Limerick councillors vote to replace section of cycle path with filtered permeability

— Amended plan retains more car parking but through traffic to be restricted by filterers.

There was much confusion today as councillors in Limerick voted to accept an amended version of the 2.5km South Circular Road project — confusion first from many councillors at the meeting this morning and then from the public after it.

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The project, which will be one of the first city centre to suburbs cycle routes in any Irish city, was objected to strongly by some residents. The original Part 8 plan included a mix of segregated cycle paths and cycling on low-traffic streets, with filtered permeability to reduce the amount of motor traffic travelling through the street.

An amendment to the proposed scheme from Cllr Daniel Butler (FG) was accepted by a majority of councillors. The changes centre on the reduction in the length of around 370 metres of cycle path and replacing it with extra filtered permeability so that extra car parking can be retained.

UPDATE NOTE FOR CLARITY: There’s some debate on if the mention of “permeability filter” in the amendment text means ‘filtered permeability’ with bollards or some other looser idea of the phrase. For more on this see our analysis article: Filtered permeability on Limerick’s South Circular Road is only option which complies with amendment and project goals.

While the retention of car parking and the removal of a cycle path might seem counterintuitive to cycling, the provision of walking/cycling-only filtered permeability with bollards has proven successful to reduce motor traffic in a number of locations in Dublin. One example, Grangegoman, is on the route to schools, which is in some way similar to South Circular Road in Limerick.

When combined together on a route, filtered permeability and traffic calming can sometimes be referred to as a ‘bicycle street‘.

IMAGE: An image showing the main cycling measures on the route based on what was described at the meeting and clarified afterwards.

Cllr Butler read out the amendment and said: “It’s very clear. We propose the removal of the permeability filter north of Lifford Ave/South Circular Road, the introduction of a permeability measure at South Circular Road / Ballinacurra Road junction — exactly the same as your’s [referring to Cllr O’Donovan’s amendment], there’s not much different here.”

Moving onto the differences, Cllr Butler said: “The introduction of a permeability measure north of Ashbourne Ave / New Street junction to allow local traffic only, introduction of a permeability measure the north of the South Circular Road / Summerville Ave to allow local traffic only, introduction of a shared surface between Summerville Ave and Laurel Hill Ave with the reinstatement of car parking. It’s very clear.”

Later on Twitter he clarified that the filters would be on a 24-hour basis. He said: “However we agreed that timed does not work. It must be 24 hrs as per NTA. We also included the north of the Fennessy’s Junction also 24 hrs. We felt this improves safety outside the school by almost removing traffic.”

Cllr Dan McSweeney (FG), who seconded the amendment, said that they were leaving flexibility to in how council official deal with traffic management.

Tara Flanagan, a senior executive engineer with Limerick City and County Council, said: “…from Quinn Street to Summerville Ave would be a shared surface [between cycling and local car access] but the numbers [of cars] would be sufficiently reduced by the filter at Summerville Ave so that it’s a safe travel mode for the cyclists.”

Before the vote, she added: “To be clear: We have two-way segregated cycling facility from Fennessy’s [Ashbourne Ave / New Street] to Mary I, we have a shared surface from Mary I at Summerville Ave to Quinn Street and we have a two-way segregated cycle path from Quinn Street to Gerard Street.”

Other councillors looked for a pause in the meeting to clarify what was proposed or for the proposal to be put up on the screen.

There was confusion right up to the vote, but the majority of councillors, 13 in favour and 8 against, voted to remove a two-way cycle path from a plan, and replace that will two new modal filters. At least most of those against the amendment were supportive of the first proposal, which retained more of the two-way cycle path but which was not voted on.

First proposal

Earlier in the meeting, Cllr Elisa O’Donovan (Soc Dems) said that she represented residents at the workshops for councillors and said the council is not getting Part 8 public consultation right. She said that many have fears but that the status quo wasn’t safe.

Cllr O’Donovan proposed an amendment so that the location of the one-way modal filter would be moved from the junction with Lifford Ave to the junction at the south end of South Circular Road. It was also proposed that in the area where the on-street car parking was being lost, the council has also committed to cover the costs of households providing new or expanded access for off-street parking.

Cllr Joe Leddin (Labour) seconded that motion for those changes and said that there was a lot of misinformation spread before councillors even had the draft plans. He asked: “Is the road currently safe? It’s not for pedestrians, cyclists and not even motorists… safety is a huge issue.”

After this is when Cllr Daniel Butler (FG) proposed his alternative amendment including removing a section of a two-way cycle path. He said that he has been a stressful couple of week and joked that he picked the wrong time to give up caffeinated tea.

The first part of Cllr Butler’s amendment included the same provision as O’Donovan’s amendment to remove the Lifford Ave filtered permeability and installed filtered permeability at the junction at the south end of South Circular Road.

He also proposed two other filters — one at the north end of the Ashbourne Ave / New Street junction and another at the north end of the Summerville Ave junction. He said these would allow local traffic only and the introduction of a shared surface between Summerville Ave and Laurel Hill Ave, “with the reinstatement of car parking.”

Cllr Dan McSweeney (FG) criticised outside interference and said that people need to look up the word democracy.

Cllr McSweeney said: “It would be remiss of me not to mention the unhelpful political interference from outside this chamber that has only occurred in recent days. Having set here in this chamber last Friday making huge progress on the main issues, to arrive for a further meeting [on Saturday] to discover all progress which has been made had been taken off the table.”

He added: We’re blessed to live in a democracy and maybe it’s the time for those in Dublin who think they know what’s right for Limerick should look up the true meaning of democracy.”

He said that the amendments would meet the requirements of the scheme and also the concerns around parking.

Cllr Elena Secas (Labour) said that few people would want the smoking ban removed today and this project would be looked at the same way in 10 years’ time.

Cllr Catherine Slattery (FF) “I’m in favour of more people cycling and less car traffic, but I’m not in favour of a cycle lane where it is inappropriate, and I feel it is inappropriate on the South Circular Road… I will be proposing the proposal by Cllr Butler as it seems reasonable.”

Cllr James Collins (FF) said: “Sometimes it can be very easy to support the policy but when it comes to implementing the policy, it can be very challenging and this is a very challenging project.”

He said that the South Circular Road was too narrow to provide for everything including car parking and a cycle path.

Cllr Tom Collopy (SF) said that there was not 100% support from the community and that means there needs to be a compromise. He said: “It does not make me or my colleagues anti-cycling or anti-child.” He added that he would be supporting Cllr Butler’s amendment.

Cllr Seán Hartigan (Greens) said that there were councillors in the room that did not even know what they are agreeing to in terms of Cllr Butler’s proposals.

Chairperson Cllr Olivia O’Sullivan (FG) said there would be clarity for anybody who needed it but confusion continued right up to the vote on the issue.

A request to pause the meeting to clarify the details was rejected by Cllr O’Sullivan, who said that there was a packed agenda besides this issue which also needed time.

The Active Travel team said that the filters in Cllr Butler’s amendments would allow for low enough car traffic to make it safe for cycling.

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