— Dunkettle Interchange fails spectacularly on walking and cycling.
— Lead agency is merger of two of the worse state agencies for cycling.
LONG READ: COMMENT & ANALYSES: There’s arguments to be had about the soundness of spending €250 million or more on the Dunkettle Interchange in a climate crisis when such junction upgrades often just expand long-distance car-commuting and push congestion issues down the road to the next junction. In Cork, that seems highly likely to happen quickly after the upgrade is built, construction is currently delayed due to cost tendering issues. But this article isn’t about that.
This article is saying if you’re going to spend €250 million on a junction upgrade, the very least you could do is put in decent walking and cycling provision for people who do not want to drive or those who cannot drive (cost, age, ability, etc).
First it’s good to have some context: The Little Island Industrial Estate seems like it’s ages out of Cork City but the cycle should only be 7-8km, if cycling was taken seriously one of the more direct route options were chosen for cycling. For context: O’Connell Street in Dublin to the northern edge of the Sandyford Business Park is 9km. There’s more people living along the Dublin route, but cycling in terms of inter-urban travel also needs to be provided for, and future greenway links will also be needed.
This is before we start to talk about the potential of electric bicycles to extend the attractiveness range of bicycles.
And there’s also the fear from members of the public that the road authority is partly providing for cycling with the project and the planned route to Carrigtohill (more on that project in another article), so that they can ban cycling on the N25 dual carriageway. This isn’t far fetched given that TII staff wanted to ban cycling along the Luas tracks in Dublin City Centre and the upgraded interchange will be even more motorway-like than it is now. Needless to say, the planned quality of routes comes nowhere close to providing routes suitable for racing cyclists.
The Dunkettle Interchange fails spectacularly on walking and cycling. The project might have got its overall planning approval in 2013, but 2017 drawings show the authorities did not bother much to fix the cycling elements in detail design work.
It shows that Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) is treating walking and cycling around large roads much the same way they did when they were named the National Roads Authority — overall poorly.
It might not be the case, but sometimes it feels like these designs are a sick joke. Car-mad (or road cycling sorts) TII staff spending what adds up to be millions on rubbish walking and cycling infrastructure as part of road projects with eye-watering price tags.
This — of course — cannot be blamed on one agency alone. The wider problem is that we have a system that overall still fails to see the potentate of cycling for local and inter-urban trips as well as connecting to public transport.
But TII came about as a merger of the National Roads Authority (NRA) and Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) — two of the worse state agencies for cycling combined. The NRA mostly provided dangerous or otherwise useless infrastructure along national roads and the RPA made a mess of walking and cycling along Luas routes. The RPA also refused to even trial carrying bicycles off-peak on less busy sections of the tram route and refused to plan for bicycles on the planned Metro in Dublin, in clear break of Government policy.
The sustainable transport section of the Dunkettle Interchange website (where you’ll find more detailed drawings) really comes across as a dark joke, a bit of a sick dark joke. It states: “In developing the Dunkettle Interchange Upgrade scheme, TII have been aware of the vision for enhanced cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, outlined in national and local policy, e.g.: The National Cycle Policy Framework; The Cork Cycle Network Plan, 2015. The route of shared use Pedestrian and Cycle facilities through the new interchange is outlined in the drawings below.”
The solid blue line in the image below is a footpath-like shared path which will go from the old Cork to Midleton road (the former N25) to the large employment area of the Little Island Industrial Estate. The red line is an add-on which refers to the Part 8 planning (meaning it was planned after the main project). It’s amazing even in 2013 that the road authorities were planning on building this road link between the city and Little Island without anything in that direction for walking and cycling — it seems to be just an add-on in 2017 and a poor one at that. The red line also needlessly goes up and hill outbound from the city.
Here’s a bit of a close up. And while the red line goes up a hill, the purple line goes down the hill — so, if people way to commute by bike from Cork City to Little Island or Carrigtohill — both fairly flat routes — they have to go up and down an unnecessary hill in both directions.
And note that the purple dashed line shown in the above two images, between the red and blue lines, is only a future link to be done. This massive road interchange does not even include a continuous shared path. So, people walking and cycling up and down this hill will be mixing with cars and trucks:
An alternative routing would have been as follows shown in the light blue line here:
And shown in red here in this 3D image — to be clear: the crossing of the slip road at this point would have to be grade-segregated, in line with best international practice.
This cropped image below showing a section of the Cork Cycle Network Plan map, for the Little Island and Glanmire area published in 2017, seems to support TII’s east-west routing. This, however, is a very weak argument given that the plan came after the road upgrade approval.
Support on the Cycle Network Plan is further weakened by the an amendment to the network planning work which deleted the more direct waterside route between the city centre and Little Island. This is an extract from the draft plan showing the waterside route as a primary route in the network:
It also looks like it was going to be in the plan as a future primary route (dashed red line) — it looks like it was removed from the map for the Little Island and Glanmire area. But it was somehow not removed from another area map which shows a small section of the Little Island area and the water-side route:
Above we have covered the east-west walking and cycle route north of the junction and the possable east-west water-side route south of the junction. We don’t have a huge amount of detail on the planned north-south route.
From this image used above, at the northern end, it looks narrow and all shared-footpath style:
A more detailed 3D image shows that the north-sound cycle route will also have the usual at the mounts of slip roads — we cannot be sure from this, but it looks like people will be unaided crossing at these points. Even if there are traffic lights at these points (which does not seem to be the case), these are unattractive roads to be cycling beside. Especially so without large green buffers or heavy buffers. With heavy buffers the narrowness left over to walking and cycling is made worse.
Ideally, you’d have three walking and cycling routes built at the same time as the junction works:
- RED: The east-west route on the north side of the junction (much straighter and level than the currently planned purple route, shown here with a narrow light for illustration).
- BLUE: The north-south route (but with grade segregation of the slip roads).
- YELLOW: The water-side route.
Even if the yellow route was left out in the short-term. If the red and blue routes were done to a high standard. Including CyclingForAll.ie elements, such as grade-segregation of slip roads, and seprate cycle and foot paths where noteable numbers of people are expected to cycle (local, interurban etc) and walk (for leisure or to bus stops etc).
But unless there’s a huge mindset change in Government and a Minister for Transport who has some vision on walking and cycling, nothing is likely to happen with projects like this.
This article is just one example. Similar flaws — and, in ways, even worse — is happening on the planned N5 Westport to Turlough dual carriageway with no provision for cycling for all ages along the route. And no planned re-configuring the current N5, which will be turned into a regional road, to enable safe and attractive cycling for all. The worse part is that that, with the small bypass of Wesport, they even seem to be messing up part of the greenway which was not great to start with and they seem to be refusing to making walking and cycling links to nearby roads.
PS: Sorry, to those who think otherwise: But, no, a milder headline etc on this article would not help. TII seems to be too far gone to reform without major political intervention — it has to be stressed how bad things are.
PS #2: What interurban cycle route should look like — note footpaths are included where people are likely to walk, in Ireland we might have to provide some more of these: