A bit of pragmatism is needed with farm crossings on greenways

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: There’s been a lot of talk about greenways “splitting” farms over the last decade about projects which are still in the pipeline — the reality is greenways aren’t busy roads and they definitely aren’t motorways.

That’s not me hyping things up, I’ve unfortunately read all too many people over the years compare greenways which are usually around 3-4 metres plus green verges, where families feel safe to cycle, to motorways of 4-6 lanes of typical lane widths of 3.5+ metres plus medians and larger green areas on both sides and heavy traffic at 120km/h+. We need less heat and a bit more calm discussion around greenways.

When the High Court dismissed large parts of the arguments against the South Kerry Greenway last week one farmer was mentioned in the media as wanting an underpass of greenway for farm access. Maybe in his case an underpass is needed, but in the vast bulk of cases the idea of a greenway is overblown and people have lost perspective.

While the main design of the bicycle hasn’t changed that much, we all too often think of a bicycle with two wheels and we think too much about the dominant fit and able road cyclists and we don’t think enough about the extras such as child seats or trailers or touring bicycles loaded with panniers… or different types of cycles including hand cycles, trikes, and cargo bicycles, that different people with different needs require.

The other day this website published a related article: chicane gates are not a solution to greenway access points.

So, if chicane gates are problematic for people on larger bicycles such as hand cycles and trikes, then swing gates like the below of the new Limerick Greenway are out of the question at farm crossings or access points if we care about accessibility for a wide range of people, including people at different stages in their lives and people who are disabled not because of their ability but disabled largely because of the way we design our built environment.

Accessibility cannot just stop with having a ramp into buildings.

This type of farm crossing arrangement with a heavy gate and smaller swing gate will never work for those unable to use the swing gates — it’s kind of the opposite issue of rural unmanned gated railway crossings. For convenience, people nearly always leave the roadway gate open at the level crossings so they don’t need to be getting in and out of their cars twice. Fortunately on railways the gates don’t block trains.


The design of the farm crossings on the Old Rail Trail, a greenway from Athlone to Mullingar, shows a different solution — good visibility both ways, no heavy gates crossing the greenway and farmers can temporarily block the greenway when moving livestock, but when crossing in a tractor, in many cases there’ll be no need for farmers to out of their cab as much.

Farmers have for the most part of a century led cattle across and along roads shared with a certain number of cars (it only has become difficult with a high volume of cars in recent enough years).

The reality of farming in half of the country is gates left opened between fields and public roads for hours or even days while work is on going and there’s no livestock in the field.

Farmers are a tough bunch but they are human too, so, they will seek the most convenient option for themselves. Which is totally understandable. There’s still a lot of work to be done around greenways making their wider benefits clearer, including local health and social benefits.

The amount of misinformation has also built up about greenways cannot be underestimated. Highly or over engineered solutions are sometimes easy and attractive to council officials so they can try to appease objectors.

The cost of that is blocking or severely limiting groups of people. It’s too high of a cost. As has been shown in the UK, it’s also illegal under accessibility rules but it seems harder in Ireland to get cases investigated without going to the courts. And the people most effected are often those who are the least likely to be able to afford to take a costly case against the council, costly in time and money as well as money.

Public bodies should be doing the right thing and — as with other cycling related projects  — the design thinking around greenways needs to start thinking cycling for all and not just about the fit and able.

The Department of Transport and Minister Eamon Ryan also have a role to stop councils and others from installing restrictive barriers on greenways it funds or any greenways.


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