Liffey Cycle Route: What happened to more radical action?

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: A petition, which can be accessed via LiffeyCycle.com, was set up by this website after nearly a decade of delays on the Liffey Cycle Route and The Times reporting that there will be further delay of years before the route is built. It call for a quick-build version of the Liffey Cycle Route to be trialled.

Liffey Cycle Route was always designed to be a continuously segregated cycle route allowing for cycling in both directions, something less does not fit the bill. That’s the problem as it runs into the issue of pinch points along the Liffey’s quays and thus the ‘political of space’ and how street space is allocated.

It’s still not clear what will be the extent of the on-going works for a temporary Liffey route — it seems like it will be more than what was first detailed, but it’s still unclear how far the route will stretch eastbound on the north quays. Even in the context of COVID 19, with public transport capacity cut and peak car capacity cut from 46,000 to around 27,600 cars, there’s no signs so-far that there will be a segregated route of much distance going westbound on the south quays. Let’s hope that changes and Dublin follows cities like Paris which are installing cycle routes from their suburbs into their city centres.

Around the start of 2020 it was reported in main stream media outlets that Dublin City Council’s head of traffic, Brendan O’Brien, was talking about taking cars off the quays to make way for a temporary Liffey Cycle Route, something which councilors were asking for following the petition for a trial.

I say main stream media outlets as it’s not just my view. I posted some examples of this on a recent Twitter thread which is in the same vain of this article:

Back in 2016/2017 the council’s own Liffey Cycle Route option 7 was planning to removed cars off sections of the quays. There was a lot of controversy and Option 8 was developed with a bit of a mess. The head of traffic at the council said Option 7 was still has preferred option… it was coming close to a vote between the two options and then the National Transport Authority (NTA) took over for a review of the project.

Just to be clear here: Option 7 — developed by the council and supported publicly more than a few times by its head of traffic — was more radical than the position taken by campaign groups (bar from support of the petition which crumbed after a patchwork of a temporary route was suggested).

At the time in 2016/2017, there was various reason why campaigners did not push for Option 7 including fear that traffic would be pushed into Smithfield. The idea that traffic would just use the next street over is understandable but it does not work that way as explained by David O’Connor of TU Dublin (formally DIT).

NTA review was delayed. At first it was to be under 6 months and it then went on for over a year. The result was an apparent “keep everybody happy” solution which includes narrowing footpaths, cutting down trees and narrow cycle tracks. The narrow cycle tracks of the NTA’s vision for the route — according to both Irish and Dutch guidance — will not fit the current volume of cyclists on the quays. The Irish guidance for is written by the NTA.

The NTA not following its own guidance makes more sense when you look at the lack of ambition it has for cycling, especially in Cork and Galway. There’s some great people working in the NTA but they seem to be getting buried in the bureaucracy the NTA has turned into, see: Is Ireland’s National Transport Authority’s commitment to cycling now in question?

After the fanfare died down the NTA’s new solution was itself delayed. In December 2019, The Times reported: “The long-awaited Liffey cycle route has been delayed again and will not open until 2024, two years later than expected.”

That’s when the LiffeyCycle.com petition was set up — not only was the NTA’s plan flawed as described, but it was going to take another four years. The data is clear: The status quo for cars on the quays is unhealthy, unfair and unsuitable:

So, yes, the Liffey Cycle Route dealing with cars was great news to hear at the start of 2020, but… something happened. We don’t know what happened or who said no to reducing cars on the quays. An Freedom of Information request looking for correspondence to the city council’s CEO turned up little.

A follow up Freedom of Information request focusing on the Liffey Cycle Route correspondence to/from the council’s head of traffic and those involved with project managing the route did not turn up much more (see PDF here: FOI 7660_AIE 230 Records Scanned).

By late February, the car removal plan was not happening and somehow there was enough space for a temporary cycle route stretching most of the quays without affecting cars or buses — after a decade somehow that space was found. The Irish Times made it look very impressive with a headline declaring “Dublin’s long-awaited Liffey cycle route to be in place by August” and a graphic showing a near-continuous route along most of the quays.

When IrishCycle.com covered the same council report as The Irish Times did, we showed the practical issues with it — there was a few cycling campaigners annoyed with my article because they think something is better than nothing etc (you can read more in the FOI files). 

IMAGE: New bridges are planned in the Docklands as part of BusConnects.

But by March 22 everybody found out that the project was cut back to a shadow of what was described in the Irish Times graphic. Now there’s been another twist in the saga and the route looks like it will after all be more extensive. As above, we don’t know by how much.

Will we still be left in a situation as we reported last year where the motor traffic around the River Liffey quays shocked international cycling experts?

The NTA’s BusConnects plans in the Docklands are not promising. BusConnects cuts the #liffeycycle project in half. In the Docklands it includes more space just for cars, and designing bus and cycle priority by narrowing busy footpaths rather than dealing with cars. To the point of building new bridges rather than affecting cars.

This problem of too often seeking more space to keep as close as possable to the status quo of cars is a recurring problem with the Liffey, BusConnects and can be seen in other Irish cities too.

In the 1970s, the Dutch were shocked into changing due to high child deaths and the oil crisis (as showed in the video below). We already had an inactivity crisis and climate change, will the COVID 19 crisis finally shock us into action? It requires people pushing stronger than ever before even if you have to stick to your guns and, in the process, unfortunately annoy a few people along the way.

Bonus video: Who else benefits from the Dutch cycling infrastructure:

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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