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Mahon Cycle Scheme looked promising at first but it should go back to the drawing board

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: The higher-level drawings and description of the Mahon Cycle Scheme sounded promising… a neighbourhood scheme rather than just looking at one or two roads… has Cork City Council turned a corner? Sadly not.

It all sounded so promising. The Irish Examiner went with the headline “Bike and pedestrian routes costing €6m to create Cork’s first 20-minute neighbourhood” and Sheelagh Guilmartin, a senior executive engineer with the council, was quoted as saying: “This will be the first neighbourhood cycle scheme in the city. The design proposal comes from the 2017 Cork Cycle Network Plan and will be, in effect, a pilot project.”

But if this is a pilot project, it’s a pilot for doing more of the same… maybe just a bit faster? It includes:

  • Needlessly mixing walking and cycling at junctions.
  • Needlessly having narrow cycle tracks.
  • Needlessly poorly designed bus stops for both bus passengers and people cycling.
  • Needlessly having people cycling on narrow shared paths or narrow cycle tracks when the carriageway beside the path could be redesigned as a ‘bicycle street’, which would be better for both walking and cycling.

Needlessly is the main point of all of the above, these are design choices where there are other options available.

What is missing is just as apparent:

  • The opposite of the last point, on Castle Road, keeping cycling mixed with motoring where the street is too long. Alternatives here include working with the sports clubs to have an off-road cycle path or making a section of the road one-way for a two-way cycle path using one of the existing lanes.
  • Not much new permeability, ie from cycle paths into estates.
  • Being called a neighbourhood scheme but lacking any of the model filtering, which is common not just in the Netherlands but even more so in London.
  • Weirdly making use of two-way cycle paths a lot but then not making use of them on other streets where it would make just as much or more sense to allow for better junction connections and better widths along the links.
  • An understanding that 1.5 metre cycle tracks are not enough — not safe, not accessible and not attractive.

There are 2 metre wide sections of cycle tracks but there are also way too many 1.5 metres sections in this project.

1.5 metres was seen as too narrow in the National Cycle Manual but there’s been some kind of quiet understanding between the councils and the NTA that 1.5 metres is now grand. But, the fact is, it’s not accessible in a safe way, and it does not safely allow for overtaking or for side-by-side cycling (ie a parent with a child or two school children cycling with each other).

One key lesson from the Netherlands is if you don’t give space and design cycle paths properly, that design will cause injuries and often serious enough ones.

Below are examples of the NTA’s BusConnects bus stop designs. After cycling with a handcyclists for a few days last week, I’m even more confused on how any engineer could sign off on a design which narrows a cycle track and pushes people towards moving traffic at that narrowing point.

The level of the cluelessness of how dangerous this is to people cycling never mind disabled people on trikes or three-wheel handcycles is just stunning.

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And the experience from London seems to be the most confined cycle paths at bus stops are experiencing higher issues than the least confined — boxing people in too much leaves no room for forgiving design (ie going against one of the principles of the National Cycle Manual).

For the avoidance of any douth: My frustration is at the end of my tether on this: This design does not make any sense for anybody involved. It’s poor for passengers and people cycling. How can the NTA or any council accept that having such a small space between where people will be cycling and where people will be getting on/off buses makes any sense where there’s ample space for better design?

It’s a neighbourhood scheme… but who does the council expect to use it? Not the people in some of the houses anyway… this is just one of many examples:

For a long there’s been a design thinking called “dual provision” used in the UK and Ireland. The GB Cycling Embassy, a campaign group, describes it as:

Dual provision is a design approach which involves employing two different (parallel) types of cycling infrastructure. The theory is that experienced ‘confident’ cyclists will use the roads, while those less experienced or confident will use off-road facilities.

The unfortunate result of this way of thinking is nearly always two poor quality routes side-by-side, usually a painted cycle lane on the road plus another one on the footpath(link is external). One will offer convenience but little safety or comfort; the other will offer comfort but little convenience. These facilities do not provide good cycling conditions for anyone, and the Embassy opposes them wholeheartedly.

This example on the Mahon Cycle Scheme is a fairly extreme example of using extra space for dual provisions while not bothering to provide basics such as areas to wait to turn across the road, a raised table across the road or space in the middle to help people walking and cycling to cross:

And for good measure the length of cycling infrastructure is increased by providing painted bicycle symbols on the road with a solid white line along its whole length — no speed ramps, no chicanes, no and — despite there been an alternative road — definitely no filtering or space relocation:

The details across the project are quite strange — like this reoccurring design of lowering cyclists across minor junctions when there there’s a raised crossing being installed and ample space have the cycle track to be part of that.

Then, on the other side of the road, the cycle track is lowered to allow people cycling to cross the road. But — again — no consideration is given to space to allow people to make that turn or wait for a gap in traffic safely. This is basic stuff that’s in our 10-year-old National Cycle Manual.

Then we have the mind-bending design of lowering the cycle track (green) to a road-level cycle lane (red) just before a raised table at the junction (off-red/purple). At the same time people cycling are mixed with people walking in the shared areas (yellow).

Another example of the two of the above issues is this junction — imagine having all this space and yet still lowering people cycling — including children — down to the carriageway level rather than keeping them on raised crossings…

But, added to that, imagine not providing a half conveniently or save way to cycle in and out of the estate… are the people living there not the people the council sees as people who will cycle? Or what’s going on here?

There’s a lot that could be done quickly here, but without the understanding that serious revisions are needed and for the project to be consulted on again, councillors should be sending the project firmly back to the drawing board.

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Cian Ginty

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