Limerick needs to up its game on walking and cycling

COMMENT & ANALYSIS | LONG READ: Limerick City and the nearby areas are mostly flat, it’s a compact city, a university town, and cycling from the city centre to the city’s urban edge can be mostly done in under 25 minutes — it could be a perfect city for cycling in and walking for shorter trips. But it needs vision and leadership.

The Limerick Smarter Travel was underfunded and lacked vision — it both did not have enough money to fund the bones of a cycle network and did not have the vision to build the quality needed or transfer the space from cars to cycling. Years later, nowhere in Ireland is getting it right yet. Limerick could be a showcase, but it has to want it.

Three projects Limerick City and County Council has out to public consultation at the moment show the council is still short on vision on cycling — the Park Road Bridge, the Mungret Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund Stage 2, and the Castletroy Urban Greenway.

The Parnell Street scheme outside of Limerick’s Colbert railway station is also currently been built and it’s looking worse as it progresses and motorists drive over what on the plans look like protected space. Best practice of well-design segregated cycle paths were ignored. There was ample space to at least get the design right outside Colbert station without affecting cars, but not even that was done.

Meanwhile the planned Park Road Bridge project on paper supports walking and cycling. The reality is quite different.

Below is a Google Maps image of the area now — a restrictive road network. But at least currently the main link for walking and cycling along the canal (bottom half of the image) has low volumes of traffic but this will change with the new plan.

Here’s an outline of the main problems that makes the walking and cycling parts of this not much more than just for show:

  • Circled in green: This is a very narrow path for two-way for walking and cycling, especially given that it’s between a wall and a lane for motor vehicles, which means usable and safe space is further reduced.
  • Circled in yellow: One of the yellow circles show a no link for walking and cycling south bound and the other
  • Circled in blue: The narrow walking and cycling path ends abruptly, it falls a good bit short of linking with the footpath at the houses at Lower Park.
  • Circled in red: The narrow shared two-way path on the planned new bridge over the canal narrows even further under the railway bridge.
  • Circled in purple: No crossing for people walking along the northern part of the canal.

Here’s a cross-section of the bit circled in red above:

You might be able to fix one of two of those things but not the overall problem: There’s limited space here and you cannot do walking and cycling right when making this a better through route for motoring is the clearly the goal.

Next we have the the Mungret Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund Stage 2 — and area where space is not the issue yet walking and cycling are again being treated poorly. This is the

 

The project is funded under the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, part of a government scheme to open up lands for potential housing development and the council new housing around the Mungret area. The location of the new road is shown below using a red marker in the south west of the city.

The plan to enable the building of 850 housing units at Mungret:

It’s around a 15 minute cycle from the city edge of the development to the city centre if only conditions for cycling were made safe and attractive — for now, it’s time to get cycling detail on the new road right.

The cross-section of the new road doesn’t look too bad. However, as with most cycle paths, the issue is with the junctions…

And there’s lots of junctions — 14 just within the project area, so, excluding the ones which adjoining the development area to older areas around it:

Below are images of the 14 junctions — it amounts to 12 crossings where cycling looses priority in one direction and at least 11 in the other direction, little over 1km in both directions.

A few things to note:

  • Walking and cycling loose visual priority at every side street.
  • At crossings of the main road, the footpaths are shown as crossing the cycle path but not even a zerba crossing is used across the motor traffic lanes on the main road.
  • There’s car parking nearly all along this road besides at junctions, but there’s no central median which would allow people walking and cycling to more safely cross the main road.
  • There’s no cycling crossings of the main road — are the council planning to mix people walking and cycling on this brand new road with no space issues?

All of the above are to scale with each other, we had to zoom out quite a bit for the last image to show the nearest crossings of the main road — look how far away people need to go to cycle into or out of this junction:

Convoluted route for cycling and walking — if they really want to avoid crossings near this junction, they must put in two-way cycle paths in both directions:

This large junction seems to be for a not a factory or large workplace but a secondary school — as per this extract from a presentation to councillors back in June:

A big issue for the road in general is a lack of priority for walking and cycling along the main road and a lack of a safe median for people walking and cycling to cross each direction of traffic separably:

For minor side streets this design can be used — and it can be used for two-way streets as well as one-way streets:

For side streets which are expected to be busier, here’s an example from Utrecht which shows walking and cycling with priority over the side road and motor traffic having priority on the main road but with a key bit of detail: a median which allows safe waiting space:

Given that this is a new development, the council could go one step further at the main junctions and provide a Dutch-style priority roundabout:

This image shows key elements of modern Dutch-style priority roundabouts which different to the smaller designs already tried with some success in other parts of Limerick:

The Design Manual For Urban Roads and Streets was also highlighted in that presentation to Limerick councillors — the manual isn’t great on cycling (and nor is the National Cycle Manual great on crossings and junctions).

But the Design Manual For Urban Roads and Streets (extract edited for size to fit below) is good on other details. Such as corner radii which done right slows down drivers and saves reduces collisions and how bad collisions are when they happen. Wider radii means higher speed. If there’s trucks going in and out often a little leeway is needed:

But when you compared the radii the manual outlines as being for junctions with frequent large vehicles (centre image below) with the typical junction on this project (left), this project seems to go beyond the design manual with unnecessarily wide junctions and some of the wider junctions on this project (example, right) shows scant regard for the design manual.

Wider curves mean that motorists will be going faster as they pass the crossings — the raised tables across the junctions will not offset this, especially given how large some of the raised tables are.

Next we’re onto the Castletroy Urban Greenway — which is not as problematic as the other two projects, but — again — junctions are key.

The cross-section is good:

First within the urban greenway the council has opted for shared space at internal junctions:

There’s no need for this — the footpath can continue upto and even across the cycle path if they want. Mixing walking and cycling like this is a choice the council is making…. and if it’s shared space, why are there line markings? If it’s all share within this space will people both walking and cycling not just cut the corners more so than they would otherwise?

Access points are similar but also with the added issues of no link across the road to one of the existing cycle paths:

If you’re building a greenway or any walking and cycling route you should be including proper links across roads at access points. This plan does not address such and stops at the side of the road. People need to cross roads to continue their trips or access the greenway:

At other greenway access points, details are also vague or lacking any detail at all:

Limerick has so much potential and, in fairness, it seems to be trying harder than any council outside the Dublin area. But it needs more leadership on giving space and priority to walking and cycling… the details also need to be right.

Can Limerick start to get it right? If it wants to, it can start on the above three projects.

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.

1 Comment

  1. What sort of idiots do we allow to spend our tax money on sub-standard design? Or are we the idiots for letting them get away with it?

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