— Worryingly the NTA’s own BusConnects projects are especially problematic in terms of walking and cycling provision, and how village centres are affected.
Open letter to Minister Eamon Ryan:
Dear Minister Ryan,
I have reported on walking and cycling projects in Ireland for around 15 years and while there have been improvements in the quality of projects, I am writing to you out of frustration that funding is being misspent on the planning and building of projects with poor designs such as mixing walking and cycling needlessly, the use of narrow cycle tracks, issues at junctions and a general lack of priority for walking and cycling.
Right now, you might not know the extent of it, but you are failing on walking, cycling and climate action by letting BusConnects and too many walking and cycling projects to progress with such poor designs. It is your choice whether you change direction on this issue or not.
You and others reading this are likely to think that no Minister for Transport can get involved with the fine details of projects. And I would agree with that.
Micromanaging is not the approach anybody should expect a Minister to take. But as a Minister, you have a responsibility to ensure (1) climate action is happening and effective, and (2) funding provided is delivering value for money.
This is still not happening at the moment.
There are examples of local authorities producing poor designs, but what’s more worrying is how the basics in walking and cycling design are continued to be dismissed by the National Transport Authority’s own BusConnects team.
The poor quality of the plans for BusConnects doesn’t just hinder the adoption of walking and cycling, but in some cases are much like an echo of the road building of the past where urban areas and the communities in them suffered. The BusConnects team is continuing to show scant regard for proper walking and cycling design, little regard for urban villages and even show shockingly little regard for how bus passengers will access bus stops.
IrishCycle.com has covered the issues with such designs extensively (the articles on such can be found at irishcycle.com/?s=busconnects). The latest plans for BusConnects continue in such vain — the recently released revised designs for Cork are at an earlier stage, but far more solid are the Tallaght / Clondalkin to City Centre Core Bus Corridor Scheme application last week which is woefully inadequate when it comes to walking and cycling designs.
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The ongoing high-level issues include:
- Too much focus on providing bus priority by widening roads, narrowing footpaths and removing cycle lanes. While there’s been an improvement in this area as BusConnects has progressed, it is very hard to see how this overengineering approach is compatible with the Government’s Climate Action Plan.
- This contention that BusConnects is not compatible with the Climate Action Plan cannot be brushed away as the NTA has admitted in its recent city-level transport plans that such are not in line with the Climate Action Plan.
- Given the above, the escalation of commitment (commitment bias) using an overengineering and long-drawn-out process to deliver bus and cycle priority improvements should be challenged. This is particularly so given the process used is reliant on An Bord Pleanála given the huge backlog the planning authority has admitted to in recent months. This blocks any progress on both bus and cycle routes, especially on arterial roads leading into Dublin, Cork, and Galway city centres.
- A refusal to follow best practices (including Irish guidance on street design) and once again reinvent the wheel with a mix of designs.
- A design process for junctions and bus stops which is led by scaremongering when it comes to pedestrians and cycle paths.
This results in the following issues:
- Not following basics standards such as using sub-standard widths for footpaths and cycle paths, often where there are easy alternatives if the BusConnects team was following the Government’s or the NTA’s own hierarchy of road users (ie walking, cycling, buses, cars).
- There are serious issues with the choice of junction treatments, including (1) the use of too many different designs on one scheme and across cities, (2) mixing walking and cycling on junctions and crossings, (3) the use of “Dublin-style protected junction design” which has proved to be problematic in safety terms when it was installed on Ballbutcher Lane in Dublin;
- Not complying with the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets — including (again) not following the hierarchy, poor space allocation, lack of crossings at junctions where it suits traffic flow, retaining or including new extra wide traffic lane, etc. This might be somewhat bushed off on near-motorway-like roads or roads away from built-up areas, but less so in areas where pedestrians should get a stronger level of priority.
- The scaremongering-led design has developed to the extent that traffic claiming measures and “slow” markings are being applied to sub-2 metre cycle tracks but not across 4-6 lane roads beside the cycle tracks.
- These traffic calming measures being applied to cycle paths take no account of users of adapted cycles tricycles, wheelchairs and other mobility, cargo bicycles etc.
- And also a highly contradictory approach of treating cycling as some sort of critical threat to pedestrians but, where it suits the designers, mixing walking and cycling on shared surfaces.
- Using a bus stop design claimed to be for constrained sections of streets/roads at locations where there is ample space for alternatives.
- Use of poorly designed grade separation for walking and cycling (ie bridges and underpasses). In some cases, there’s a need for grade separation but the designs used are unattractive. We already know the result of such: People will refuse to use the bridges and underpasses by using their cars rather than walking or cycling or running across the road where there are no crossings.
I am not sure exactly what, but there’s is something wrong at the Departmental and NTA levels that its BusConnects team continues to be dismissive of Ireland’s Climate Action Plan, and also so dismissive of the hierarchy of road users and Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets and international best practice.
The pending revision of the National Cycle Manual will not fix these issues alone as many of the BusConnects designs are already in breach of the current National Cycle Manal on basics such as widths of cycle tracks and the BusConnects designs are contrary to the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets.
Also, as predicted, designs which are poor for cycling and bus passengers which were contained in the BusConnects design manual have already been put into the draft National Cycle Manual.
You have repeatedly said that you think communication is key to Climate Action. If you are making attempts to correct the issues outlined in this letter, you really need to communicate this, not just to a select few, but to the public at large.
So-far, the only delivery metric you seem to have set is km of routes built and this needs to change. I am urging you to please act on the above issues.
Editor, IrishCycle.com and founder of CyclingForAll.ie
Sample of recent BusConnect Cork designs: