Climate action needs bus and cycling priority now, BusConnects stuck in Grand Design mode

Comment & Analysis: In articles looking at the BusConnects Cork plans I could nearly use the same headlines over and over again. I’ve spent around 15 years now looking a the details of different cycle route and other transport plans and, to me, it’s crystal clear that the NTA’s BusConnects team are showing little regard for walking, or cycling, and also not for real climate action.

The impending deadline for BusConnects Cork was advertised as tonight (Thursday) at midnight, but the NTA’s consultation page lists it as “26 May, 2023, 11:59pm”, which is tomorrow (Friday) at midnight.

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The Grand Design mode mentioned in the headline is one part of this, some routes are the opposite — with routes where little construction and no road expansion etc is included, there should be serious questions about why some routes are not being progressed outside of the An Bord Pleanála system.

Below is an overview of the current draft plans for the first three Cork routes, mainly focused on cycling but also bits about bus priority and walking too.

A. Dunkettle to the city centre

My first question on this is: If there really is any sort of priority actually being given to buses, or walking and cycling… why do so many traffic lanes need to be retained? If there are two lanes of traffic in one direction at random points on city centre routes, that adds little to capacity and just allows motorists to speed up a bit before coming to a pinch point again. Who does this service?

Why not have a two-way busway along the quays and make Lower Glanmire Road two-way for general traffic? It would make the Lower Glanmire Road into less of a racetrack while giving far better priority to buses going along the quays.

There is so much wrong here just in this section of the first drawings for the route. These are draft drawings much aren’t much different to the overall quality levels which have been submitted to planning on BusConnects schemes in Dublin.

The list includes:

  • Mixing walking and cycling because the priority is not just buses first but putting cars before having separate space for walking and cycling.
  • Yield markings at cycle lanes ahead of a signalised junction with a left turn at the junctions.
  • The cyclist’s direction of flow on two-way cycle paths put in as if we drive/cycle on the right.
  • No pedestrian crossings to the left of the bus stop, this is a reminder that the BusConnects design team often show little regard as to how bus passengers get to/from stops.
  • Another location with no crossing.
  • No buffer is apparent between the two-way cycle path and the bus lane (to the right of the image).

Even skipping over some of the worse things which are part of another route but shown at the junction, how is this an enhancement — huge changes to the area but still mixing walking and cycling at junctions.

This is coming from the same people over BusConnects who are going around telling councillors that Dutch designs are unsafe when they are overseeing more and more shared sections of footpaths at junctions and marking it as an “enhanced for pedestrian and cyclist facilities”.

There’s ample space here to have separate paths for walking and cycling but the BusConnects team are trying to gaslight people with these kind of designs:

Some local authorities wrong install two-way cycle paths with the direction of the sides flipped, like installing continental cycle paths in an Irish setting. The practice is confusing and dangerous.

This cycle path which is already in place at this location follows the drive/cycle on the left principle. Why are is BusConnects changing that?

I know it’s not a detailed design, but it seems to be an intentional design issue with BusConnects to avoid having pedestrians cross cycle paths outside of traffic signals. The lack of buffer between the cycle path and the bus and general traffic lanes makes this less safe for both walking and cycling.

Because of this more expensive cantilever traffic lights would be needed to the right here, but, a bigger issue is that the claimed pro-pedestrian stance doesn’t make any sense when reality hits.

This design means pedestrians have to cross a wider area at once without any island area to offer refuge.

The lack of buffers here is madness really as we know the cycle path will just get parked on.

But also because zebra crossing should not be over three lanes wide, leaving people walking and wheelchair users having to deal with both cyclists and motorists coming from different directions at once.

Yield markings should not be used at zebra crossing — the zebras imply that yielding is needed. But the situation they have designed is so poor that maybe felt the yield markings were needed?

And back on the quays, mix walking and cycling yet again at junctions.

Again, calling this “enhanced”.

This is also an example of the BusConnects getting involved in grand designs rather than delivering bus priority fast and letting councils prettify it later

For people who don’t know the area it’s worth saying this is what it looks like now — this could be two-way busway beside a two-way cycle track and Lower Glanmire Rd made two-way for general traffic.

Again: Climate action needs bus and cycling priority measures now but instead BusConnects are still stuck in Grand Design mode.

How does the road layout even make sense? Horgan’s Quay has one single lane for general traffic but Penrose Quay needs two? Are they go-faster lanes? City centre overtaking lanes? Or maybe a 350 metre turning lane?

But even with the Grand Design approach the cycle path is of a poorer design than it could be given the space available:

  • There’s mostly no buffer horizontal between the cycle path and a bus lane, and:
  • The width is sub-standard, for the primary nature of the route and the space available, the cycle path should be at least 3.5 metres and closer to 4 metres would be better.

It’s kind of messed up that I’m reluctant to write this: Going by Irish and international experience, 4 metres should be the target width for such routes where there is space. And there is the space here, just different choices are being made.

It will be an improvement from what’s there now, but it could be a world-class route for the city for both cycling for transport, leisure and tourism. It could help support higher-density housing in the area.

If land is being taken from the CIE/Irish Rail/other site why not take another 2 metres or so? There’s a simple answer to this: Cycling provision is not a priority for BusConnects and the BusConnects design again and again shows little understanding of designing for cycling correctly.

So, it’s not a surprise that they won’t give priority to key design components such as cycle path widths and buffers.

How do I know this for sure? Because there are so many examples of it. Like this… a long section where there is space for better, but the cycle path is kept at 3 metres with no buffer while there are strangely two footpaths placed just three metres or so from each other… how does any of this make any sense?

This is the lack of vision for this location:

Where the bus and cycle routes meet the Lower Glanmire Road, it has to be asked again why is there a need for a two-lane one-way road west of this junction? Are these again “go faster” lanes kept to keep some motorists feeling happy when there’s no extra capacity available on the city centre or this side of those two lanes?

With the section from the Water Street junction to the end of this route, at the Port of Cork 2000 Garden, there are only single lanes for cars and trucks, why is there a need for two lanes on the Lower Glanmire Road west of Water Street?

The routing of the cycle route off-road here should be wider — just providing a 3 metre cycle path beside a footpath with fences or walls on each side is reduces the usable width and makes things worse for the personal safety of users of the route.

B. Mayfield to City Centre route

First, let’s rewind to the start of the Dunkettle route… because the Dunkettle to the city centre project drawing says this junction is part of the Mayfield route…

But the Mayfield route drawings show it as part of the MacCurtain Street project… which is correct?

There are no easy answers to this section of the route with such hills on it… but the two-way cycle path linking to a quiet street approach is questionable here not for the normal reasons of directness etc, but because of the inclines and the extra gradients involving this re-routing and the suitability of a two-way cycle path here.

A ~3-metre wide two-way path is too narrow given the gradient involved and placing a bus stop on it seems to be one of the most questionable design decisions I’ve ever seen.

This is a draft drawing, but drafts should be better than this and a lot more in BusConnects. History shows that once designs are progressed often many changes are not made.

For people who don’t know the road, the two-way path is planned for the left of this image:

On this image, to the right is the first section of a quiet street and to the left is downhill towards the camera in the last Street View image — the bus stop is at the current location marked in red in the background to the left:

A phrase I seem to be using more and more is: none of this makes sense — the bus stop could be just moved to the north of the junction (right of this image:

Ending the two-way path into a footpath like this, at the bottom of the hill, is also worrying —

It’s amazing Portland in the US can do this on a large road in a suburban location (~3:30) but the BusConnects designs are so focused on mixing walking and cycling even in hilly areas when there’s an extra safety risk:

Extra care also needs to be taken with bollards on a hill. And the use of solid bollards at locations other than the top of the hill should be avoided at all costs:

The quiet street treatment overall makes sense here but there are some questions about if the detour route adds more hills to the route and if there’s enough to calm the traffic on other sections:

Where there are sections of cycle tracks on the Old Youghal Rd and Colmcille Ave — all of the junctions and bus stops are messed up.

There is no provision for turning in or out of these cycle tracks if you’re not following the quiet street route. While the designers might want to direct people onto the quiet street route, the reality is people will also need to cycle elsewhere too.

Coming out of the Murmont Lawn and turning right, I don’t recall the last time I’ve seen such a squared cycle track design for a public road. The right turn is just so strange too — you have followed the quiet street, including on bits with little to no interventions and then you cannot make a right turn in front of cars?

But maybe a key point here is not cycling but where’s the pedestrian crossing point over the side road?

There’s space for better bus stop designs here, there’s just seems to be zero effort or focus on it:

There’s not a huge amount of infrastructure on this route, why can’t it be implemented under Section 38 of the Road Traffic Act? This route really should not be sent to An Bord Pleanála to the point that the board should reject the application (not the project, the submission). That seems to also apply to other Cork routes, at least route C.

Elements such as the bus gates could and should be progressed quickly.

But the design of parts of the project is mindboggling — until I remember the designers are being told that they should provide for cycling along the cycle routes without thinking about how people cycling are going to turn on/off routes in any other direction:

What exactly do they think is going to happen when somebody wants to cycle straight on in any direction along the Old Youghal Road? Especially from west to east with a bus or taxi behind them? Aggression and maybe worse.

Or turning right out of Iona Park (Colmcille Ave)?

Again, confined space bus stops are used where space is not confined — this is all too common with BusConnects.

BusConnects is a big warning that even where a design manual says that ‘this design should only be used at confined locations’, that won’t be what happens:

And the last drawing of this route: It feels as if the Dublin-style and Dutch-style protected junction designs had a child together…

Shout out to anybody involved with these designs: Please feel free to contact me to explain what constraints you are being put under, because few of these designs make much sense.

C. Blackpool to City Centre

This is an obvious one, we’re in a climate crisis, the Dáil declared it years ago now, so, it’s time for radical action such as bus lanes on the N20 inside the city? No? What about from Blackrock Village onwards? No? At least south of the North Ring Road? No.

So, what then? Buses stay going down Dublin Street etc. Hey, don’t worry too much about cycling, greening, livability, or an environment focused more than movement parallel to a crazy urban four-lane road, or any of that stuff.

First, there is some cycle tracks around — or, more correctly, to one side of — Blackrock Shopping Centre.

This can only be seen as some token cycling provision given the gap between this and even the first bit of single-directional cycle track further south.

It’s also a poorer design than it could be, using Dublin-style junction design on large junctions, and — again — using confined space bus stops where the space shouldn’t be that confined:

There’s nearly no cycling provision for the whole of the rest of the next drawing and, of the little there is, it’s northbound only:

And that continues on the next drawing:

And this continues again along the next drawing sheet:

The typical width of the second section is sub-standard with a usable width of less than 1.5 metres:

The next section sees the cycle track switch to the other side of the street, so, it’s not even continuous in one direction.

The two-way cycle path here is part of another scheme, while this project continues south…

And then we’re onto… err… this:

So, as far back as the shopping centre, you’ve cycled down here mostly unaided and then:

After mixing it up with cars and buses, five 90-degree turns, then just to cycle a few metres across a small junction… what fresh hell is this?

Then it’s out on the N20 with a tiny bit of a bus lane and misleading cross-section for cycling — if the cycle track on the left is 2 metres, the one on the right has to be narrower:

This approach continues with the next drawing before linking in with the MacCurtain Street project:

How people cycling northbound are supposed to get from the two yellow asterisks I’ve quickly drawn in here is anybody’s guess… but it doesn’t look simple, does it?

That is it for these routes.

Sadly, the starting point for BusConnects is poor and, if anything the routes are being watered down due to pressure from objectors. Too many councillors, TDs, and other community leaders really are letting everybody down.

*****

For clarity as readers have asked before: IrishCycle.com does not generally make submissions and is not doing so on BusConnects, but any reader is welcome to use anything in this article for their submission.

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