right and crossing the bus lane and then taking the lane on the general lane will be worse than the current situation:

This is sheet 13A — there’s little in this that has not been covered already:

This is sheet 14A:

 

At the La Touche Bridge (aka the Portobello Bridge) over the Grand Canal, it’s business and usual in terms of squeezing people cycling to the kerb. This is the current view:

And the plan includes much of the same — more poor-quality, unprotected space for cycling:

People who want Cycling for All in Rathmines need to shout out now, later is to late.

To be continued…

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

5 Comments

  1. Stephen McManus March 28, 2019 at 10:22 am

    I am split between supporting the project for the time being by giving the promoters a vote of confidence when they say that this is just conceptual and opposing it straight out as they admit themselves that they have not observed DMURS or the National Cycling manual when putting the current proposal together.

    People who cycle have been let down by the Luas Cross City project already. The issues were known at the very start of the project, highlighted in an at least one engineering report.

    So if even with the issues being obvious our agencies are incapable of addressing the issues at hand, can we trust them this time?

    Dublin has a very serious congestion problem. It needs to be fixed, but we need assurances that the people who are part of the solution by opting for active travel will not be treated as less important side considerations again.

  2. As you pointed out, even during the winter, the number of people on bikes crossing the Portobello Bridge is greater than the number of people in cars. During the summer that difference increases even more. The video is from May 2018. The percentages are in the description below the video. People on bikes = 65%. People in cars = 30%

  3. @Stephen I get the conflict of wanting to support BusConnects generally and not wanting to talk down the better option on offer… but not looking for the alternative of a bus gate now means councillors etc will dig into their positions and will be less open to alternatives then.

    The bus gate addresses or partly addresses issues people have with the one-way option. The bus gate for example allows two-way car access to a point while filtering out the higher volume of throught motor traffic.

    It also allows for some loading / parking spaces, which is another local concern with the plan.

    I think the bus gate strikes a better balance for locals, local businesses, and street life, while being the far better option for active travel. I hope enough locals can see this.

  4. Someone from NTA needs to explain how bus-gates will work in practice.
    Presumably by ANPR cameras and a database of permitted vehicles?
    That’s s lot of human input to create and maintain it!

  5. that database already exists as used by toll booths to decide how much to charge, its maintained by the tax authority.

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