Motor traffic around Dublin’s River Liffey quays shocked international cycling experts

LONG READ: Reallocating space to cycling, other suitable transport and city life is something most cities struggle with — but in June of this year, when Dublin hosted the Velo-city cycling conference, the volume of international attendees who were shocked by car dominance of the city centre.

The quays of the River Liffey came in for repeated criticism — which was partly down to the quays being many attendees’ daily commute from accommodation in the city centre core to the Conference Centre, which faces onto the quays.

As we reported at the time, Velo-city 2019 opening session included Dublin being told to “Get its act together”.

At that opening session, deputy mayor for transport of Paris, Christophe Najdovski, said that people who wanted to promote cycling had to take on “powerful lobbies”.

The combination of the quays and taking on powerful lobbies is apt — proposals for the Liffey Cycle Route along the quays were voted into the Dublin city developed plan by councillors in 2010 to be built by 2017, but the route is now not expected to be finished until at least 2024. The Liffey route has lessons for the rest of Dublin and elsewhere.

IMAGE: Paris is taking space from cars for cycle paths (Photo: Christophe Belin / City of Paris).

The challenge along the Liffey is a matter of the ‘politics of space’ and installing a continuous segregated route along the pinch points of the quays is far from simple. In 2011, Irish experts, with support from the Dutch Cycling Embassy, concluded that a two-way cycle path on the north quays was the most visible option. A few years later the public also backed two-way cycle path options over less segregated options of cycle tracks on both quays.

The option of making space on the quays by diverting buses off the quays around a pinch point was made nonviable due to development outpacing the progress on the route, and the council selling off a parcel of land without grasping it was needed for the bus detour. After that happened the council still wanted to proceed and they got more ambitious — the plan changed to remove the single car lane the north quays.

There was lots of scaremongering and misinformation that this would cause residential areas to be flooded with traffic. Councillors baulked at voting and the National Transport Authority (NTA) took the project over. After a much delayed review process the NTA came up with a “keep everybody happy” type of solution — but with it has come with complications due to new boardwalks which are central to this new approach.

IMAGE: A boardwalk proposed for the Temple Bar area of Dublin as part of the Liffey project. The boardwalks are to add delay and cost (Image: NTA, artist’s impression).

As The Times reported last week — the project will have to go to An Bord Pleanála because of the need for boardwalks. It will also increase costs of the project, which is now heading towards €30 million (despite the Docklands sections of the route being separated off to become part of the BusConnects project).

This is far from the approach being taken in other cities.

As Najdovski explained — at a packed out session in a small room at Velo-city — Paris, under indirectly elected mayor Anne Hidalgo, is taking space from cars.

Her city had to fight legal challenges against removing cars from a section of the motorway along the Seine — objectors argued that public transport did not serve outer areas well and it was packed. This year Paris moved forward again and installed another cycle path on the parallel Rue de Rivoli.

When IrishCycle.com managed to catch up with Najdovski bet

IMAGE: The Dutch city of Utrecht started with traffic restricting measures to benefit buses and cycling, but have moved on to removing a central motorway to restore a canal and closing a parallel road just to reduce traffic and create a park (Photo: IrishCycle.com)

ween sessions and meetings he had he first told us that our question on traffic reduction was “quite a technical question”. Asked about the political side of it, Najdovski said: There is evidence that when you have infrastructure for cars you have cars and car drivers, if you are doing infrastructure for cyclists you’ll have cyclists also — that is just simple as that.”

It might seem simplistic, but the effect is called “traffic evaporation” and it has been proven in Paris and, smaller cities with less public transport, like the Dutch city of Utrecht, that city centre car traffic dissipates.

Najdovski said: “We cannot offer the opportunity to each driver to be alone in their car, and have good conditions to drive, because we don’t have the space in our cities. We have too narrow of streets and we cannot widen them. It is impossible.”

“This is the model we had before — widening and making new infrastructure [for cars] and it brought us both congestion and pollution. So we have to go now with a new model of reshaping cities and streets, sharing the streets with different modes of transportation and then we’ll have more liveable streets and less polluted and congested cities,” said Najdovski.

IMAGE: Capacity per mode along the quays and the Luas Red line before space for cars was reduced as the tram line opened (Image: Dublin City Council).

“We need politicians who have the courage to do things and there’s also social demand from citizens to have less polluted cities, more livable cities. That means also to give the opportunity for those who want to live in these cities not to have congested and polluted cities. So, that also means to have the opportunity to move with other modes of transportation. That means walking, cycling and having a good network of public transportation. Then with these three pillars you can have a system which is sustainable and safe for people,” Najdovski concluded.

In the same hallway of the conference centre, we talked to Morten Kabell, CEO of Copenhagenize Design Company and the former city councillor who held the position of deputy mayor of technical and environmental issues in Copenhagen.

Kabell said that, in his previous role as a city councillor, he make a presentation to Dublin City Council. He said: “What I said to them then is unfortunately what I have to say again today: Dublin is a great place to visit, but I feel darn scared when I’m on a bicycle here. Putting red asphalt [not segregated] next to buses which go 50-60km/h is a sure way of deterring people to ride a bicycle.”

“So-far I’ve seen very, very little safe, protected infrastructure. Dublin could be an awesome bicycle city. It’s a good climate for cycling — not too hot, not too cold, it’s wet but Copenhagen is wet too. Dublin fails and I think that’s a huge pity.”

German eyes saw much of the same thing — very little cycling infrastructure which will attract the non-dedicated to cycling, and the surprise of cycle lanes which only operate at certain times of the day.

IMAGE: The NTA’s draft plans for the Liffey Cycle Route includes ending segregation at junctions, including what German campaigners named “murder strips” (Image: NTA).

Burkhard Stork, director of the German Cyclists` Association. He said: “Dublin could be such a wonderful cycling city, but I cannot see enough ambition. And maybe a bit rough — I can’t see any ambition.”

He said that the relatively recently built two-way cycle path in the Docklands along the River Liffey is good, but he said: “I walked along the whole city in the last weekend, I did kilometer by kilometer and I saw so many streets where nothing was done.”

“What I’ve never seen before is cycle lanes which are only there during the peak hours — I think that doesn’t work. If we want people to cycle, to invite them to cycle, we need adequate infrastructure,” said Stork.

“There’s a difference between handling existing cycling and inviting new people to cycle — what I see Dublin doing at the moment is saying ‘there are some cyclists and we have to handle them and made it a bit safer for them’ — that’s completely different than getting new people on bikes.”

Stork added: “I’ve been to rich parts of the town and poorer parts of the town and you see wherever you are there is no inviting infrastructure.”

There are positives in Dublin, said Lennart Nout, a Dutch transport planner and urban designer who works at Mobycon.

IMAGE: While Danish design standards advise against two-way cycle paths in urban areas, it’s a key tool in Dutch design standards for contexts where it makes sense (Image: Street View).

“There’s a lot of cycling — there’s a lot of people on bikes — so, that’s a real positive” said Nout, explaining that it’s harder to justify new cycling infrastructure when there’s few people cycling. “The trick now is to really expand your network.”

“You probably have to figure out your car network — make some really hard choices where you want the cars to go” he said. “You have the people on the bikes you but don’t have facilities. So, the easiest thing to do [technically] is to remove some cars, which make it safer for everyone. But it’s politically the hardest thing to do

Nout said: “I think the traffic should be cut on the Liffey waterfront — just buses, bikes, and no cars. It would make so much difference to the city and improve cycling cycling without having to invest much. It’s a cheap solution and it makes everything better instantly for everybody, including the drivers. The drivers might have to think a bit more about where they are going and there will be fewer of them.”

Explaining what experts call traffic evaporation, Nout said: “Some people say traffic is like water — cater for the flow otherwise it overflows, but the thing with water is if you turn up the temperature it evaporates. The same goes for traffic — if you make it harder and increase the pressure, some of it will evaporate and that’s what you want.

“That message — we want fewer cars is hard but you need the political will to do that,” he said. “Make sure your buses get better priority because they are stuck in traffic a lot — from four days in Dublin, I can see buses get stuck in traffic a lot.”

Asked what’s the number one lesson from the Netherlands and he said: “The construction quality of what’s built is very important for people cycling. If you’re in a car, you’re already cushioned, you have suspension. The level of attention to detail needs to be high, not just the geometry, but also building it to a high construction standard. Then people enjoy it more — if it doesn’t look good you’ll never get people excited about new cycling infrastructure.”

IMAGE: Measures being taken in London are focused on livability, reducing pollution and rat running while also promoting walking and cycling (Photo: IrishCycle.com)

He agreed that the new black flexi-bollards being used in Dublin look significantly better than the red one previously used but said that any of them should only be a short-term measure.

He said Dublin is “obviously doing something right, because there’s a lot of people on bikes.”

As we reported last week, Lucy Saunders, who was awarded UK Transport Planner of the Year in 2015 for leading on Transport for London’s transport action plan which focused on improving the health, said that this ‘Healthy Streets’ approach can be applied anywhere but that Dublin is well placed.

“It’s obvious how well this would work in Dublin, you have a lot of good assets to work with already,” said Saunders.

“It’s about changing priorities when you’re making choices about what you’re going to do and saying ‘in this space, what’s going to make it good for people?’ and then second you think how do you move all the traffic through. But you’re always doing it in the framework first about what will be good for people,” she said.

Saunders said that the traditionally approach has been the oppsite — looking first at the question of “how do we get the traffic through” and only afterwards, she said, “we think how do we try to adapt this to make it less bad for the people using the space.”

At a session at Velo-City, Brian Deegan, Design Engineer at Urban Movement, explained how a number of UK cities are now looking at building higher-quality cycle routes. But he said there is always strong opposition.

He said there were examples in the UK where cycle route projects were pulled after public opposition mounted to schemes and said that some groups in the UK objected when they saw the word ‘cycling’ in the project name. He said: “The opposition is increasing and getting more and more sophisticated as well.”

Deegan said that, at first, the cycling design standards used in London were Dainish-like but they found that drivers turning left behaved poorly swinging left on front of people cycling. He said that there were “quite a lot of fatalities” and it was at that point that more Dutch-like principals were adopted. Currently the junction treatments on the NTA’s draft design for the Liffey Cycle Route is a hybrid of Dainish and Irish design.

He said that talking to the community was key but that it was needed sometimes to tell people “it’s happening” and ask what’s the best way to make the the least worse situation for everybody.

Referencing his appearance at the Oireachtas Climate Change Committe, Deegan said: “That’s what I said to politicians on the Liffey Route — do it, [tell people] it’s happening. You know it’s right… a lot of people think it’s about getting everybody to agree, but there’s always going to be people who don’t.”

IMAGE: Outline map showing a previous plan for the Liffey Cycle Route with contentious bus, taxi and cycle routes on the quays, with private motorists diverted, but it was never expected all the traffic would simply divert — those streets are already full. Traffic reduction was expected and the map was intended to show local access routes.

Deegan said: “Certainly, when it comes to highways [the original name given to segregated routes in London was Cycle Superhighways] you’re never going to get everybody to agree, there’s always going to be opposition. People are very reluctant to change.”

He said that when Transport for London was installing the Embankment cycle route which passes the UK Parliament that lots of politicians were delayed in taxis and were annoyed with it, but they held firm. “You cannot talk your way into consensus — it’s a difficult one for politicians to acknowledge that one. Do it right and do it to high spec — if you do a shitty compromise that tries to make everybody happy, everybody is just going to be angry, concluded Deegan.

In an interview published yesterday, UK-based cycling journalist Carlton Reid said: “Dublin is like London 15 years ago — Dublin really hasn’t up its game. The amount of trucks and buses. You cannot keep depend on being a motor-dependent city” he said. “We [conference attendees] see this everyday and we’re all shocked.”

“I’m definitely shocked by how feral the roads are. Going from Temple Bar [to the Convention Centre], walking in the morning and cycling on the way back. It’s just awful — and you think: ‘how can they do this, how can they let it happen,” said Reid.

He added: “I’ve heard a few Dublin City Council people saying we cannot do much because we’ve got such narrow roads and then you look at the four lane highways on bridges. These are massive roads that you could put on a road diet.”

This article is part of IrishCycle.com’s extra coverage of the Velo-City 2019 conference, which saw international cycling experts meet in Dublin. You can find more of our Velo-City coverage to date here

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.

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