Comment & Analysis: Dutch man and Dublin northside resident Ronald Vallenduuk gives his pre-COVID 19 commuting experience of cycling in the capital, it illustrates just how much things will need to change to attract a trebling of a number of people cycling as planned in the post-lockdown mobility plan:
The fun starts at the bottom of Whitworth Road. The lane is just about wide enough for two cars so to get to the front it’s either into oncoming traffic or onto the footpath. Five years after putting up a sign the council painted a cycle lane on the road but it’s not a solid line and so in rush hour it’s usually not much help.
Cars break red lights at the junction of Dorset street, Whitworth Road and Drumcondra Road, every morning, at every cycle of the lights, so you always have to be careful. Onto Dorset street and the next lights are also fun, with the left lane being a combined left filter lane and bus lane going straight.
That means when the left turn gets green while straight has red, if there’s a bus in the lane you have three options: wait behind the bus and inhale its fumes, squeeze between the bus and cars in the next lane, or the most popular option: cycle on the footpath. In the opposite scenario, where straight gets green but left stays red while pedestrians get to cross Belvedere Road, cars regularly break the red light and turn left through the pedestrian crossing. One morning I had an angry and impatient bus driver giving out to me for waiting a green light.
At the next junction, Belvedere Road and North Circular, there’s an extra step in the cycle for the traffic that comes out of Sherrard Street. There’s rarely traffic there but Dublin traffic lights don’t use detection loops so for a while nothing happens at the junction, except cyclists ignoring the red light and turning onto North Circular anyway.
North Circular Road has a cycle lane that’s mostly respected by drivers. Unfortunately it’s not wide enough for passing a fellow cyclist so most mornings I have to get out of the cycle lane and into the regular traffic lane.
The junction of North Circular and Summer Hill is ok but at the top of Portland Row there’s often a car parked in the cycle lane. Further down the cycle lane is very narrow so cars don’t have to drift far across the line to block the cycle lane. Then there’s cars coming out of Dunne street that just get their nose into the yellow box and block the cycle lane or cars coming out of Empress place that haven’t made the full turn and block the cycle lane.
At the bottom of Portland Row (look out for cars turning left at the five lamps, they rarely check mirrors), I turn right onto Amiens street. Not always easy as you have to cross the traffic going straight onto Seville place. Most mornings I manage to get to the front before the lights change and quickly make my right turn before the traffic from Seville place gets going (and after checking for cars breaking the red light).
This junction is another example of badly programmed lights that apparently don’t use sensors. Usually traffic into town is backed up and there’s no traffic going towards Fairview, yet the cars trying to cross Amiens Street sit there looking at an empty junction for ages.
Onwards down Amiens Street where the cycle lane is interrupted by bus stops and into the squeeze that is the railway bridge where there is just no room for cyclists. It’s either mixing it with cars or when traffic is stopped, try to squeeze through with your left foot skipping on the kerb.
There’s often a taxi or bus trying to get out of Sheriff Street and, you guessed it, they block the cycle lane in the process. Then you get to the pedestrian crossing at Talbot Street. Pedestrians assume that if one lane of traffic is stopped nothing else can be moving so they often cross the road without looking. Keep that ding-dong bell at the ready.
Passing Connolly Station it’s chaos with buses and taxis pulling in and out, not helped by entitled drivers who get into the bus lane just to skip the queue for the lights. Probably because it’s chaos everyone seems to pay attention here. Apart from the bone-shaking road surface this section isn’t too bad because it’s fairly wide.
After crossing the Luas tracks even more drivers feel entitled to use the bus/cycle lane, “because I’ll be turning left later”. Luckily the road is reasonable wide here so passing traffic along the kerb isn’t too bad. Weirdly the tarmac between the kerb and the double yellow line is painted red, as if it’s Dublin’s narrowest cycle lane.
Crossing Matt Talbot Memorial Bridge is fun. Buses coming from North Wall Quay regularly brake the red light turning left onto the bridge. There’s a bus lane and two traffic lanes coming out of Memorial Road, going into 4 lanes on the bridge with no road markings to suggest who should go where.
There is a cycle lane on the left but the transition to the new two-way cycle lane on City Quay is awful so I stay on the road among cars (in the left lane, the suspension on my bike can’t handle the right lane) and cycle towards the junction at the bottom of Lombard Street with its triangular ‘shared space’ island and the strange traffic lights that go from red to blinking amber.
Lombard Street itself is easy. The cycle lane is not segregated but there’s rarely an issue with cars here. Like most cyclists, I ignore the island that’s part of the failed attempt at a Dutch style junction at Townsend Street and keep cycling in the left turn traffic lane, going straight onto the second half of Lombard Street.
After crossing Pearse Street we’re on Westland Row. Most mornings there are one or two cars parked in the cycle lane, either outside Pearse Station or a little further at Centra.
You also get pedestrians spilling onto the road because the footpath doesn’t have the capacity to cope with the flow of passengers coming out of the station during rush hour. Then just after the station the cycle lane is interrupted for a bus stop so you inhale some more diesel fumes or mix it with the cars again to get around the bus.
The end of Westland Row is also fun. Make sure you’re not beside a bus turning left because there won’t be space on the inside. Can’t blame the drivers, they just can’t take that turn any wider.
Another regular issue is motorbikes using the cycling lane, and then there’s pedestrians. Many don’t seem to notice that there are separate lights for crossing the traffic from Westland Row and the traffic from Nassau Street. They only see the pedestrian crossing light at the far side of the traffic island and just walk out in front of you. Other days it’s just after you go around the corner where people with headphones don’t look where they go and just walk out into the road.
One more left turn and I reach my office…
If you’re cycling from Binns bridge to the 5 Lamps, why not use the canal and the off road cycle track along North Strand road?
Cycling along the canal is ok along that stretch, but passing under the bridges of Jones road and Summerhill is not. Those bridges are very low and the path under them very narrow.
The ‘off road cycle track’ along North Strand Road is two white lines painted on the footpath, it’s not a cycle track. That footpath is busy with pedestrians in the morning and the surface is awful to cycle on, so not much of an option.
The quality of our road surfaces is an under reported quantity. The tarmac on Whitworth road for example is incredibly smooth, it even appears to reduce road noise from vehicles.
This makes for a nice ride, the canal surfaces are another matter..