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Carrigtwohill to Midleton is 5km, perfect for an interurban cycle route, so, why is Cork County Council messing it up?

— Greenways are a good idea, shared paths in urban areas are not.
— The devil is in the detail, of not just route but what routes link to.

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Carrigtwohill (pop 5,000) and Midleton (pop 12,500) are less than 5km away from each other at the closest points, and from the west side of Carrigtwohill to the east side of Midleton it’s only about 10km. All very cyclable distances.

The distances between the two towns is ideal for a modern high-standard inter-urban cycle route (see the video below for a Dutch example), and it will also link into a larger network including the recently opened Dunkettle to Carrigtwohill interurban route and the Midleton Youghal and Greenway which is due to open in 2023.

So, Cork County Council is proposing a new project called the Carrigtwohill to Midleton Inter-Urban Cycleway Phase 1. The consultation ends tomorrow and the full drawings and other files can be accessed on the council’s website, corkcoco.ie.

The council describes the project as including “a general cross-section of 4m wide shared pedestrian and cycle path with public lighting and landscaping on both sides” — the core project is decent but some of the details belong to outdated thinking on cycle route design.

But the main question about Phase 1 is why is it Phase 1 and maybe why is it being built at all… just because a high-level plan says so?

As the headline of this article asks: Carrigtwohill to Midleton is 5km, perfect for an interurban cycle route, so, why is Cork County Council’s Phase 1 only going 1km? The image below is a quick outline map showing Phase 1 which is around 3km or so (in light blue) and the direct 5km distance between the two towns in purple.

Phase 1 is some kind of weird cycling bypass with little priority and gates at every road crossing of Carrigtwohill when the focus should be on joining the town and upgrading the existing infrastructure in the town. I can see the benefit of a route like this but the quality would have to be higher to justify it.

The width of the route is decent for Irish standards of shared paths, but if it’s also to be used as a leisure walking around for people of the town, then it might be best to at least plan it with space for a footpath on one side so that it can be built in the future.

If a council is building a cycling bypass of a town, you’d expect details better than this — yielding to minor road and “access control gates” at nearly every road crossing. It’s more frustrating to see these details on an otherwise high-quality route than it is on an overall poorly designed project.

These “gate” designs need to be removed from all guidance (or, at best, left in but only to be used in exceptionally problematic areas). This gate design is:

  • Designing for low use.
  • Causing extra conflict between walking and cycling.
  • Causing safety critical congestion at crossing points even in low use.
  • Causing a distraction where people should be watching out for motorists in both directions.
  • Not as bad as kissing gates, but still cause access issue and discomfort for people with disabilities, especially those on trikes or other larger bikes.
  • Push people towards the edge even where the edge is unsuitable (ie a drain as below).

Phase 1 is mostly on the northern side of the railway tracks while the current built-up area of the town is on the south side of the tracks. This underpass under the train line to a school campus and the train station is again of a high level of quality.

But — again — if you’re going to have a relatively high number of people walking here at any one time, there should be separate footpaths, Especially on the ramps.

Part of the quality may be down to the fact the north-south route is reserved for future motoring access.

But the high general quality is again let down by poor junctions which will not be solved with the access gates against shown here at the train station entrance.

The other branch of the route leads to the planned combined campus of three schools, with cycle paths like this around the school, it’d be a surprise if they reached their target modal share for cycling:

Back to the main route…

Ideally, there would be an underpass here too, north of the railway station, but this is not the worse of layouts given the high and large embankments around the road crossing of the railway and the minor nature of the road.

This next crossing follows quickly afterwards and this is the type of location that needs an underpass (see next image)…

…the crossing is just after the bend down from the railway crossing and on a bit of road which is effectively an 80km/h section of road — as per the National Cycle Manual, the actual speeds people use the road at is what’s important in designing route, not the posted speed limit.

The design of the road is no different on the 80km/h side and the 50km/h side of these signs. And let’s be honest, while this is a local road, it is the same design of many rural regional roads where people often travel above 80km/h.

It’s worth saying that the focus of this article is on the problem areas at junctions, there are also nice straight sections with nothing wrong:

The only thing to say about this bridge is that if you’re installing a bridge for both walking and cycling you’re best to make it wider than the general path and allow for extra width for when the area is developed and more people are walking. Even if a council does not include footpaths or extra width generally, at least include that space on bridges and underpasses.

Close to the eastern end of Phase 1, there’s a branch off to the south…

This is the branch off to the south… more details in the next two images:

Did you know wide sweeping turns are ok as long as you built it on a raised crossing? The bog road here isn’t actually a bog road, it’s a classic rat run around part of a town with a few houses on it. Parts are narrow. There’s no need for it to have corns wide enough for regular truck movements:

The notice states that it’s a “connection to cycle/pedestrian faculties under construction on Carrigne Road”

This is a common problem that Ireland’s car-centric councils seem hard to get their heads around: shared greenways are a good idea generally in rural areas, but shared paths in urban areas are not a good idea at all. Share greenways in urban areas are best avoided and shared paths along roads in urban areas are just shared footpaths really.

We know from councillors, disability groups and cycling groups that shared paths in urban areas cause conflict — cycling and walking don’t mix well at this level. But car-centric councils are obsessed with them.

So, what does it connect to? A shared path outside a new housing development, a section of footpath and then a new project which widens narrow footpaths and makes them into shared paths (aka another example of walking and cycling money going to poor use).

Their junction project does not even make sense from a cycling perspective to get from the cycle tracks A to the cycle track at B here you have to (a) cross the road unaided on the only crossing point which is both not signalised or raised, or (b) go over a raised crossing up the ‘wrong’ side of the road for cycling, use the toucan crossing and then double back using the second raised crossing again in a direction motorists are less likely to expect cyclists coming from.

And here is the eastern end of the project…

This underpass design suffers from having too much of an acute angle from the western approach to it — it’s not good both in terms of avoiding conflicts and social safety — one possible solution is widening the underpass and this is the type of location that will need a footpath in the future, so, the underpass should be wider for that anyway.

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