Have Safety, Will Travel: Navigating Dublin Cycle Lane Schemes

Image Credit: Ali Bergen, Unsplash

Caroline Kelly explores the long-term infrastructure plans outlined by Dublin City Council to provide safer facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.

Engines roar, and public transport buses hurdle by, as cyclists fight to navigate Dublin’s major thoroughfares. A lack of protected bike lanes often means community members are forced to engage in dangerous manoeuvres with vehicles on their daily commutes.

To remedy the issues facing cyclists and motorists alike, The Active Travel Programme Office (AcTPrO) was set up on 14th February 2022. Alongside further engineers, planners and architects, the team also consists of site staff, walking and cycling officers, planners, architects and landscape architects. AcTPrO activities continued to gain during the fourth Quarter, and thus formed the Dublin City Active Travel Network on 14th October 2022. 

Earlier this month, Dublin City Council (DCC) announced more than 30 new cycling infrastructure schemes as part of the Active Travel Network, which promised to build 60 kilometres of cycle lanes across the city by the end of 2024—the first stage in a plan to roll out at least 310 km of segregated cycle lanes over the next ten years. To date, a mere 10km of segregated cycling facilities exist in the city. Once the network is completed, 95 percent of Dublin residents will be within 400m of segregated cycling facilities, the council said during a meeting on 9 January 2023.

Sixteen permanent schemes are in the planning and design stage, including the remainder of the Dodder, Royal Canal and Grand Canal projects; a scheme between Rathmines and Milltown; segregated lanes on the North Circular Road; and the extension of cycling facilities along the River Liffey. Interim schemes, most of which will be installed this year, are being advanced ahead of the development of permanent facilities, the council said earlier this month.

In some cases the work would involve upgrading existing painted cycle lanes with physical barriers to stop motorists driving or parking in them. In other areas road space would have to be reallocated to cycle lanes from car parking spaces or from traffic lanes, some which would result in raised cycle lanes separate from the roadway itself.

The predominant provision for cycling in the City Council area is by means of either on street cycle lanes (both advisory and mandatory) or bus lanes. Such facilities are generally of a low quality in the city area mainly due to the lack of width for cyclists and the distress brought on by large volumes of vehicular traffic sharing the road space. Although recent improvements in the pavement quality in the city centre have lifted the quality on many cycle routes, the issue of shared road space is a major concern amongst cyclists in Dublin. 

Although recent improvements in the pavement quality in the city centre have lifted the quality on many cycle routes, the issue of shared road space is a major concern amongst cyclists in Dublin.

There has been difficulty in providing for cycle lanes in the city centre, where there is considerable competition for street space and provisions for the buses and on street parking are often prioritised. The application of a 30 km/h speed limit in the core of the city centre shopping districts has contributed to shared use of these streets by cyclists and traffic. There remains, however, an extensive network of streets between the core and the canal cordon where cycling facilities are limited to a few radial routes. However, the demand for safer roads and more sustainable transport options brought about an overhaul of the infrastructure plans for cycle lanes that had been in development since 2013. 

There are numerous natural corridors through the Dublin metropolitan area that provide opportunities for cycle lane routes, and these have been identified in a 2013 study by the National Transport Authority. By and large these routes run along canals, streams, rivers, lakes and the coastline. It is assumed that these greenways will be of strategic value in terms of their length as an amenity, as a means of providing access to popular recreational areas in the mountains, on the coast or in significant public parks, and also as part of long-distance national routes. 

Work has started, or is due to get underway, before March of this year, on five schemes. Those under construction include the Clontarf to city centre scheme, work on which started early last year and is due for completion in the first quarter of next year. A 450m section of the Dodder Greenway, along the Dodder River between the entrance to Herbert Park at Eglinton Terrace and Anglesey Bridge, is also in development, as is work on the southside of the Grand Canal and another project on Belmayne Main Street in the city’s north fringe. In the first quarter of this year, work is due to begin on a high-traffic corridor along the Royal Canal that stretches between Newcomen Bridge on North Strand Road and Cross Guns Bridge in Phibsborough. 

The geographic nucleus of Dublin City is arguably the River Liffey, which provides the main access corridor on the western end. The River Liffey project is currently underway to develop a high-quality segregated cycle route along the river corridor from Dublin Port in the east to Phoenix Park and Heuston Station in the west and onward towards Chapelizod. This route would involve use of existing road space or board walks along the quays in the city centre. There are certain issues of space constraints and a lack of viable residual road space to allocate such cycle lanes. The overall route will require an imaginative approach to design so as to avoid environmental impacts, while also enabling a high-quality amenity for cyclists along a major natural corridor through the city. There are likely to be several bridges over the River Liffey required along this route, to enable the greenway to switch between sides of the river so as to avoid constraints and to make best use of the various existing public open spaces along the corridor. It recently emerged the cost of this scheme has increased from €20 million to €100 million and it is not scheduled for completion until after 2027. 

Although protected bike lanes are a step in the right direction, the issue of safety remains at the forefront. Many of the supposed protective barriers between vehicles and cyclists are mere flex posts that provide insufficient protection from oncoming vehicles. Other cycle lanes lack this altogether, and are entirely dependent on parked cars for protection. Most cyclists, however, are expected to share the road with vehicles in lanes that are separated by mere dotted white lines. 

The city has begun to address the issue by replacing these minimal protections with safer barriers. Dublin City Council plans to improve 50 percent of the city’s flex-post protected bike lanes by the end of 2024.

“How you design cycle lanes, making sure that it improves the safety of users at the same time [… is] really important,” Heather, a second year student and cyclist commuter said. Last August, Heather was involved in a hit-and-run while cycling to work from Ranelagh to College Green in the city centre. She was left with a broken arm, mild internal bleeding and massive bruising, but she is thankful for remembering to wear a helmet, or else she “could have suffered much worse and likely never cycle again” had that not been the case. Heather is one of many cyclists in Dublin discontented with the safety of Dublin cycle lanes at present, and further trepidation over whether or not these matters are being heard with the development of new active travel greenways. 

‘How you design cycle lanes, making sure that it improves the safety of users at the same time […] [is] really important.’

She also expressed concerns over the tradeoffs that come with building cycle lanes.

“Once you take the space, the parking goes away, all the street parking goes away, delivery truck issues arise, and the traffic in general [increases],” Heather said. “There will be a lot of opposition too, so you have to manage all that. But, in the end, building proper cycle lanes is the best decision in the long run.” 

More issues arise with the gridlock expected from city councillors with conflicting political, social and economic interests. As mentioned previously, the Active Travel network and cycle lane schemes have been discussed and tabled for nearly a decade. The constant postponement reached a boiling point during a council meeting this month. Dublin councillors called on their fellow councillors to end the obstruction of cycling projects “time and time again”, and to support necessary climate action rather than worrying about who’s “pulling the strings” when projects are in line with the city’s policies. 

The comments were made by a number of Dublin City Council councillors when the South East Area Committee debated the 2.15km Trinity to Ballsbridge Interim Walking & Cycling Scheme. The project includes a mix of cycling in protected bike lanes and having people cycling share with buses and taxis in sections of bus lanes.

The comments were also in response to those who have objected to many cycle lane routes, including Cllr Manix Flynn and Cllr Mary Freehill who questioned if the National Transport Authority was “pulling the strings”. 

The idea that this infrastructure cycling scheme is an NTA-backed project was mentioned by Cllr Flynn, Cllr Freehill and Cllr Dermot Lacey, despite the Active Travel Network’s alignment not just with national policy but also Dublin City Council policy which was agreed on by councillors. As such, councillors were briefed in November of last year on the council’s Active Travel network and the role of interim routes. 

A quarterly Active Travel report from December 2022 reads “AcTPrO is responsible for the delivery of this Active Travel Network (210km), through a portfolio of projects funded by the National Transport Authority (NTA).” This report was discussed at length during the 9 January city council meeting, and the NTA’s involvement in the Active Travel Network has been regularly considered. The University Observer reached out to Cllr Lacey, Cllr Flynn and Cllr Freehill to clarify their claims, but no such comment has been offered at this time.

Later during the 9 January council meeting, Cllr Geoghegan added: “And finally, a lot of lessons will have been learnt when all of these things were put in in the first place, we changed things around to facilitate various businesses and I hope you have that information so you don’t make the same mistakes again, the same rows.”

This is a clear reference by Cllr Geoghegan about flex posts installed on the cycle lane in the Safe Routes to School Programme which were removed from outside SuperValu Ranelagh after businesses lobbied councillors and, in turn, councillors lobbied council officials for the removal of the flex posts. This was revealed in documents released after a Freedom of Information request by The University Observer

Ellen, a third year UCD student, was involved in an accident outside the very same SuperValu in Ranelagh after a driver attempted to overtake her and resultantly hit Ellen, throwing her off her bike and onto the pavement. The driver immediately stopped to help her and assisted in getting her to A&E, but she suffered a moderate concussion and a fractured wrist as a result of the poor cycle lane conditions, she says. 

‘In the end, it isn’t about being able to freely cycle around Dublin, it's about being able to safely cycle around Dublin.’

“In the end, it isn’t about being able to freely cycle around Dublin, it's about being able to safely cycle around Dublin. Presently, this is not afforded to commuting cyclists who must risk unnecessary injury everytime they hop on a bike. We need better cycle lanes, and the government needs to stop stonewalling this issue to ensure the safety of its citizens.”