Liffey Cycle Route is on the wrong path for Dublin’s future

— This isn’t just about a cycle route, it’s about what kind of capital city we want.
— Should Dublin continue with the status quo or green the quays?

COMMENT & ANALYSIS | LONG READ: Dublin’s Liffey Cycle Route is staggering towards 8 years just in the pre-planning stage — there’s not just problems ahead with poor design, the project needs a rethink.

The new approach by the National Transport Authority is wrong. The price of new boardwalks — needed to avoid removing cars off any section of the quays — is likely to add the guts of €8 million onto the cost of the project.

Footpaths in some already narrow spots will be narrowed further and trees will be cut down. It should be said that the footpaths will be significantly widened in other spots, but the narrow spots are at key places like junctions, and limit not only pedestrian flows but city life in some of the highest density areas in the country.

All of this for a compromised cycle route design which will leave cyclists exposed at junctions and include an average width of cycle paths which is not suitable to existing numbers of cyclists, never mind the higher numbers which will use the route once it is improved.

This isn’t the safe and continuous cycle route envisaged back in 2011. We need to think differently than officials are currently are.

In the same time as Dublin has struggled with reallocating space from cars, elected officials in Paris have closed a large section of their motorway on the lower bank of the Seine, giving the space to walking and cycling, and city life.

Next Paris installed a two-way cycle path on the parallel main street a block in from the river, and then they installed another two-way cycle path along the upper bank of the river (at street level above the former motorway).

“But Paris has loads of public transport!”, I can hear some readers reply. It does, but their capacity is already fairly maxed out and Parisian motorists from the outskirts have complained much the same way as Dublin’s commuter belt motoring commuters. Some Parisians opposed to the changes so much they took a legal challenge, which ultimately failed.

The Dutch city of Utrecht has buses as their main public transport and are building a tram upgrade (a bit like Luas Cross City but more skirting the city centre). It a smaller city than Dublin but also it has less public transport.

Utrecht moved to make its version of Dame Street to be bus and bicycle only ahead of Dublin (and, unlike Dublin, with segregated cycle paths). In recent years it has also removed its central motorway, and now it is completing restoring that part of its city moat which was removed in the 1960s, and, on the parallel street on the other side of Utrecht Centraal, the city council has reduced car traffic to access-only.

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As well as restricting cars further from going through its central area, Utrecht is now also reducing traffic on its wider version of the north and south circular roads. Car lanes are being replaced by trees and wider, two-way cycle paths.

Utrecht of course has motorways around it but these are also suffering capacity issues. The switch is mainly to sustainable transport, not to other roads.

Paris and Utrecht — and many cities like them — are clear cases that removing car capacity is overall good for the city, its residents and visitors.

The central problem with the new Liffey scheme is not a pure engineering issue but an of what’s called the politics of space.

Other cities show the way, but after 8 years when the calls have only gotten stronger and stronger on climate change, the threat to biodiversity, health impact of inactivity and particulate matter air pollution, Dublin is lacking vision.

In fact, Dublin is taking a step back from a previously plan which was reasonably ambitious a few years ago. Now the city council is afraid to upset car use in the city centre when it’s clearer than ever we need greater action.

An alternative to the current poor plan is to green the quays.

This would mean instead of squeezing pedestrians, bicycles, buses and cars on the quays, through access for cars would be removed from at least the central section of the quays.

Instead of chopping down trees, the north quays could be greened with more trees, more space for pedestrians and city life and a two-way cycle path.

The south quays could become a two-way bus route with ample space for bus stops and providing access to businesses and apparent blocks with car parking.

Even the suggestion in this article will make many people mad, but I am not suggesting this on a whim. The data shows cars take up a lot of space but carry few people on the quays (see the below graph showing the Luas red lines and buses and cars on the quays).

The above city council data needs updating — car lanes have already been reduced on the central quays and traffic counts show fewer cars entering the city centre.

The city centre has rail access from different sides including the relatively new Phoenix Part tunnel services from the Kildare line. Luas Cross City tram lines have stated to create a network effect. Intercity coaches converge here, and more city buses are coming on stream.

The point is: Bicycles are already carrying more people than cars on the quays at rush hour. Outside rush hour there’s capacity on public transport.

Regardless of disbelief from car-focused people and those still half on the fence, traffic evaporation is real. When car traffic is restricted in areas like Dublin City Centre, some motorists will switch to sustainable transport directly while others will drive different routes. Of those who try to drive elsewhere, a current car users of that route might the get fed up and switch to a tram and then a tram user might start to walk or cycle. Modal change and the path to a liveable city can be less than straightforward but it works.

Car drivers who really need to drive would still have other existing main routes into the city centre, but if there are air pollution or safety concerns outside homes or schools, the answer is not to avoid fixing the quays but the solution is to also reduce traffic at those locations — follow Paris and Utrecht, not the status quo.

This would not be a cycling project or a bus project. It would be a liveable city project. It would give the streets back to the tens of thousands of people who live in and around the city back.

Reconnecting Dublin with its river would be good for health, business, tourism, and the environment. It would also be a kick start to allow for a liveable city centre for high-density living with many sites prime for housing, although not compatible with the current car dominated status quo.

But if this gets any traction the naysayers will be out in force. We have to say that the data doesn’t support them. What has happened in other cities doesn’t support them. They are on the wrong side of science on transport, the environment, human health, business and prudent public spending, but — and this is a big but — it would be a hell of a battle.

Is Dublin ready? Is there really a climate emergency? Are supporters of climate action on board? Do public health experts see the importance of this? Does the tourism sector? Outside of conservative retailers and vested interests, do business leaders see the potential? Is the city willing to stand up to car park owners? Will people shout our that they want this?

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. 100% agree

  2. Stephen McManus May 23, 2019 at 9:33 am

    We need to revisit our priorities. Is this a city for people or a city for cars? Our efficiency to move people is negatively affected by the very own device that was supposed to increase mobility, the car.

    People in cars are maybe 20 or 30%% of the total of people heading into town during rush hour, but they make everyone’s morning a nightmare. We pay for their comfort (if we can call it that) with our time and health.

  3. Absolutely agree with the need to reframe the whole project. It’s no longer about a cycle-route. It is indeed, as you say, about how we want to move forward and how we want to use the public space. It should be about a livable city route, not a cycle-route. A proper decision on the quays affects everyone, not just people on bikes.

    I also agree that we need to take back control of the river bank from the noise, danger, pollution, and space-waste of cars. The status-quo just isn’t working and we need to move ahead with a completely different approach. Private car access needs to be severely restricted.

  4. It’s kind of pointless going on about climate change. The liveable city idea will be far more effective in getting people to change their minds and accept less cars/more public transport and cycling etc.

  5. I think any initiative gets guillotined at an early stage by civil servants, who have a strong vested interest. This reminds me of the failed attempt to BIK parking spaces. It would be very interesting to see it publicised exactly how many Public Sector parking spaces there are between the canals. Most of the people with the power are driving into the city centre daily and so will do their damnedest to foil any plans to reduce car traffic.

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