Heuston Station plan has huge potential for livability and connecting areas, but needs to be almost car-free

— Site around Heuston Station will be a “largely” car-free development, but details will be key.
— Penny-pinching on Dart+ project station design will have long-term effects.

COMMENT & ANALYSIS / LONG READ: There’s huge potential with the recently announced Heuston Masterplan for a mix of housing and sustainable transport, but — as we’ve seen with other large developments — the details will be key in unlocking the full potential… or not.

The redevelopment of the station grounds is being billed as ‘Transport Orientated Development’ (TOD) on a 10 hectares site which would include over 1,000 houses, offices for over 8,000 employees, a 250-bed hotel, and 15,000 sqm of retail.

The Master Plan notes: “On account of the exemplary TOD and sustainability credentials of the CIE Heuston Masterplan Lands, the potential exists for even higher development densities, subject to design and planning.”

It’s not clear yet what almost car-free means, but there are some worrying woolly phrases used. For example, on parking, the plan states: “As a TOD exemplar, the masterplan will provide for a minimal amount of private car-parking in the short-to-medium term and facilitate the longer-term adaptation to a car-free environment.”

This development is well served by rail, tram, buses, bicycles (hopefully with more improvements in the quality of cycle routes on the quays and other routes to the station in the short term). So, it should be close to zero car parking spaces from day one with the exception of spaces for people with disabilities and some car share.

IMAGE: A image from the master plan showing the different stages of development.

The site is within a 15 minute cycle from most of the city centre. The potential is massive for cycling as a connecting mode of transport for train users — current train users, extra future train users with Dart+ in the shorter-term, Dart Underground in the longer term, and more Intercity services in the future.

Walking and cycling also has huge or the new apartment residents, and to link to recently developed areas in Islandbridge and part of the river Liffey Greenway.

Heuston should also be seen as a hub for buses and coaches, even if most of those connections are on-street outside of CIE land. Currently, neither the masterplan or BusConnects have enough focus on Heuston as an interchange for longer-distance bus or coach users.

East-west walking and cycling routes

There’s a tendency in these types of developments in Ireland (for example, the Grangegorman campus) to design any area away from car access as shared areas and not include cycle paths. This is a big mistake as it causes conflicts reducing the enjoyment of the space for many, and/or reducing the usefulness of the routes for not just commuting but all transport cycling.

As part of the Dart+ project, Irish Rail and the National Transport Authority are currently planning convoluted ramps for the Heuston West station extension, the platforms planned to serve trains going via the Phoenix Park Tunnel. This type of design is poor for walking, cycling and station accessibility.

The Master Plan should be an opportunity to change the thinking here and improve the experience for people walking, cycling and those just using the station. It’s an ideal location to have a Dutch-style station access point with an underpass under the platforms and track and both steps and lifts up to platform level.

This would also allow for a more seamless connection between the Heuston site and the recently developed Clancy Quay area and the older areas just west of Heuston at Islandbridge — currently, Islandbridge residents are wedged in and with busy roads their access to the city centre.

A short video example here:

Opening up walking and cycling access with good design might not be a focus of all developers, but it should be a focus on CIE and the State who own the Heuston site.

There are some suggestions in the plan of motor vehicular access from Islandbridge via under the tracks around Heuston West station, except for emergency access, this should not be entertained by planners.

North-south cycle routes

The Master Plan shows that there will be at least two or three access points from the north to the station site — the main and possibly first one will be a walking and cycling bridge linking the Conyngham Road (Parkgate Street) bus garage site, which is covered by the Master Plan.

IMAGE: A map from the Master Plan showing access routes.

This will be key access towards a surprisingly large cluster of employment close to the north side of the station including the Criminal Courts, Garda HQ, as well as towards the park and the zoo, the northern inner-city and Dublin 15 via the park.

The plan also includes “extending the existing railway bridge at the Phoenix Park Tunnel to also provide a second river crossing for pedestrians and cyclists” — this is a good sign that those involved are taking walking and cycling access seriously.

The front of the main Heuston Station building will remain a busy place, so, diverting people cycling out in different directions will be useful to avoid too many trying to cycle out in the one place.

In the Master Plan, there’s also mention of motor vehicle access from Conyngham Road (north of the station), and one map seems to show a vague motor vehicle access point to St John’s Road West (along the south of the station).

Years ago there was a previous suggestion to have a bridge-like structure over the tracks at the train station which would continue over the Liffey to the bus garage site. This could even allow for a bus-train interchange or it could allow for motorists to be diverted and have the front of the station car-free.

It’s not clear, but there are at least indications of reviving some part of this idea as a part of the planned development. Such a suggestion needs wider input and planning.

Bicycle parking

The Master Plan includes 5,000 bicycle parking spaces — that includes 2,500 for the residents of the apartments etc and 2,500 for train station users.

For residents, the plan states: “Over time, residential areas within the Masterplan lands will provide a level of cycle parking comparable to that dedicated for public transport users” — this is not a good starting position.

If in 2021 we’re still planning future developments where sustainable transport provisions are pushed off to some vague future date, what hope do we have of meeting yearly climate-related emission reduction targets for transport?

2,500 is a huge jump in provision for bicycle parking for train users. But given the transport hub that Heuston is now and will be in the future, it still seems a bit too low of a number. Especially in the context of Dart+ via the Phonix Park Tunnel in the shorter term and Dart+ Tunnel (aka Dart Underground) in the longer term.

Once all the building work is done, it will be hard to retrofit more bicycle parking close to the station. Cycling levels in Dublin cannot be compared directly to Dutch cities, but the Netherlands have learnt hard lessons on the need to plan ahead. Building high-density bicycle parking is expensive, but building and then having to retrofit on what will be more a more confined site would be a costly mistake.

Amsterdam is most comparable to Dublin in population terms. It is adding to its bicycle parking capacity. In 2022 it will be opening a unit with 7,000 bicycle spaces (underground and underwater) at the front of Amsterdam Central Station. And, this week, the city has just broken ground on 4,000 underwater bicycle spaces to the rear of the station.

IMAGE: 4,000 bicycle parking spaces are now under constriction to the rear of Amsterdam Central Station.

Maybe Dublin should look at a smaller city to allow for the differences in cycling levels? Utrecht, with a population of under 500,000 people has over 22,000 bicycle parking spaces around its main train station, which excludes about 10,000 private spaces for office works.

It could be said that Utrecht Central is a larger railway hub… so, maybe other examples?… Delft (pop: 101,030) has 7,700 spaces at its train station. And in Tilburg (pop: 217,259) a new unit with 3,400 spaces and 200 railway-focused bike-share bicycles was just opened this month:

Maybe 2,500 spaces are more than enough for Heuston for now, but is it building for the future or current levels?

Another possible issue is that at Heuston, space is most confined nearer to the front of the station. The master plan does not deal with where the bicycle parking will be — proximity between the bicycle parking unit/s and the station platforms is key. This includes providing parking at the Dart+ Heuston West station.

Breaking the parking into different units is the norm at larger Dutch stations. But too many small units may get in the way of the viability of providing as many as possible bicycle parking spaces which are guarded by an attendant.

Building high-quality bicycle parking is not cheap, but it’s cheaper than providing that capacity on trains, which is luxury Ireland is unlikely to have any time soon.

Details will be key

The details will be key on if this development will be set up for the world we live in or the more sustainable world we want and need in the short term.

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