For new cycle paths in Ireland, choices are being made at design stage that don’t add up

Comment & Analysis: A new quick-build project is to start on Monday which will extend the S2S Dublin Bay cycle route along part of East Wall Road in Dublin. It will be a much-welcomed improvement from the status quo, but on every one of the four drawings for the 1km project, there are compromises that just don’t add up. 

The route extension is part of not just part of the S2S, but also the planned longer East Coast Trail, and the project is now being called East Coast Trail North Phase 1. The extension starts on Alfie Byrne Road just north of the entrance to the Eastpoint Business Park and ends linking up to East Road and to St Joseph’s Co-Educational National School.

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Another project team are looking at extending the route further along East Wall Road to the Point Village, and a local traffic calming scheme should hopefully examine reducing traffic cutting through East Road.

With the project that starts construction on Monday, the northern end of the project starts poorly by eating into one of Dublin City’s oldest and best cycle paths. It was the best of a few cycle routes opened in December 1986.

I’m a bit in awe here that anybody can (1) look at our policy guidelines, (2) look at the space available, and then…

… (3) come up with this:

Here’s the drawing legend to help you understand the drawings which can be found in full here and further project details can be found at the project’s page on dublincity.ie.

As I wrote earlier this week, the Department of Transport needs to intervene in scaremongering-led design for cycle paths at bus stops.

But knowing about the bus stop issues doesn’t make it less incredible that Dublin City Council is again eating into one of Dublin’s oldest cycle paths which is of a generally higher standard (including width and horizontal buffer) than anything is being planned or built at the moment in its area.

For anybody who is thinking right now that it’s for pedestrian safety: The many things to benefit from this design is the free flow of motor traffic. Cars won’t have to wait for stopped buses, as they will on the other side of the road.

It’s worth saying that for a quick-build project, construction on all three areas — the footpath, cycle path and roadway — is more complicated than just building a bus stop waiting area on the existing roadway:

Just metres on from this, the cycle path is narrowed again at the junction to East Point:

There’s choices being made here because the width of the cycle path isn’t being prioritised…

Narrowing cycle paths and narrowing currently separate (even if imperfect) crossing into one shared area is a choice. The northbound lane (in the image, the lane under the traffic island) is extra-wide at 4.3 metres.

The context here is any legal truck can fit in a 3 metre wide lane. There’s an official push to have main road lanes at 3.25 metres, but on urban roads even that encourages speeding. Further context: There are 3.5m wide lanes on the M50 which has a 100km/h speed limit.

3.25 metres might be justified here because it’s an alternative route to the port to the Port Tunnel, but 4.3 metre-wide lanes are not.

It’s also questionable why the central traffic island is being increased in width.

The cycle path should, where possible, be close to 4 metres wide. As the 1980s cycle path was.

The shared area which mixes walking and cycling currently isn’t good but the new plan includes separating cycling and walking going north-south while people will still be cycling on the narrowed shared footpath to access the cycle path into the Eastpoint Business Park…

I’m not expecting a perfect design from a quick-build project but there should and can be more access points to a cycle path than having to use pedestrian/shared crossing points. An alternative again is a wider crossing.

On the other side of the junction, we have another traffic lane wider than the M50’s traffic lanes:

The yield symbols here in both directions at a barrier entry to the park are just odd:

This is the park entrance at this location… Will the cycling-unfriendly barriers be removed?

And another compromise is adding a set down bay for the bottle bank when there was never one there before — removing the two-way cycle lane on the west side of the road.

There’s currently a two-way cycle lane painted on the footpath level (clearly not ideal) but now to get from A to B you have to get out onto the road and there will be no option southbound.

Point A is the start of the Greenway which links to the Clontarf to City Centre route:

On a point of aesthetics — this is a really strange use of bollards and line markings across the roadway and up to the path level… also, narrowing in the cycle lane…

The corner here is a point where a narrowing of the cycle path is more understandable:

But heading westbound at the junction, no trucks should be going straight… so, why is such a wide lane needed?…

Note: There are also bollards between lengths of kerbs on the project… This is becoming a standard feature, but why are plastic bollards needed with a concrete kerb?

Last week IrishCycle.com published a news feature article asking: Is it possible to roll out quick-build cycle paths that are more pleasing to the eye? This project doesn’t really try very hard with prettiness — there’s an overuse of bollards and hatching. But the real issue with this project is the age-old issue of the politics of space, aka choices around the allocation of space.

Retaining the dedicated turning lane into Aldi is another choice and reducing the cycle path to a substandard width isn’t a “geometric constraint”, it’s another choice:


It’s also a choice to use bollards rather than concrete on the junction narrowing here:

At this junction, a generally wider cycle path might have been more useful than a jug turn: 

So the jug-turn and the access to the toucan crossing take a good chunk out of the footpaths — a better solution might be for only half or two-thirds of that width but more constantly the length of the junction here:

This is the eastern end of the scheme…

As it’s maybe a temporary situation until the route is extended further. However, I cannot help but think the design was maybe rushed a bit too much after councillors requested that the front of the school be covered by the project.

Using shared footpath space to link up the two two-way cycle paths is clearly a sub-optimal solution.

As an aside: There’s a real question as to why some disability campaigners have targeted the combination of cycle paths and bus stops but not generally needless shared space on other parts of walking and cycling. Linked to this is why a senior NTA official publicly targeted Dutch-style junction designs but has never publicly mentioned the excessive amount of shared footpath designs which are used.

A theory of mine is that Dutch-style designs are generally the best way to avoid shared footpath-like spaces and they’d be stuck in a paradox if they tried to solve excessive shared spaces. Paradoxly again, crossing of cycle paths at crossings are also being labelled as “shared spaces”, when crossings are not shared spaces but intersections of modes.

The sub-standard* 1.5-metre cycle track on this section is — you guessed it — a choice… But strangely it’s mostly down to just the placement of the kerb here — there’s no reason why the kerb isn’t being placed towards the edge of the hatching markings

* = it was originally said, under the current National Cycle Manual, that cycle tracks should be 1.75m wide, but there seems there was some agreement along the way that 1.5m lanes are grand even where there’s space for wider lanes if other choices were made.

This new way of doing tactile warming kerbs only to the inside of footpaths is also a strange one that I don’t think has been explained publicly — it’s also a feature on some larger schemes, such as the Belmayne Main Street project.

To recap: It will be an improvement, but, as above, clearly odd choices are being made that are not in keeping with policy or international best practices, even for a quick-build project.

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