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Underpasses are needed for Ireland’s cycling and walking networks, but design is key

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: IrishCycle.com has advocated for the use of underpasses to benefit walking and cycling — especially for crossing higher-speed roads or railways. Underpasses can be far more accessible than overpasses which require greater clearance, and more likely requires steeper gradients. However, the design of underpasses in Ireland still leaves a lot to be desired.

Greenways are some of the most common places where underpasses can be found on cycle routes in Ireland. Getting the details right will help improve the attractiveness of greenways for commuting and transport use.

This video is of a new underpass on the Great Western Greenway a short distance outside of Westport. The underpass here is for the northern Westport bypass / N59 section of the N5 Westport to Turlough Road project.

It’s hard to fully judge it ahead of its official opening, but the quality of this one is around the middle of the spectrum:

The Westport example is still much better than this narrower example on the Waterford Greenway, which has the added obstacle of having stupidly obstructive chicane gates.

As an aside: These types of chicane gates keep getting dismissed as not that much of an issue but cause more issues than they solve. If you’re a tourist on a normal or electric bicycle you can brush them off easier enough. Not everybody can cycle as well as most people can.

Even others on normal bicycles can struggle around gradients. Add a bit of congestion on the greenway and the gates can become annoying; add bulky panniers and the chicane gates can become more annoying; add a child seat or trailer or cargo bike and the gates can become a bit of a hazard; and add in a handcycle or trike and we’re talking about adding the needless risk of overturning and serious risk to the users.

The fact is that many other greenways around the world and whole countries such as the Netherlands reserve the use of chicane gates for exceptionally dangerous locations, such as a tricky crossing of a high-speed road. The excessive use of such chicanes in Ireland, not just infantilises cycling but lowers accessibility, safety and enjoyment of greenways.

So, while the Westport example is better than some other examples of underpasses in Ireland, but we need to do better.

Here’s the example design given in the Dutch guidance, Design Manual For Bicycle Traffic — the Dutch don’t always reach this preferred design, so, we won’t also. But we need to strive for better.

Images on an underpass as shown in the Dutch guidance, Design Manual For Bicycle Traffic. The the design is wide, airy, with nowhere to hide or sit down.

With the Westport design, on approach, the design has poor sight lines and has areas of concealment even when you’re as close as in the image below — unnecessary adding to collision risk and social safety issues:

Poor sight lines and areas concealment on approach to the underpass.

The Westport example also likely needs lighting — the video was taken on a fairly bright summer’s day. Locals who use the greenway to cycle into Westport will be doing so in the winter and autumn too.

Again: This isn’t officially open… maybe it’s planned for lights to be added?

A view of inside the underpass on the Great Western greenway.

Note in this video, of a new underpass in Utrecht, how even the shorter underpass section shown has lights:

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