— Most designs could be safer and more attractive with no extra funding.
— A huge amount of money is being spent on design work.
Comment & Analysis: In May 2023 I wrote an open letter to Minister Eamon Ryan which basically said that no one expects him to micro-manage, but he is responsible for how €1m per day on walking and cycling is spent. This also applies to even larger amounts of funding for bus and road projects. This is a systematic and continuing issue, but Minister Ryan seems to be denying this.
On Monday, January 22nd, 2024, Minister Ryan finally replied. His full response is at the end of this article.
My letter was written out of frustration that common and basic mistakes are being made with the design of walking and cycling routes.
The publication of the updated Cycle Design Manual last year has not even started to resolve many of these issues and, indeed, the Cycle Design Manual codifies some of the desperately poor design elements which the National Transport Authority wants to implement across Irish cities. It’s an overall fantastic design manual but is let down by elements.
Some design elements in the Cycle Design Manual are claimed to be for pedestrian safety, but this does not tally with how local authorities and the National Transport Authority are implementing the design in spaces where there’s ample space for better design or other choices to be made.
The Finglas Village Improvement Scheme, the designs for which were published today as part of its consultation, is just the latest example of this. It is also all over the BusConnects infrastructure routes. The Finglas design below shows a 1-1.5 metre cycle path which is not suitable for cycling at bus stops and a 1m wide boarding area is not safe for bus users:
This double narrowing of cycle tracks and curving cycle tracks out ahead of bus stops is claimed to be for pedestrian/bus user safety — an example is shown below from the Fingal scheme but this is also common across BusConnects routes.
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The result is making side road junctions like this much less safe for cycling because it both pushes cyclists into the area where motorists will left-hook them and also narrows the space removing any forgiveness in the design and leaving no buffer space between the cycle path and carriageway. If a motorist waiting at the side road creeps forward as a cyclist passes by the cyclist will end up in front of a passing car or bus.
The scaremongering about cycle paths at bus stop design will also mean narrowing at bus stops — the experience in London is such narrowing causes more conflict by removing the scope for people to avoid each other:
Claims of being focused on pedestrian/bus user safety quickly don’t stand up when details are examined — this style of bus border should — if be used at all — really be a last resort but it is a common design on BusConnects routes and it starting to show up in other projects such as the new Finglas scheme where there’s space for better:
Similar designs are being rolled out across the country, for example with this bus stop in Cork where stopping a bus blocking traffic is more important than giving bus passengers safe space to board and disembark from a bus. Or if this is all required for buses to wait for a long time at the terminus, there are other locations near by which are more suited to that function:
It’s also hard to take the claims of designs being used for pedestrian safety when, in the case of the Finglas scheme, the designers of the project are skimming so much of a traffic island designed for pedestrian safety that the sweep path of turning vehicles is now where you’d expect pedestrians to be standing.
And this crossing on Main Street should at the least be turned into a zebra crossing to give pedestrians priority within the village:
It’s also not just a bus stop problem, the basic issue of cycle track width is a continuing issue on projects both along links as per the Dodder Greenway/Milltown Road example in the main image below and also at pinch points as per the Fingal scheme — these traffic lane widths are wider than the M50 lanes which are suited for travel at 100km/h (and often used at above that), but the cycle lane here is less than 1/4 of the width it should be.
Of course, cycle paths cannot always be the ideal width, but international evidence outlines how unidirectional cycle paths should be over 2 metres wide regardless of the volume of cyclists to allow for overtaking and social cycling. We’re often not even getting to 2 metres where there’s ample space — priority is being given over and over again to the freer flow of vehicles.
Rather than allow for safe cycling space on a hill along the Dodder Greenway route, Dublin City Council are proposing space to enable motorists to speed with extra wide lane widths. The cycle lane widths shown here are substandard on the flat and especially so on the hill on Milltown Road. This is just a currently proposed example of a new design which isn’t fit for purpose.
Outside of pure active travel projects, there’s plenty of other work which relates to walking and cycling. For example, South Dublin County Council’s strange parking scheme outside of the to-be-opened Kishoge Train Station uses active-travel-like methods of delivery and it removes a general traffic lane on the R136 Grange Castle Road outside of the station, but it is mainly a car parking scheme for a train station which already has a car park which was built at considerable cost.
The Grange Castle Road has a mix of what are effectively shared paths and, on other sections, cycle lanes level with bus lanes. And while likely not going to be changed overnight or before the station opens, a far greater focus on improving walking and cycling access to the station seems like be a better utilisation of limited resources and space:
With the Milltown section of the Dodder Greenway Pathfinder project, all of the cycle lanes below with just a while line are just painted — including outside a school where there’s no obvious link for students who are cycling to exit that school to access the greenway route without dismounting (or cycling on a footpath):
The above are not sadly isolated cases, for example, another recent project, the plan for the Dodder Greenway along Beaver Row and Beech Hill Rd is so poor that I had to write that the Pathfinder project should be defunded — it is maybe the pinnacle example of falling back on shared walking and cycling space rather than doing anything else:
Minister Ryan is a wider-vision person rather than a details person — that’s kind of the better person to have as a Government minister. The details should be left to others, but, currently, the details are not getting enough attention and the bar is too low.
This even applies to Pathfinder projects which are supposed to usher in change and be a shining light of what councils should follow.
The current approach is disregarding our past experience, disregarding very recent feedback from users of the Clontarf to City Centre route who say the cycle path isn’t wide enough and disregarding international best practice.
Minister Ryan’s reply from January 22nd, 2024:
Dear Mr. Ginty,
Thank you for your correspondence and please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in issuing a response.
As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for overall funding and policy decisions in relation to Active Travel. Funding is administered through the National Transport Authority (NTA), who, in partnership with local authorities, have responsibility for the selection and development of specific projects in each local authority area.
I would like to take this opportunity to note that the safety of all road users, whether pedestrians, cyclists, or motorists, is of the utmost importance. You may be aware that my Department has set up a National Standards and Guidelines Oversight Group which includes members from Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), the NTA and the City and County Management Association (CCMA) to oversee and coordinate guidelines and design standards applicable to Roads, Greenways and Active Travel infrastructure projects.
The Working Group seeks to co-ordinate guidelines and identify any gaps or contradictions between various guidance documents to ensure the design of a safe transport infrastructure network. The work of the group is ongoing and has so far issued a number of circulars relating to Guidelines and Standards usage procedures, quality and audits and the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (DMURS). These are published on the Government’s website. The Group has also worked closely on the revision of the recently published Cycle Design Manual, previously the National Cycle Manual, which I firmly believe will contribute to the creation of safer, more user-friendly infrastructure across the country.
The Programme for Government committed to an investment of €360 million per annum in walking and cycling over the lifetime of the Government. I consider this investment to be hugely beneficial to our society, our health and our environment, and in particular will contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions as per the Government’s Climate Action Plan. It will support projects across the country, in both urban and rural Ireland, as this Government seeks to change the nature of transport in this country.
Noting the role of the NTA, you may wish to contact them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, to raise your concerns about specific projects.
I trust that this information is useful to you and thank you for contacting me.
With best wishes,
Minister for Transport