Ireland needs to stop reinventing the wheel on cycling infrastructure — the design of protected junctions would be a good start

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Ireland needs to stop reinventing the wheel on cycling infrastructure. Different countries still need to somewhat adapt designs to their own context, and innovation is also sometimes good. But reinventing the wheel has proven to be a waste of time, waste of money and resulted in poor safety and attractiveness outcomes for users. It needs to stop.

Irish authorities have a history of planning and building hybrid cycle designs which are poor for end users — examples range from shared junctions that mix people cycling with pedestrians to shared ones that mix people cycling with motorists.

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The design of protected junctions being adapted in Ireland is a prime example of trying to reinvent the wheel. Networks of cycle routes can be made better, but will still be flawed if junctions are not designed well.

Dutch-style protected junctions

This is one of the best short videos out there to explain what protected junctions are all about — for more detail contuine reading and watching….

(A version of this video is also available on YouTube)

In 2019, Dublin City Council tried a hybrid design of a protected junction at Lombard Street/Townsend Street. This is seen as the first Dublin-style junction. The design was deemed a failure and redesigned over time.

This was just after it was put in place… and it worked much the same (with people cycling straight avoiding it) after the red road works barriers were taken away:

After some redesign and a lot of time, this is now the latest design at Lombard Street — a move away from the so-called Dublin-style junction, but as or more problematic:

On a side note: The very least you’d expect Dublin City Council with this redesign above is to relocate the red surface to where people cycling are now crossing — leaving the red surface in a now-defunct location beside the pedestrian crossing is one of the worse things that could be done in terms of markings and surface colouring. This slowness to change details is a recurring issue.

Ballybucher Lane

If Lombard Street was the first attempt at a Dublin-style junction on one corner, then Ballybucher Lane is the main working example of a Dublin-style junction. It’s located in Ballymun, not far from Ikea.

While cycling around Dublin in August, I re-visited the junction at Ballybucher Lane and I posted this short video to Twitter trying to better explain the design (the strong wind went against the audio quality here)…

After tweeting the above out, I cycled the same junction from a different direction and took the below video. That’s when I found that reporting on the front lines of poor cycling infrastructure can be a risk to your life.

As I wrote directly afterwards: This design isn’t safe — whatever about motorists turning left having a flashing amber, if motorists turning right from the opposite direction also have a flashing amber they seem unaware I had a green light — this was scary:

(In this video I mention I had a green light as well as the motorists — this is not the case, the traffic light sequence is that motorists have amber lights when turning)

Having left ambers traffic lights for motorists while cyclists get green lights isn’t working out so well in Ireland. Having motorists turn right at the same time is looking for extra trouble.

Besides my and other people’s close calls at Ballybucher Lane, I’m aware that at least one person has been injured at the junction (thankfully not too seriously).

From observation, the reason that it is not more problematic is that (1) there’s a relatively low flow of people cycling, (2) it’s a relatively small junction, and (3) people cycling and walking are jaywalking/cycling when it seems safer to do so.

Many or even most people who cycle here who are stopped by red lights and then crossing on the pedestrian traffic light phase to avoid having the experience I had. It will be more problematic at a busier location. Some might berate cyclists for this, but it is an understandable reaction to a poor design.

The Dublin-style junction is designed around an idealised vision of using traffic signals to regulate walking and cycling interactions. Both groups, both people walking and cycling, don’t use the junction as designed. In theory, it separates user movements, but in practice, it maybe causes more unregulated interaction than the Dutch-style design.

Design and user behaviour differences Dutch-style vs Dublin-style

The following table is based on not just the Ballybucher Lane example, but also the examples planned with BusConnects and other projects:

Dutch-style Dublin-style
Preferred design is to remove motorist/cyclists turning conflicts by using separate signalsStandard design is to include motorist/cyclists turning conflicts by using separate signals
Advanced stopping position makes cyclists very visibleCyclists stop far closer to the stop line for motorists
Advanced green light for cycling in addition to advanced stopping positionAdvanced green light for cycling without advanced stopping position
All users meet each other at/ close to 90 degreesMotorists turn left very close to the cycle track
Good visibility for all at crossing pointsBlind-spot for motorists when crossing cycle lane
Mainly for larger streets/roadsBeing squeezed into very small spaces
Cycling and pedestrian interaction not signalised Cycling and pedestrian interaction signalised
Pedestrians cross traffic lanes and cycle tracks separatelyPedestrians have to cross traffic lanes and cycle tracks in one go — longer crossing
Allows for raised crossing over cycle path where neededDoes not allow for raised crossing over cycle track unless it continues across road (unlikely)
Design in tune with likely human behaviourAn idealised vision of use of traffic signals
Pedestrians general use as designed Many/most pedestrians do not use as designed
Motorists general use as designedMany motorists turning do not yield to cyclists
Cyclists general use as designed Cyclists general do not use as designed
Left turn for cycling outside of traffic signals Left turn for cycling held on red
More stacking space for cycling beside the protective island Little stacking space for cycling beside the protective island
Scope to reduce inside of protected island and add additional stacking space if level of cycling increasesLittle scope to reduce protected island as it is already small
Suitable for two-way cycle paths or connections between single directional and two-way cycle paths Not suitable for two-way cycle paths or connections between single directional and two-way cycle paths

Traffic signals

I’ve seen it claimed by engineers in Ireland that the Dutch approach to using traffic lights to remove these conflicts is by stopping people who are walking and cycling at red lights — this is kind of a misunderstanding or maybe a simplification. Generally in the Dutch system, it is more accurately described as stopping left/right turning motorists on red.

This means that any cyclists stopped at a red light or those that arrive shortly after a green bicycle light will get a green light for cycling straight. This will happen at the same time as motorists going straight on will get a green light and ahead of motorists turning getting a green light.

This is an important difference as it greatly reduces the chances of people cycling straight ahead of having to wait extra for motorists.

The dynamic traffic light systems used in the Netherlands also help with this by, for example, detecting a single cyclist and extending the green time by a few seconds or detecting a larger flow of people cycling and giving them even more green time.

Traffic lights are not the only factor at play. A key ingredient which is often overlooked is geometry mentioned in the videos and table above, and shown again in the images below.

Images of Dutch-style vs Dublin-style geometry

The following two diagrams were included in the Dublin Cycling Campaign’s junction submission on BusConnects — these show the differences between the Dublin-style and Dutch-style junction designs:

Not only is the geometry suitable for where there are traffic lights, it still helps when the traffic lights fail or, in some cases, where there are no traffic lights to start with.

This non-signalised side road treatment shows some of the classic geometry features of a Dutch-protected junction. The yellow arrow in highlighter shows the movement motorists take to enter the side street.

Mobycon webinar on junctions:

Mobycon also has a follow-up webinar dealing with questions asked and extra details:

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