Clifden Railway Bridge could be transformational for cycling in Galway, but more is needed than just building a bridge

Comment & Analysis: A new bridge using the abutments of the former Clifden Railway Bridge “will reduce a current 1.1km journey by foot or bicycle to one of just 131m,” according to documents released by Galway City Council. The council said that the bridge will be transformational, but without changes, it won’t reach close to its full potential from day one.

While the Salmon Weir Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge is a welcomed addition to Galway City, a clear lesson from that project is that the connections at both ends of bridges need to be looked at while planning bridges.

Of course, a bridge project should not be focused on building a full route, but councils should have reasonable-length connections to bridges as part of the bridge project or a long side it to be ready at the same time. It shouldn’t be left as something to do later.

The bridge honestly could be transformational and be a far better cycling link than the primary routes north and south of it — north is along a four-lane road, and south is along what will become a bus priority route with cycling mixing with buses.

If the University of Galway is serious about its climate action commitments, then it should look at how cycling could really help Galway decarbonise. Irish universities seem in love with the idea of shared paths which don’t work for people walking or cycling.

There’s an opportunity to lead the way with a partnership between the City and the University to provide links around and through the campus using a mix of cycle paths and traffic-calmed low-traffic access streets seamlessly connected in the campus and beyond it.

A key part of this would be the proposed Clifden Railway Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge, which is currently at public consultation at These are the main photomontages of the three options:

This is the draft drawing which shows the shared areas on both sides of the bridge:

This is the University of Galway side of the bridge. The planned work includes reconfiguring the car park.

Given the space available, there should be enough space to keep walking and cycling separate through this area. People cycling on the bridge should be seamlessly linked to cycle paths or seamlessly into low-traffic access streets. Walking has priority with zebras, but cycling should also have priority over car park traffic here.

The full route be part of the Connemara Greenway, but a route to the northern end of the campus, the student accommodation and the IDA Business Park should get priority. A seamless connection into the access streets is the very least that should be delivered by the time the bridge is in place.

The Newcastle Road link should also be at least partly built by the time the bridge is in place — these links would be useful for students even ahead of the bridge.

Providing the connections on the city side of the bridge is even more problematic:

The bridge ramp with green sides in the bridge drawing above is the same spot as the black and white shaded area shown in the top centre of the image below, which is from the BusConnects Cross-City Link.

Some significant changes will have to be made to the BusConnects Cross-City Link in the detailed design stage or at some stage before the bridge is built.

The design for cycling at the moment is the opposite of continuous or seamless:

For the project to be transformational, it will need seamless connections to Headford Road, into the city centre, and northbound to Dike Road. It won’t be transformational with design like this:

The width of the bridge might also look ok-ish for current levels of cycling in Galway, but should we be looking for further levels of cycling, especially for elements such as bridges, which are supposed to last for a very long time?

The Cycle Design Manual outlines the widths of cycle routes where there are different expected cycling flows. For a bridge between one side of a city and another with a university on one side and a city centre on the other, it should be safe to say 300 cycles per hour at the peak is not an unrealistic expectation.

It would also be safe to presume that there will be a high enough number of people walking on the bridge, at least at peak times (which is what the manual says is important), and the bridge and ramps are long enough at around 400 metres.

In this case, the council is considering 2.5 metres for the pedestrian area. They calculate this using the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets — 2.5 metres in DMURS is the “Desirable space for two people to pass comfortably. Areas of low to moderate pedestrian activity.”


I don’t think that accounts for clusters of university students. But even if we say 2.5 metres for pedestrians is on the low side but fine, the width for cycling also seems to be low.

The Cycle Design Manual seems to suggest a “desirable minimum width” of 4.5 metres for the cycle path, including a 0.5-metre space beside the railing side on the bridge, or an “absolute minimum width” of 3.5 metres.

The current cycling side is 3.15 metres. It’s not dreadful, but it’s not planning for the future.

But the Cycle Design Manual also accounts for gradients. It states: “On gradients greater than 3%, cycle track width should be increased by 0.25 m to allow for greater lateral movement.” The report on the bridge says there will be a max gradient of 5% — that would suggest gradients greater than 3%.

If that’s the case, this means that the “absolute minimum width” on the ramps is pushed up to 3.72 metres on the ramps or a desirable width of 4.72 metres.

So that’s between 6.22m to 7.22m. It might not seem much more than the 5.65m on the cross-section of the bridge above, but it is if we want this bridge to be truly transformational.


  1. You are correct here a poor design needs at least 1 meter more on both pedestrian and cycle side with a clear divide maybe flowerbed based or likewise rather then plastic or concrete . If cycle numbers increase as planned there is not enough space for 2 large bikes to pass going bi directional on even large pedestrian numbers going bidirectional. This design whilst welcome for the area needs a serious rethink before it’s built


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