Councils have been given €360 million per year to spend on walking and cycling infrastructure but how much of it has resulted so far in high-quality cycle routes and networks? IrishCycle.com analysed existing routes and ranked them according to quality with help from a small group of local cyclists in each city.
Dublin City Council has published a map as part of its network plans which shows five isolated sections of cycle routes – this is the council’s own brutally honest assessment of the dispersed nature of the city’s “high-quality cycle routes”.
For this article, we ranked from A to E the quality of segregated cycle routes in the continuous urban areas of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway based on the length of the route, its connectivity, the surface quality, typical width and other factors such as junction type.
Well over 100 cycle routes were examined and 89 were fully assessed (most of those excluded were done so for their short length). Out of those evaluated, 19.5% scored a B, 36% a C, and 17% scored a D.
It is planned that the ranking will be expanded beyond the current routes and the current areas — the current ranking can be found in this spreadsheet published online.
In terms of distance, there were no routes with an A ranking, while those with a B ranking accounted for 61km, C for 83km, and D for 45km. It should be noted that most poor-quality routes were excluded without detailed assessment, so, were not counted in this.
Cork City Council has the most higher-end routes which ranked C or more at 45km — that compares to Dublin City Council which had 23km of routes which ranked C or more, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council at 29km, and South Dublin County Council at 21.22km.
Limerick City had 13km of higher-ranking routes, Fingal County Council had 8km and Galway City had just 5km.
To avoid counting every short bit of stop-start segregated cycle path, only routes around or above a threshold of 500m were evaluated – routes that were just painted lines on footpaths and those with very narrow widths were also avoided. Similarly, routes with highly restrictive barriers such as kissing gates were generally excluded or ranked poorly. A small number of these types of routes were assessed and ranked E.
There are very few kilometres of segregated cycle routes in Galway. While Galway might host what is a relatively long route of 6km compared to the size of the city, stretching from Bishop O’Donnell Road along half of the N6 within the city on the east side. It’s also somewhat questionable to call this a segregated route.
There are segregated sections but there are also long stretches where the protected cycle tracks give way to unprotected cycle lanes and the junctions make it even more disjointed. Nobody is going to send their child out there alone. This route ranked a D.
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On the other hand, a large chunk of Cork City Council’s length of routes are urban greenways along its rivers, old railways and around housing estates. For most councils, these types of urban greenways accounted for significant lengths of the networks. Most of the urban greenways are ranked B or C.
It has been harder to reach a higher quality on streets when it comes to the more politically charged issue of removing space for cars. And our ranking shows this with fewer high-quality routes in city centres and other urban centres around cities. The disjointed interim Liffey Cycle Route was rated as a D.
Experiments in the Netherlands in the 1970s which were aimed at making Dutch cities less car-dominated by pushing more people towards the humble bicycle found that single routes alone didn’t work.
Having safe and attractive networks – not just isolated routes – is a key factor enabling more people to cycle not just to work and school but also to shopping, to sports practice or to meet friends. Networks of cycle routes are now starting to form in most of the council areas, most notably in Cork, Dublin City, and Dun Laoghaire along the coast.
While councils have plans to accelerate their fledgling progress, on the ground it still feels like there isn’t much of a network yet. In some areas, this is about to change soon as routes fill in gaps in the networks and the jigsaw puzzle that is the network starts to bulk out – one key example of that is the Clontarf to City Centre cycle route in Dublin.
The Clontarf route will bridge the cap between the already existing Dublin Bay route and the canal routes on the Royal and Grand Canals, and the mini-network already in place around the Dockland.
In Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council similar connector routes are planned to link the existing routes together.
A spokesperson for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council said that it is in the process of completing a comprehensive inventory of its cycle route. Their most recent estimate indicates that there are about 250km of cycle routes but that includes painted cycle lanes and older low-quality routes.
“In relation to fully segregated facilities, in the last three years, we have delivered: 6.5km of high-quality cycle routes through parks, many of these were upgrades on existing facilities, retrofitting approxedly 8km of high-quality cycle routes on road,” the council’s spokesperson said.
This includes the now famed Coastal Mobility Route between Blackrock Park and Sandycove, and other routes such as one services schools on Carysfort Avenue, and measures in urban villages introduced during Covid.
The spokesperson added: “We have successfully delivered 7km of new routes through planning eg, DLR Central, Taney Road to N11, Deansgrange Road etc with these schemes progressing to site. We are currently preparing planning applications for 30km+ of new routes in 2023 / 2024 including the DLR Connector, and Living Streets projects.”
Michael McAdam, a senior engineer at South Dublin County Council said that it sees its Cycle South Dublin plan as an ambitious programme to help get people on two wheels. South Dublin said it has 200km of cycle routes already in place.
“It proposes a set of 45 routes that would deliver over 260km of new and improved cycle lanes over the next ten years,” said McAdam.
He said the delivery is divided into 3 timeframes – ‘Now’ which are projects within the next 2 years, ‘Soon’ which are routes that can be projects within 5 years and ‘Later’ plans which can be built within the next 8 years).
A spokesperson for the Active Travel office at Limerick City and County Council: “There is currently 37km of existing cycle routes, on road with no-segregation and 9 km of segregated cycle lanes within Limerick Metropolitan Area.”
Limerick City is currently building a 1km cycle path on Hyde Road in the city and it says that there is approved planning for a further 9.8 kilometres of cycle routes, while another 22 km of cycle lanes are currently at the preliminary design stage and other routes are also under consideration by its Active Travel office.
It added that these figures do not include Limerick Greenway which is 40km or other cycling infrastructure outside the Metropolitan Area.
Galway City Council, Cork City Council and Fingal County Council were also contacted for comment.
A version of this article originally was printed in the Irish Independent and published online Independent.ie.