Tramore Ring Road active travel project needs to be improved at detail design state

Comment & Analysis: Nearly every time I open a PDF document to look at the project drawing for a walking and cycling route it feels like Groundhog Day. I’m not sure if I’ve made that point or a similar one too many times before.

Waterford City and County Council is seen as being somewhat cycling-friendly because of the greenway but is sadly no different from most councils in the country. The Tramore Ring Road Pedestrian and Cycle Improvements is sadly yet another example of a project which shouldn’t be funded in the state they are in. But it’s also thankfully fixable at the detailed design stage.

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I’m going by the project drawings issued for public consultation last October. By that stage, councils were issued the new Cycle Design Manual from the NTA.

It could be said that the designs have improved since but while everything in this project is fixable, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an example of designs being improved as much as these drawings need to be improved. I’d be pleasantly surprised if the detailed designs were already finished and everything mentioned in this article was fixed. Or if that hasn’t happened, it happens before the project is built.

When it comes to designing streets, there are a lot of people who say things like “perfect is the enemy of good”. The reality is that this project could be a lot better without a much higher budget and without impacting anybody else much.

And we have thousands of kilometres to retrofit to make it safe and attractive to cycle just in urban areas alone and the €350m per year for walking and cycling is now being spent on a lot of projects which will need future interventions. This is not a wise use of funding and limited professional resources.

Nor is it a good use of political capital — if projects don’t make it safer enough for children to go to school or aren’t attractive for people cycling for transport then councils are just feeding the naysayers ammo.

Here’s a summary of the issues:

  • Shared footpaths are used at junctions/roundabouts where the two-way cycle path should and could continue.
  • No cycling crossing and indirect pedestrian crossings to the housing estates on the north/west side of the road (ie the majority of houses near the road).
  • The cycle path is not wide enough especially on sections with steeper gradients.
  • There’s no buffer between the cycle path and the carriageway.
  • Priority is given to drivers at side roads.
  • Raised crossings at side roads are not wide enough.
  • Elephant’s feet markings are not used.

In a way, the project is very confused — it includes substantial redesigns of roundabouts, cycle paths through grass areas, and substantial kerb realignments and grass infills to make the road safer, but, on other sections, the designers have baulked at moving a footpath into a grassed area to allow for a buffer between the cycle path and carriageway and only use “bolt-on kerbs”.

Large-scale redesigning and side-by-side with penny-pinching doesn’t make much sense. For example the lack of buffer here makes the cycle path less attractive and we need cycle routes which are safe and which feel safe:

The are 3-metre-wide lanes in the image above and below — cars don’t nearly fill these lanes as shown in the above image and larger buses/coaches are only around 2.55 metres wide, so, the depiction of the bus in the below image isn’t accurate. Even articulated HGVs or long rigid trucks should have no issues at 50km/h in 3-metre-wide lanes.

This seems to be a common issue among artist’s impressions CGI images and crosssection drawings, so, it’s by no means unique here.

Walking and cycling should have priority at these side streets:

Road markings and colouring should make it clear that there are crossings and that walking and cycling have priority:

At some junctions, the paths are not designed to allow for ‘desire lines’ — an easy fix would be to widen the raised crossing table:

The proposed pedestrian crossing of the main road here seems to be to serve the bus stop shown in blue to the left of the below image — but the placement of the bus stop and the crossing makes little sense.

Crossings don’t need to be that far away from a side road, and with what’s located north and west (left and top of the image) the bus stop should be closer to the junction, and there’s also no reason for a bus stop boarding area when there’s no cycle path that side of the road.

This is quite a detour to walk to/from a bus stop:

The areas here circled in blue are currently part of the carriageway and are to be filled in with grass — this space would be better used as a central medium to allow for safer crossing for walking and cycling:

Along this section, the crossing point (this time a new one which is proposed) is again too far away from the housing estate entrance and there is no crossing for cycling.

To the left of the crossing here, the space is again also mostly an in-fill for old car-parking areas, so, there’s no reason for the cycle track to be right beside the carriageway without a buffer:

This is a close-up of the last image — note how the kerb is removed across from the junction. If the designers are expecting people to cycle straight across the road here, having buffer space between the cycle path and the carriageway is key to allowing this movement to be safely undertaken.

While the buffer may or may not be possible closer to the trees, it should be possible around and to the left of the crossing here.

This type of roundabout was originally designed for confined urban locations — the space here does not meet those conditions. Even with the gradients involved here, there’s ample space for a better design which doesn’t mix people walking and cycling right beside traffic without any buffer space:

Google Street View shows that there should be enough space to run the two-way cycle paths on both sides to meet each other at a cycling crossing. Using zebra crossings for cycling is not a good idea.

Much of the issues covered are repeated along the route. Note: In some cases, the green areas behind the footpaths are harder to swap that space to act as a buffer between the cycle path and the carriageway for a number of reasons — some of these reasons, including moving street lights, might be more easily overcome than say the current grass areas including high embankments which would need retaining walls. But in most cases along the route, it should not be too costly to swap around space to allow for buffers, better widths etc.

The next roundabout is even further out of the scale for the chosen design — the two-way cycle paths on both sides should be meeting at a cycling crossing and there’s there’s zero good reason here for not including buffer space between the carriageway and space where people will be walking and cycling.

It’s also unclear why permeability links and desire paths are being removed at the roundabout, especially when going around might mean greater gradients which makes thing less easy for older people, people with disabilities and people with prams etc.

Again we have the issue of if the designers are welcoming people living across the road from the two-way cycle path onto the cycle route — is the route for the? If so, provide a crossing for them or provide a cycling crossing at the roundabout and have a second two-way path on the north side of the road up to the junction — there’s ample space for it here:

The rest of this section doesn’t look too bad but it’s quite a hill and is an unsuitable design without a wider cycle path and buffer — a width of 2.5 metres is way too narrow here. For safety between cyclists going up and down and for the risk of cyclists falling into the carriageway, the width here should be

Finally, another roundabout with similar issues and in this case the cycle route should link up to what is an existing short cycle path circled in yellow here:

As above, these are all issues that should be fixable at the detailed design stage but the question is, will they be? IrishCycle.com is an advocate of using two-way cycle paths where it makes sense, as it seems to be here. But just as with single-directional cycle paths, the details need to be right, including having enough crossing points for cycling — the use of two-way paths just makes that issue a bit more obvious.

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