Who’s to blame for a lack of progress on cycling in Dublin City?

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: LONG READ: A lot of people wonder who’s to blame for a lack of progress on making Dublin City more cycling-friendly, less motor traffic and generally more liveable.

Disclosure: This is my experience of writing about these issues for a decade. It is condensing a lot into one article and trying keep it readable to a general audience. I might also be only seeing part of the picture and welcome other views.

Also: When it is said below one group or another is to blame, it doesn’t mean everyone in that group had the same view. And it doesn’t mean others weren’t also possibly at fault too.

IMAGE: Reducing cars to one lane on the central quays was an alternative to fully removing them. Image by Ciaran Cuffe, via Twitter.

Removing cars from Eden Quay

Who’s to blame?: Councillors, business groups, the media.

This traffic reduction measure was proposed as a bus and tram priority measures linked to Luas Cross City, and it would have also unlocked space for walking and cycling. But never went ahead after it was rejected by councillors, pushed on by a load of business interests who were also objecting to it. It would have also resulted in motor traffic on Bachelor’s Walk reduced to a trickle (mainly that accessing the Arnotts car park).

The Eden Quay plan was in fact a watered down plan which originally included removing cars from Bachelor’s Walk too, but it was still rejected by councillors.

While Dublin City Council rowed back first on a full car ban on Bachelor’s Walk and later on a full car ban on Eden Quay because of lobbying mainly from businesses, one business group still claimed that there was a lack of consultation.

The media are also partly to blame — especially misleading articles which implied motors would all divert on the closest route around the restricted area, implying they’d all fit (they wouldn’t) and that there would be no wider traffic dispersal or modal change (which is proven to happen over and over).

College Green Plaza

Who’s to blame?: An Bord Pleanála

You could blame the crazy amount of objectors to this, including car park owners and Dublin Bus. But ultimately An Bord Pleanála are responsible for relying on a car-centric report it commissioned.

Dublin City Council has its flaws but the problem issues the plaza hit were mostly not their fault. Read more about that in my article titled: College Green Plaza planners were wrong and their thinking would stop liveable cities.

…and segregated cycle paths on Dame Street

Who’s to blame?: Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála

This might be a surprise to most but the layout of Dame Street between College Green and George’s Street was part of the College Green Plaza plan. Dublin City Council were looking at a balance between buses, bicycles, taxis, cars accessing car parks, deliveries etc… the result was non-segregated cycle lanes which were broken up by bus stops etc.

In fairness to them the National Transport Authority told the council to make the cycle tracks segregated but the city council said no and even argued against them to An Bord Pleanála. An Bord Pleanála sided with the council on this. This was delayed anyway because the plaza was rejected, but it’s an example of the council opposing segregation where it’s needed around buses.

Liffey Cycle Route

Who’s to blame?: Councillors, the National Transport Authority, and the media.

Why? There’s two parts to this: There might have been other forces to block this cycle route and positive traffic-reduction measure, but councillors were the ones to baulk at making the decision to approve the option most favoured at public consultation, which should already be in place. Among other things, there was also a lot of fear mongering and misinformation which lead residents to believe they’d be overrun with traffic.

The second part is the long-delayed NTA review of the project which resulted in a keep everyone happy plan — which is not just poor for both walking and cycling in places, it’s also depends on complicated boardwalks a huge expense. I know some people won’t like me saying this but the project has morphed into the Liffey BusConnects.

The worse aspects of BusConnects which puts buses just slightly above car access and puts cycling, walking and trees below buses and walking. Any cycling campaigner looking for change within years will not be supporting this project which will likely top €60 million.

And the two ways the media are blame run along similar lines — first, The Irish Times echoed itself on this and the issue with Eden Quay mentioned above. Secondly the story nearly always focused on impacts to motorists and others, but rarely, if ever, on the options proposed which would have been rubbish or potentially dangerous to people walking and cycling.

Also radio silence that the keep-everyone-happy option will likely cost three or four times more the original cost. That’s strange especially for publications which like to bundle flood defences and water main as cycle route costs in headlines.

You can read much more of this route in an archive search on the route.

IMAGE: In 2011 the yellow section of the route had approval and Department of Transport funding, but councillors voted down the bridge over the Tolka shown in red here and pushed the whole project into question. Nearly a decade later, the council are now building the purple section, part of the Royal Canal Greenway.

Link between S2S Dublin Bay route and Grand Canal Route

Who’s to blame?: Councillors backed by residents fear mongering.

Dating back to 2011, this is an oldie, but this story is important and all down to councillors giving into fear mongering among residents.

As I reported back in 2011: “had the project had gone ahead uninterrupted, it would have created the largest completed section to date – 8.6km from Portobello at the Lower Rathmines Road to Bull Island at Dollymount.” With the Bull Island missing link now filled in, it would have went further.

This was a significant blow to building a network in Dublin — if it had went ahead a good chunk of the northside would now have a segregated link into the Docklands and beyond to Rathmines.

Kilmainham Gaol public realm scheme

Who’s to blame?: Dublin City Council, councillors

This public realm scheme is just an example one where cycling was an afterthought. The council were warned (not just by us but also by the NCBI). This led to predictable results with residents and others who use the street telling us how the design just does not work.

The City Architect’s Division has a lot to answer for on this scheme and on other planned and already built schemes.

South Dublin Quietway

Who’s to blame?: Councillors.

At first council officials didn’t want to follow up on this idea by former councillor Paddy Smyth, but, when Smyth got officials on side, councillors ultimately blocked progress on this not once but twice. The excuses given by some councillors are hallmarks for anti-cycling or just as obstructive halfhearted cycling support which can be seen around the world.

Good media coverage in The Sunday Times, Dublininquirer.com, and Newsfour.ie, but radio silence on this one from some of the usual outlets to cover the impacts on motorists (ie The Irish Times) — maybe the prominent image of rat running motorists vs children cycling to school wasn’t newsworthy?

Fitzwilliam Cycle Route

Who’s to blame?: Councillors mainly and, now, possibly others

Dublin City Council ended up conducting 20 different public and stakeholder engagements on the Fitzwilliam cycle route, which is just 1km long. More fear mongering among residents. Despite 97% of public consultation submissions being supportive, some councillors kept going on about car parking. This prompted a council engineer to remind councillors: “We’re planning for ‘cycling for all ages and abilities’“.

The project is going ahead but there was clearly way too much consultation for such a short route which changes relatively little on the streets — car lanes are maintained in all directions and studies were done to show that the retained car parking on all of the side streets is enough for demand.

Objections not based on reason fueled the delay and councillors echoed the concerns way beyond reason after officials had answered the issues again and again.

All of this has distracted from real issue of how junctions are going to work — still unresolved issues.

Separate to the above, there are now possable construction delays — the council has yet to answer questions on this.

Clontarf Cycle Route

Who’s to blame?: System delay at first and, now, possibly others

The Clontarf Route is also going ahead and it was a bigger beast of a project and that’s why I have marked this one as “system delay”. You could partly blame the officials for looking to widening the already massive road and cutting down trees rather than effect cars, but it was a process to get to the stage where trees were more importance than retaining two car lanes.

Or you could the NTA rejecting the council’s original idea of a two-way cycle path on one side of the road or combined officials not understanding quickly enough that the route had to be segregated to a higher degree than was being proposed. This again could be put down to being part of the process of the first major cycle route on an arterial road.

However, the council started looking at this project around 2011, and this length of time is an unsustainable time frame to a project to be built.

Separate to the above, there are now possable construction delays — the council has yet to answer questions on this.

As with other routes, most of the media paid no attention when the safety of cyclists was part of the story.

Contra-flow cycle routes

Who’s to blame?: Councillors, NTA / TII, Dublin City Council

Back in 2010 Dublin City Council said it was looking at contra-flow route on about 15 or so streets. At first councillors objected to this including claiming it was a waste of resources. Since then other sets of councillors have tried to get contra-flow on the agenda. In one case the councillors were split and one vote stopped progress.

But the city’s development plan states that officials should look at implementing contra-flow and this seems to be readily dismissed by officials of the council on public realm schemes and other projects. The same goes for other agencies such as the National Transport Authority and TII who had oversight over Luas Cross City.

Royal Canal Greenway

Who’s to blame?: Unclear

The Royal Canal Greenway has approval but there has been delay after delay in going to construction. For a while there was a lot of bureaucracy linked to approval around the building along the canal. But it’s unclear what the current issue is.

S2S Dublin Bay South, Dodder Greenway, and Grand Canal Route (from Rathmines to Inchicore / Bluebell)

Who’s to blame?: National Government for lack of funding and resources

On these and other routes the main delays to date have been a lack of funding and resources — these routes were slowed and mostly altogether stalled when Luas Cross City was been built. Councils have not been only left under resourced for years since the economic bust, but a project like Luas also diverted council resources away from cycling.

But as shown above funding alone is far from the only issue. Loads of delays such as funding also happen to roads projects but councils around the country will have roads projects lined up for when the funding is ready. There’s few shovel-ready cycling projects.

Conclusion: Councillors mainly to blame

There is a lot of collective blame, but councillors over the years are mainly to blame for the lack of progress. That’s not to say that there would not also be other issues such as funding if there were more projects ready to be built.

The current crop of Dublin City councillors has a lot of fresh blood and there’s indications even many older councillors have shifted to be more pro-active on cycling. Time will tell. Maybe there will be progress or maybe another group or thing will become the main block to progress.

If you think I’m wrong about any of the above it would be good to hear from you below or in private if you don’t feel you can comment publicly.

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.

6 Comments

  1. Cian,

    I think it is ironic that you don’t list some involved on the pro-cycling side. The manner of some campaigning has been detrimental to improving facilities. I am committed to working with people to develop such over the next five years – with a personal priority of the Dodder Greenway – but I do expect to be believed when I have genuine concerns and not maligned unfairly.

    Best wishes

    Dermot Lacey

  2. We might be better focused on lessons to be learned. If we want to bring about change, we need to understand the counter argument.

    As cycling advocates, we need a strategy to promote the benefits and alleviate concerns. We then need a plan to implement the strategy and influence the decision makers. I think campaigners are doing this, it just takes time. There is a change in attitude now, given the numbers cycling; this is providing a bit of momentum.

  3. @Dermot — a few grumpy people doesn’t move the needle in terms of what’s to blame for delay after delay. And councillors should be leaders, not needing to be pushed each time with kid gloves.

    Re concerns being genuine or otherwise — it’s hard to comment without getting into individual cases of such. But let’s just say when officials outline how X design is used around the world and used in other parts of thing country with little or no issue, and then they also add in measures to address the concerns, and councillors are still looking to delay a scheme, it’s hard to take the concern as genuine.

  4. @Hugh — Re better focused on lessons to be learned — for things to change there must first be clarity around what’s going wrong. There’s a lot about lack of funding, the minister gets bashed a lot for inaction, and officials do too… councillors only seem to be mentioned when there’s a vote, but, as above, a lot of the current delay seem to be done to inaction and blocking actions by *some* councillors.

    For clarity also: I might be a campaigning journalist, but I’m firstly a journalist. My main responsibility is to inform the public about issues.

  5. What is not helping to move projects forward with any sense of urgency to reflect climate exigencies is that many Councillors really don’t understand system-change. The old ways of doing ‘things’ are inappropriate and inadequate.

  6. Thanks Cian for compiling this litany of failure and moral cowardice on the part of too many members of various GDA council bodies. We can only hope that recent council membership changes will remove some of the irrational objections that are only raised to place roadblocks in front of otherwise worthy projects.

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