Department of Transport delayed on bicycle traffic lights needed for segregated cycle routes

IMAGE: "Conflicting green lights" are sometimes used at older junctions in the Netherlands, where turning traffic has a green light at the same time as people cycling and walking across a side road. but the preference there is to phase such arrangements out where possable.

After two years of work on proposed changes, officials in the Department of Transport did not act on requests from councils and the National Transport Authority for new bicycle traffic lights with the direction of travel shown which are needed for some segregated cycle routes, Freedom of Information documents show.

IMAGE: In Ireland, the lack of cycling-friendly legal changes or guidelines has led to confusing and potentially dangerous situations such as having a green light showing for turning cyclists here when on-coming motorists also have green lights.

The existing situation is viewed to increase inefficiencies of junctions with segregated cycle paths.

The Department of Transport has dragged its heals on changing cycling-related legislation and guidance, including the removal of mandatory use of cycle tracks which took decades to resolve and even took years more after it became Government policy. The Department also has avoided writing up guidance provision for cycling contra-flow without lanes on narrow streets despite the design being used wide spread across Europe and Dublin City operating such arrangements on a handful of streets for decades without issue.

The slow pace of change within the Department of Transport on legislation which will enable safer cycling and cycling-friendly infrastructure is understood to be the reason that the agreed Programme for Government included the line that the new Government will: “Conduct a review of road traffic policy and legislation to prioritise the safety of walking and cycling”.

IMAGE: An example of a directional bicycle traffic light in the Hague. A report also suggests directional lights would be used for “box turns” or for “stay left turn right” turns at junctions.

In emails released under Freedom of Information covering directional bicycle traffic light signals, John McCarthy a senior advisor in the Roads Division of the Department said in a 2016 email that the “benefit would be quite wide” if the changes were made, but he was overruled by Ray O’Leary, the assistant secretary of the Department covering the roads section.

In the same year, O’Leary said: “Notwithstanding any work to date, I am loath to facilitate a local authority which procured a project which was not in conformity with the legislation as it stood. While certain cases (e.g. variable speed limits on M50) are of such a scale in terms of national/economic impact and so sensitive to time factors that a case can be made for such an approach, as a general rule and a point of principle, it should be discouraged.”

IMAGE: Image from the report showing directional traffic lights.

He added: “I am therefore, regardless of the resource pressures for far more important measures in terms of safety/economic benefit, very reluctant for DTTAS (Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport) to go to much effort on this as any level.”

The project being refereed to was the Blackrock bypass cycle tracks in Dublin and its junction at Monkstown Road/Temple Hill. McCarthy added that he had “no sense that this project is not ‘conforming to legislation’, nor that was it designed as such” and that the traffic light changes are “not critical to the implementation” of the project. McCarthy said that the Department should look at changes which are a worthy proposal in their own right, which he thought was the case for a “range of reasons”.

The emails thread started back in 2015 and end in mid 2016.

The latest Traffic Signs Manual — the document which outlines the design of traffic signs, road markings and traffic lights — dated August 2019 include bicycle traffic lights. But no legislation seem to be advancing on directional bicycle traffic lights ahead of its inclusion.

Consultants AECOM, working for the National Transport Authority, produced a report looking at the signals and international examples of where directional traffic bicycle traffic light signals are used and how turning conflicts are managed.  

The report include proposals for a flashing amber phase to replace the green left turn arrow where motorists would be allowed to turn left while yielding to the flow of cyclists on a cycle track to the left of them before turning (pictured above). It was suggested that a yield sign would be also located under the flashing amber light for extra clarity.

A new green warning sign was also suggested to be used just before the junction (also pictured above).

As per this article’s main photo above, of Amsterdam, what are referred to as “conflicting green” traffic light phases are sometimes used at older junctions in the Netherlands. The “conflict” referred to is that the turning traffic has a green light at the same time as people cycling and walking across a side road. According to a number of local experts, the preference in the Netherlands is to phase such arrangements out where possable and hold turning motorists on red lights until people walking and cycling have time to cross.

The flashing amber solution would be instead of having conflicting green signals and is viewed to be a clearer sign to motorists that they must yield.

The report outlines how flashing amber arrangement is already in use across a pedestrian crossing at one junction in Cork. It does not see any legal issue with the design and does not suggest any legislation changes, but rather looks for just Traffic Signs Manual changes which are relatively quicker and easier to do.

Freedom of Information request

The details came about after IrishCycle.com in 2018 contacted the Department of Transport using the Freedom of Information Act to request “any records of local authorities, state bodies or any state agency or authority seeking law changes relating to cycling, cyclists or bicycles in the last five years.” The request was first rejected before we did a re-run of the request this year, which was granted.

Orignally, the Department replied that it had found records relating “Cycle Signal Heads Legislation and Greenway Branding and the Traffic Signs Manual” but it added: “Both these items are live and part of on-going deliberative process, and are therefore not for release at this time.”

This year the department release all but one of the records, which could not be found. We are providing the files below for the record and further reading.

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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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