Cork project has common design issues making it fall short of its potential

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Cork City Council is planning to build the Ballyvolane Strategic Transport Corridor — a project which includes new bus lanes and cycle tracks. It has the potential to enable cycling for shorter trips and be ready to link up to future cycle routes on the northside and beyond, but the current design falls far too short of that potential.

Despite some challenges, Cork has a lot going for it in its potential for cycling. Cork City Council could and should be leaders in cycle route design, but it needs to show firm leadership on getting design right.

As per the below map, currently, the project currently has:

  • Yellow: ~830 metres of a shared path beside a road serveing a new develoment area.
  • Blue: ~280 metres cycle track with experimental junctions at both ends.
  • Purple: ~350 meters cycle tracks an experimental junction at one end, and random footpath-like shared paths at the other.
  • Green: ~160 metres narrow shared path with no buffer linking to existing housing.
  • Red: Included in project but not changes away from the junction.
  • Light blue: Potential alternative route.

Isn’t north Cork City a bit hilly?

Yes, it is. There’s still potential for cycling there, especially with electric bikes and good design. And there’s lots of routes that can be put in place where the gradients are not that bad, and cycling is definitely suitable for many local trips even if it does not suit everybody.

A key thing is that if you’re going to provide for cycling in a hilly area, as Cork City Council are trying to do here, the design should be top-notch. Sadly the current plans are from that.

Not a 2 metre wide cycle track

Cycle tracks of 2 metres wide is now the target for most notable projects in Ireland. We have got to this stage while others have kind of moved on saying it should be at least 2.2 metres —

While the kerb details shown in the drawing looks great, this is still not a 2 metres wide cycle track/path. If you put a kerb in 3 metre bus lane, the bus lane is no longer a 3 metre lane — the same goes for a cycle track.

Bus lanes can be a narrow as 3 metres wide and recommended width for such lanes is around 3.25 metres. When the bus lane is wider than it needs to be, there’s really no excuse for the usable with of the cycle track here not to be at least 2 metres excluding the kerb.

Shared path

This is the council’s part of the route out to Longview Developments’ planned 753 homes — it’s not segregated, but with buffer and narrow carriageway in an edge-of-city location like this, it’s not the worse cycle route in the world.

But is it good enough to serve not just the new housing, but also the housing already around it and planned future housing? And will there be bollards or parking enforcement?

The quality of the shared path is also reduced having around 300 metres of the ~830 metre path having no buffer:

Then across from Lidl the design choices are really strange here — there’s a footpath and service road here, so, why not use the footpath for pedestrians and the service road for cycling? It seems to be related to the common issue with cycle route councils and the NTA being unwilling or unable to get the details of junctions correct.

You could nearly understand if it was a compromise plan to save some of the trees but the plan is to remove all but 2-3 trees and still make a mess of it.

There’s space and designs here for people driving to go everywhere, both at the junction and in and out of Lidl. The bus lane is likely to turn out to be a sad joke here, especially at busy times when it is needed the most — more than 1/3 of the lane is a marked with dashed line indicating motorists can use it.

But, for cycling, there’s no signalised or non-signalised way from the shared path to Lidl without dismounting or making very strange turns.

Beyond cycling, just look at the entrance to Lidl — the fact that the council allowed this layout, which is clearly unsafe for pedestrians, to go through planning when the supermarket was built is one thing. But to go back and change the road but not not improve the entrance crossing point is an indictment. Hopefully it’ll be one of many things which are improved on.

First main junction

There’s a lot going on with this junction design and a lot going wrong compared to the standard even Cork City Council should be at.

First of all, it’s important to state that this junction is not as constrained as it may seem.

It is already planned for area from the public green area, from the business to the top right of the junction and from the Ballyvolane Shopping Centre / Dunnes site to the bottom left.

Only the Fox and Hound corner of the junction is constrained and the design of that is currently the better of the four sides for cycling (with some tweeks needed).

Taking a bit more green space from the top right-hand corner or the bottom left corner will not have any impact on those businesses.

A common and recurring issue with cycle route design in Ireland is little thought is given to how people are to access locations off the main route or how to access one path to the other. The Dutch have to a large extent “solved” these issues but Ireland is continuing to refuse to follow Dutch designs or give cycling enough space even when it’s within reach.

The yellow/sandy coloured areas here are shared paths, but there are no shared paths between them, so, how you cycle from A to B here? Or how do you get to/from A back up the road to Lidl?

Protected or not

A serious issue here and one which can be seen on other projects in Ireland today is the use of half-baked protected junction designs.

This video shows the main elements of protected junctions:

And this is a real-live Dutch junction showing the design does not require car parking at the corners:

Now, here’s corner detail of the planned Cork junction — it’s just a cycle lane around a corner with a kerb (shown in dark grey) put around the lane — no advanced waiting area, no buffer etc:

Now, going back to the Dutch example above — here’s images of the same junction flipped as if they drive/cycle on the same side of the road as us….

On the left side is the Dutch example, just flipped. It has all the elements in the explainer video above.

On the right side is a bit of basic photoshopping showing areas blanked out (including the buffer protecting the corners and advanced stop area) — this is what the basic Irish design does, it strips out all the key parts of the protected junction design.

This is a bad idea and these junctions will not function well and will likely result in increase risk. A similar attempt in Dublin resulted in cyclists avoiding the cycle track.

Aim higher

The council needs to take the kind of things mentioned above into account not because there’s cycling people online giving out to them, but because they need to do better than what was built before them.

This is the current layout at the junction with two pedestrian crossings directed into the grass at the top left hand corner of the junction:

Bus stops

The issue of bus stops is also a wider issue, which is covered here.

The narrowness planned at cycle tracks besides these bus stops is the kind of measures done to make things safer but actually has a high risk of making things worse.

The narrowness if combined with raised crossings and “tram track” type tiles across the cycle track. Raised crossings alone could work, but the combination of all of these elements makeS the design more likely to cause injuries.

Ballyvolane Shopping Centre entrance

At the entrance to Ballyvolane Shopping Centre on the Ballyhooly Road there is a repeat of the issue around Lidl — there’s no provision for people on bicycles to cross the road in one direction or the other to access Dunnes or the other shops.

Along this stretch, the walls of the shopping centre are to set back to make space for cycle tracks and bus lanes. If the council got agreement with the landowner to take another few metres along the wall of the shopping centre grounds it would mean that there would be the space for a higher quality cycle path with grass buffer allowing for better segregation generally and better junctions.. And less of a feel of a load of tarmac/asphalt across the whole road.

Even if the council just set back the wall further around the entrance, it would allow for enough space for a raised cycling crossing at the entrance. This would make things safer for people cycling.

Even without a raised cycling crossing the length of the cycle track shown as not segregated is excessive, this is based on outdated thinking of trying to solve the issue by mixing bicycle users with motorists rather than designing junctions right.

For road safety of all road users — especially pedestrians and people cycling — the exit road markings aimed at motorists need to be set back and a pedestrian crossing painted. Without action, having a four-lane road here may make the current layout worse for pedestrians.

North Ring Road junction

The junction with the North Ring Road is even less constrained and there’s planned road widening, so, there’s really no excuse for the design of the cycle track at the bottom left-hand corner here.

This design is closer to the Dutch protected junction design and it would not take much to do it right. Does Cork City Council have the willingness to show leadership on this?

The bottom right-hand corner is clearly unfinished in the drawing which might indicate that the designers are drawing these junctions backwards — the cycle paths and footpaths should be one of the first elements to design:

Ballyvolane Road

Next, we move west (or left from the last image) to the junction with the Ballyvolane Road.

Note the dotted lines with no colour towards the east (right of the image below) along the North Ring Road which shows the road is within the scope of the project but no changes are planned at this point:

There are a few things wrong here, but the main one of that is that the council and/or the NTA are stuck in “route” mode. That is to say that they are building cycle routes but focused on building them and segregating them without giving a huge amount of consideration to how people can access them or access locations or other routes along the route.

This leaves us with:

  • No access between the Dunnes shopping centre and the cycle track across from it.
  • No access to the filtered Meadow Park Road which has acess to around 100 or more houses and more direct access back up to other housing and the starting point and the shared path towards the Longview Developments site.
  • The side street with about 10 houses on it.
  • No direct access to or from North Ring Road.

For contrast, here is a short video of (non-signalised) protected junction in Utrecht. The location has a bit of a different context, but the road size and type are similar.

There’s a similar situation with junction… which brings us back to the first main junction:

Nobody is expecting or looking for perfection but this project as it stands should not be built. It needs serious revisions.

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