€2.2m Active Travel funding for car-centric access roads to Waterford’s North Quays

— Plans include mixing walking and cycling, and motorway-like sliproad into schools.
— Instead of integrating North Quays and Ferrybank, plan included road widening.
— Just 30 bicycle parking spaces are planned at new Waterford train station.

LONG READ: €2.2 million in walking and cycling funding was allocated for the design and enabling works for the car-centric access roads to Waterford’s North Quays redevelopment area, just across the river from the city centre.

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Both the National Transport Authority and Waterford City and County Council highlighted the provision of a new shared walking and cycling bridge over the River Suir, but the access infrastructure to the North Quays Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) is dominated by reinforcing and expanding the dual carriageway without providing bus lanes or cycle paths.

The spending on the project was outlined in a spreadsheet of 2021 Active Travel funding which was released under Freedom of Information legislation by the National Transport Authority to IrishCycle.com. It amounts to part funding of the access project but the provision for Active Travel is mostly via shared paths and footpaths mainly with no buffer along dual carriageways.

The plan includes first reinforcing the near-motorway-like dual carriageway of Dock Road which runs from Waterford’s current train station up along the back of the North Quays site. The plan then extends this road type of dual carriageway design to Abbey Road which currently only has one lane in both directions.

IMAGE: The new and expanded dual carriageway and other access roads are shown in the context of the Waterford North Quays SDZ.

The dual-carriageway design is also extended into the North Quays to Abbey Road with a rural-like dual-carriageway roundabout planned where Abbey Road links with the new access to the site. The roundabout has no crossings on it and the nearest crossings are at the next junctions.

In contrast to the major road widening planned, drawings for the project show that access from Ferrybank to the site by bicycle is via shared footpaths and convoluted routes. There is one small stretch of cycle track shown in the drawings, but its is only a unidirectional path and ends on a footpath beside a motorway-like slip road into a school.

The planned slip-road access from planned the dual carriageway section of Abbey Road uses geometry which is more assorted with motorways than outside schools or any urban area. It links to Our Lady of Good Counsel Girls National School Ferrybank; Abbey Community College a co-educational secondary school; and St Joseph’s Nursing Home.

IMAGE: The motorway-like slip-road from the planned new dual carriageway on Abbey Road to the school.

The SDZ access project also includes at least part of a link from the end of the under-construction Waterford to New Ross Greenway east to the planned transport hub, which will include relocating Waterford’s train station and providing open-air bus bays.

The international best practice for routes like greenways in urban areas is to segregate walking and cycling in urban areas where there is space available to do so. The original plan was for an extra-wide shared greenway rather than separate paths, but this has now been watered down further and the greenway narrowed in underpasses and generally around the new development area.

The 2018 access road project drawings also show a high-quality wide greenway in an underpass under the access road, but the 2019 transport hub drawings show the greenway being narrowed and the underpass being shared with coach/bus access to an extra access area.

This also means that the greenway will be squeezed up along the wall of the underpass at the end of which there’s an access path up to Abbey Road — this means the two greenway paths are likely to be intersecting with very low or no visibility.

In the access road and the transport hub project drawings, the greenway ends at the relocated train station. At the east side of the station, the drawings show only steps and lifts as an option to get above the railway line onwards into the development.

Again, the lack of a direct cyclable route over the railway is in stark contrast to the road widening planned for access to the site development. But not only is there no ramp on the east side, but the greenway proper is shown to end east of the relocated train station when the walking and cycling bridge is on the west side of the new train station.

The area outside the train station is marked as the “transport hub plaza” but is effectively mainly a footpath between the train station and bus bays.

Only on the west side of the greenway is there a ramp and its design and size are more like a wheelchair ramp than a greenway ramp.

IMAGE: An artist’s impression shows people cycling on the “plaza” outside the train station where passengers are waiting at bus shelters.
IMAGE: An X in orange (added by IrishCycle) marks the end of the greenway propper before it is merged with the transport hub “plaza”.
IMAGE: Narrow ramp and wide stairs at the western side of the station. There is no access to the station from this side.

Despite the provision of a new walking and cycling bridge to the development area and transport hub, only 30 bicycle parking spaces are planned to be provided “located in landscaped areas”.

On bicycle parking, the Part 8 report for the transport hub project said: “There will be bicycle parking provided to the east of the proposed north plaza area. Approximately 30 covered dedicated cycle parking spaces will be provided which are located in landscaped areas. The arrangement of these spaces is to remain visible from Dock Road, to maximise passive surveillance of bicycle parking.”

Asked by IrishCycle.com could the council justify why it is spending Active Travel funding on what is a non-Active Travel project, a spokesperson for Waterford City and County Council said: “This funding is part of the NTA’s Sustainable Transport Grants (2021 Allocations attached). The Dock Road/Abbey Road Infrastructure project (WDCC/20/0002) is not being delivered by the Active Travel team.”

On the question of what the funding is being used for, the council said: “The expenditure undertake on the Dock Road and Abbey Road related to design work for the Access Roads to the SDZ Site, site acquisition and demolition work and diversion works for the various utilities in the area. The main focus of the project is to open up the North Quays Site by providing a new bridge across the river, improving the road access to the site and the development of a Transport Hub.”

The spokesperson added: “From a cycling perspective the plan is to link the Kilkenny Greenway to the Waterford Greenway through the North Quay’s Site and over the Sustainable Transport Bridge to the Clock Tower on the South Quays. Works will start in quarter 1 2023 and will conclude in 2025.”

After being asked on Monday by IrishCycle.com to clarify the classification of the funding as Active Travel spending, yesterday, a spokesperson for the National Transport Authority said: “We issued a comprehensive response to you on the 29th of November in relation to these works. To clarify, the NTA has collaborated with other stakeholders for a number of years on this project. We have part funded the enabling works for this project which is expected to deliver an improved public realm, coupled with a new pedestrian and cyclist crossing of the River Suir and other sustainable transport enhancements.”

On November 29 a spokesperson for the NTA said: “The Waterford North Quays development, commonly referred to as the SDZ, is a multifaceted development, leveraging both exchequer and private funding, that seeks to provide a bespoke development along the banks of the River Suir in Waterford City. The development is expected to deliver an improved public realm, provide new commercial and residential opportunities, coupled with a new pedestrian and cyclist crossing of the River Suir, a new train station is proposed in the developments transport hub with new and improve transport connections to and from the site along the existing Abbey and Dock Road.”

“Since 2018, the NTA has been working with Waterford City and County Council and in collaboration with other stakeholders and funding authorities to advance the project to construction. Due to the contractual complexity of the design and enabling contracts for the development in full – Waterford City and County Council appointed a single service provider to deliver the design. To this end, the NTA sought to break out the transport elements from the overall residential and commercial development. In doing so, separate allocations were provided to Waterford City and County Council to advance the design and delivery of the Sustainable Transport Bridge and the upgrade of the existing access to both the Abbey and Dock Road,” the NTA said.

The spokesperson said: “This includes, but not limited to, site investigation works, demolition works, land acquisition, surface water enabling works, a new pumping station and rock stabilisation works, all required to de-risk and facilitate the main construction contract, due to commence in early 2023. Furthermore, the design costs and other professional services were also assigned to the individual elements.”

They added: “Albeit, no physically work has commenced along the Abbey and Dock Road – Other enabling works have been ongoing for some time now. The development of the Abbey and Dock Road forms part of the main construction works and is expected to be delivered by the main construction contract in 2023, with the construction contract signed this November.”

Local cycling campaigners are seeking quicker action on a route from Ferrybank to the city centre.

Mary Sinnott, a spokesperson for the Waterford Bicycle User Group, said: “On this major gateway to the city, at rush hour the traffic can be backed-up for 1 km to Ferrybank, with no way through for emergency vehicles. Cyclists are currently sharing the footpath with pedestrians and scooters and there is no space allocated to buses or cyclists, despite increasing demand and need for active travel. [Ahead of the new bridge] there is no other way across the river for vulnerable road users.”

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