COMMENT & ANALYSIS / LONG READ: Details of a route for the proposed Luas Finglas, a northern extension of Dublin’s green line tram route, show that the walking and cycling provision along the route is on par with the poor quality expected from Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the state body designing the route.
Legally the National Transport Authority was changed to be the lead body for light rail planning in Ireland, but this function has been kind of outsourced or delegated to Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII). TII was was formed in a merger of the Railway Procurement Agency and National Roads Authority — two state bodies which have a record of producing little but poor, usually unattractive and often unsafe walking and cycle routes around national roads and the Luas network.
Even after their merger, TII has continued this trend on projects like the €250 million Dunkettle Interchange — where TII seems to be treating walking and cycling like a multi-million euro dark joke — and the N5 Westport to Turlough dual carriageway, which no provision for cycling for all ages near the new road or along the existing road which is to be detrunked.
National Transport Authority is still overseeing the work, but it has at best a poor to mixed history of quality assurance. It also does not help that drawings of design in the authority’s National Cycle Manual include options which even new UK guidance tells designers to avoid, such as shared spaces.
In a press release on Luas Finglas last week, transport Minister Eamon Ryan said:
“I am delighted to announce this consultation on the Emerging Preferred Route for Luas Finglas. I encourage the public and stakeholders to take part in this Public Consultation so we can deliver a major public transport improvement to Finglas and north Dublin. I’m also very pleased to see the first of eight new 55m Luas trams going into passenger service and to see that half of the 44m trams have now being extended. The government is committed to improving sustainable public transport and I am also pleased that there will be a pedestrian and cycling path along most of the route. I look forward to the Luas network and fleet growing in the coming months and years.”
While it is unrealistic to expect many Government ministers to get into details of cycle route, it is our hope that Minister Ryan will rapidly order state agencies to use the template set out by CyclingForAll.ie — which is in the process of being relaunched with a revamp. CyclingForAll.ie calls for improved guidance, the firming up the mandatory nature of such guidance, to improve designs already in planning, and ultimately the quality of our streets and road that they are safe for all.
It will likely be claimed that the Luas plan is a work in progress and the problems will be ironed out. But this website was told the same thing re the issues around Luas Cross City and it turned out the problems were were worse than we thought and poor design for cycling resulted in many injures.
As well as the Luas designs showing the problems around cycle routes built as part of wider projects, what’s wrong with Luas Finglas is typical of the flaws of Irish cycle routes generally.
The plans for Finglas of narrow, stop-start route with shared sections is in stark contrast with the continuous and wide route provided beside the new tram route in Utrecht, which is extra wide as it provides access to the city’s university but a two-way path of 4 metres width is justified in Finglas:
This is the preferred route diagram map of Luas Finglas:
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The route starts at the existing northern end of the Luas Green Line at Broombridge where the tram line interchanges with Irish Rail’s commuter train station (which will be a future Dart station).
There’s no cycling improvements planned on the first section of the route as it heads northbound via the Dublin Industrial Estate to Tolka Valley Park — people cycling with be left mixing with cars, vans, buses etc going over the historical Broom Bridge. (For clarity: The area and train station is spelled Broombridge, while the bridge itself is called Broom Bridge).
Projects like this in many places would be linked to wider plans to building up housing in the underused industrial estate lands. But failing that, there is the potential to make Broom Bridge into the safe cycling connecting north-south access to/from the Royal Canal Greenway and beyond.
Broombridge Luas stop won’t need feeder bus from Finglas and beyond once the Luas is extended. With that in mind the contra-bus lane up to the bridge (which is currently being put in place) will not be needed. So, there’s more scope to improve north-south cycling access.
If the overgrown area circled in the second image below could be CPOed, it could be used to provide two-way motoring access to the Glen Industrial Estate (middle top of the below image), which leaves space for a two-way cycle path up to Broom Bridge — at the bridge, there’s the choice to make of keeping a traffic light system or just removing the one-way private motoring access.
The nearby Ratoath Road bridge is more suitable for through motor traffic, and, while it is new, it is not good for cycling in terms of cycle lane widths, lack of kerbs, and a sharper than desirable gradient.
The below image shows the Dublin Industrial Estate to the left and the Tolka Valley Park to the right.
On non-cycling related issues: The more minor T-junction to the left here seems like just an unnecessary conflict for trams — conflict in terms of time delay and actual risk. There’s little reason keeping this secondary access to the Dublin Industrial Estate which is likely to delay trams and add conflicts with large vehicles. If a different access point is needed it should be made elsewhere along the Ballyboggan Road.
Zooming into the last image, a few cycling things to note here…
Is the space shown on the drawings really reflective of the space shown on Google Street View below? It doesn’t seem to be…
Then there’s the issues of the gates on currently on every access point of the Tolka Valley Park — the restrictive gates have blocked access for many types of bicycles and mobility devices but have failed miserably at controlling scrambler motorbike use. Governments have failed to act on legislation which is viewed to be needed to help Gardai to control scrambler use, especially off-road in parks which is a serious issue in the area.
If restrictive gates are to be kept… how do you apply such to the Luas tracks? Is there anyway that you can keep tracks open but keep out people with scramblers from driving or walking their motorcycle into the tram access?
Also, the current draft design shows no crossing of the Luas tracks in the park, meaning people walking and cycling here would have to cross two sets of gates just to continue along a path in the park…
The Luas tracks cross at grade with other paths in the park, so, it’s not like the tracks will be fully segregated from the park:
Here we get to see the first sign of planned cycling infrastructure, but…
…it starts with no crossing or clear connection to the existing paths in the park and not even a connection to the roadway, instead the designers are planning to mix walking and cycling:
Looking north away from the park and towards the green area the tram route takes between the housings, it’s a wide-open space:
As well as the tram track and a footpath there’s ample space to provide a wide 4m+ cycle path which allows for social side-by-side cycling and overtaking space:
The best practice — as per this image of the Portmarnock greenway — is to have the walking and cycling paths kept seprate by a green buffer:
Back to Finglas…. I’ve seen a number of people who have looked at the route details and comment on how there though there would be five rather than the planned four stations in the 4km of the route.
Currently the plans includes distances of 1km and 1.2km between the stops shown below. If the St Helena’s stop location was moved and another stop added (ie stops at the two yellow Xs) then the spacing would be 800m, 500m and 900m between the stops — which is well within the norms for Luas.
The new St Helena’s stop just north of the marked location would be better for a connection for walking and cycling to/from the surrounding areas including the Clearwater Shopping Centre. And the new location at the north end of the Tolka Valley Park would be better for access along the Tolka Valley Road.
Back to the first cycle path… just over 250 metres later, the cycle path is interrupted by poor design at a tram stop there’s ample space here to have a continuous cycle path — even if it’s a draft design, it was a choice not to have a continuous cycle route here:
The same thing happens at other stops and at junctions — below the cycle paths stops before the junction and becomes shared space — this is not due to a lack of space, it’s just poor design and a lack of care for walking and cycling:
It only gets worse….
First this turn is the same kind of issue which helped result collisions between people on bicycles and trams — there should be more of a buffer between the tracks and the cycle path which means when the person on a bicycle turns, they are already at 90 degrees to the tracks:
There’s no reason why the cycle path can not be continuous here as it crosses the tracks — the paths should curve around to meet the tracks at 90 degrees and the designers could also use lights and bells to warn of incoming trams as used in other countries and provision is made in Irish guidance for:
There’s also no sign anywhere along the route of cycling access between the cycle path and local streets, for example:
And then it gets worse again…
This drawing just shows new access arrangement’s where at motoring entry point are changed in order to give tram priority:
The narrow two-way cycle path again ends in shared space and then people cycling are expected to cycle around the junction and crossing to get to narrow on-road cycle lane…. why does the two-way cycle path not just continue? There’s ample space.
At the other end the cycle route just ends:
The routing here via an estate is a bit unusual but it can work… and alternative is around by the Garda station:
The cycle route magically picks up again north of the sports centre and fire station…. just a 350 metre gap in the cycle route…
And despite the plans shows CPOing of the buildings below the tram stop here, the cycle route is shared between the roadway and just after the tram stop:
And the cycle path runs for about 140 metres before becoming shared again:
The route along Mellowes Park is fairly straight forward:
And the cycle path just ends again:
No cycling connection between where it ends to where the cycle route again becomes unsegregated cycle lanes:
Along St Margaret’s Road, the current road which is deemed to need speed ramps is effectively widened by the use of unsegregated cycle lanes. Segregated cycle paths or one two-way path is needed here.
On the point of tram priority, St Margaret’s Road seems like a strange choice since the route could easily go up the dual carriageway and then swing into the park and ride location (the parking for Charlestown shopping centre) with no interruptions bar one junction… except, the designs of this route seems to have been told not to disrupt cars or take space from them.
And any scheme like this would not be complete without bus stops also intersecting the cycle lanes:
And the route would not be finished without having cycle route end just before it comes to the junction when the tram tracks end after the junction and leaving passangers with four crossing to cross before getting to the shopping centre.
The plan here is to leave the junction as it is — ie over built and not friendly for walking or cycling,
The “kiss and ride” spot is also shown here inside the unsegregated cycle lane.
All of the above is fixable, but is there the will? Will the walking and cycling provision be different to other Luas routes or will history repeat itself?