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The good, the bad and the useless: How bike infrastructure has changed in the era of Covid

A surge in cycling happened during the pandemic but new infrastructure was not evenly spread and may not be here to stay.
Jan 2nd 2021, 8:00 PM 42,853 60

“IT SEEMED EVERY morning when you woke up and went online, there was a new pop-up cycle lane or footpath extension. It was like Christmas every day for people in Dublin but it was not the story for people in Galway.” 

Martina Callanan from the Galway Cycling Campaign wishes she had a good story to tell about Covid mobility measures but “that’s not the story of Galway” she sighs. 

“Over the course of the summer, no pop-up cycleways or extensions to current cycle tracks were built, no bollards to protect existing cycle tracks [were installed]. That was really disheartening.” 

The disappointment in her voice is obvious as she speaks to Noteworthy about the progress in cycling infrastructure in the city since our major Bicycle Blackspots investigation which was published in April. 

We analysed 12 years of cyclist collision data to reveal high risk areas where cyclists were killed or seriously injured around Ireland. You can read our full investigation which includes a list of blackspots as well as map of cyclist collisions here

Today, we catch up with some of the people we spoke to during that investigation to find out if any improvements have been made to a number of key areas highlighted by our work.  

bike-week-supporter-martina-callanan-photoandrew-downes Martina Callanan cycling along Woodquay in Galway. Source: Andrew Downes via Xposure / Galway Cycling Campaign

One of these was the Headford Road in Galway. We found there were 16 cyclist collisions, including two serious injuries, along a 1km length of this route, from 2005 to 2016.

“The only change that’s happened on the Headford Road this year are preliminary works for the Kirwin Junction upgrade,” said Callanan, though she added that the Galway Cycling Campaign have “serious concerns” about the junction’s design. 

We feel that the design as proposed does not protect non-motorised users of this busy junction.

A spokesperson for Galway City Council said that “this project is to make the Kirwan Roundabout safe for pedestrians and cyclists”. 

“We have met with the Cycling Groups and have taken on a number of their suggestions. As far as Galway City Council is aware the cycling group are satisfied with the design, but some small number of individuals may still raise be raising concerns.”

Callanan describes her journey along this route in the video below where you can see the large roundabouts and junctions she navigates.

Source: Noteworthy/YouTube

Callanan did welcome the resurfacing of a number of cycle tracks in the city as well as the city’s first school street, but said that there were other things the council could and should have done. “It should have been inspired by the four councils in Dublin as well as Cork and Limerick.”

A spokesperson from Galway City Council said that under Covid funding it constructed a new cycle route to “to assist public to park at Cappagh and cycle to Silver Strand” and “developed a design to provide cycling lanes along Salthill Promenade”. They added:

However, these were not implemented due to opposition from the public and elected members.

Over the summer, local cyclists hoped Salthill would be the next Coastal Mobility Route after Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown (DLR) County Council built one between Blackrock and Sandycove in Dublin.

Local councillors voted against the proposal after it emerged that businesses in the area were not in favour of pop up cycle lanes, according to a Galway Advertiser report at the time.

“We could have had what Dún Laoghaire has now – a beautiful coastal mobility route – but we don’t,” said Callanan. 

There still may be hope for the avid cyclist as Galway City Council told Noteworthy that “the proposal for Salthill is not axed but paused”.

The exemplar for Ireland 

The Coastal Mobility Route has been the talk of the cycling community in Ireland since June.

Kieran Ryan of the Dublin Cycling Campaign said it has been a “rip-roaring success in terms of getting more people out on bikes” including children, women and people with disabilities – “the kind of demographics that we haven’t traditionally associated with cycling”.

The route removed one lane of vehicle traffic to create a two-way cycle route along the South Dublin coast. It went from design to completion over the course of around two months which “is lightning speed for Ireland”, explained Ryan.

DLR County Council has been “the exemplar for Ireland, probably up there on a European scale in terms of transformation”.

cycle lanes 33 Sarah Gilmore with her daughter Anna Flynn (5) try out the new cycle lanes in Dun Laoghaire in July. Source: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

“There’s always been a concept of a cycling or mobility route that would stretch from Howth all the way to Sandycove or even into Wicklow, but we didn’t have any specific plans for the coast,” according to Robert Burns, director of infrastructure and climate change at DLR County Council.  

The design was put together by their in-house engineers and planners rather than external consultants which meant it was done “very quickly”, said Burns, who added:

It was very unusual on any level for local authorities. We wouldn’t usually move that quickly. It was a public health measure. We didn’t go through all the normal processes in terms of consultation, detailed design, and all of the more protracted processes that would be involved in the project. 

Before the cycleway was put in place there were around 4,000 people using the coastal route, according to Burns. Since the segregated infrastructure was built, this reached a peak of 20,000 per week and has become “an important transport corridor”.

In addition to the Coastal Mobility Route, DLR County Council also redesigned the main street through Blackrock Village by removing a lane of traffic, widening footpaths, building a contraflow cycle lane, taking out some car parking spaces and adding extra space for seating and businesses. 

Burns said that “Blackrock is becoming more like a village now” where “it wasn’t really before”. 

Consultation by trial 

Dublin Cycling Campaign’s Ryan felt that one of the reasons the work in DLR has been a success is that “a great way to consult is to trial” as “people are actually experiencing and seeing it for themselves”. 

If you produce a bunch of plans, and put them out for consultation, people don’t see the overall picture.

Burns had similar sentiments and said “it’s not fair when you’re trying to assess a project to look at what is there at the moment and then try to compare it to a drawing”. He added that “it’s not surprising that the status quo usually wins out”. 

He has “seen a mood change” in recent months and an interest in “things moving ahead more quickly”. He gives the example of a recent public consultation on new cycle route projects which received 6,500 responses – about 3% of the DLR population – with around two-thirds of responses supportive. 

However, he felt that people’s acceptance is different now to what it was in June.

It was a different atmosphere, a different set of circumstances. I don’t think we could do that project now in the same way. In June, people didn’t really see an end to Covid at this time. They can see an end now. We had a time window to do that in the same that we did it. 

Slower progress in Dublin city

Unlike DLR, the proposed cycle route along the coast along the Strand Road at Sandymount in Dublin is not yet in place. “Dublin City Council have been dragged into a prolonged public consultation process,” according to Dublin Cycling Campaign’s Ryan.

This route is proposing to take a lane of car traffic away and replace it with a cycle route. “It’s very tough to get over that hurdle of taking space away from cars,” explained Ryan.  

If you reduce the amount of space available to motor vehicles, it’s not necessarily going to result in more congestion and longer traffic jams. There is a phenomenon of traffic evaporation, where a lot of that traffic will simply disappear, as people will switch to different modes of transport and different routes.

This is not the only project currently undergoing consultation in Dublin City Council (DCC) with a number currently ongoing, including one on Griffith Avenue. 

A spokesperson from Dublin City Council said that “consultation was deemed necessary for the Griffith Avenue and Strand Road projects as the scale and challenges of the projects are greater than other interventions in the Covid Mobility Programme and we are seeking feedback for all interested parties to inform the design and address any concerns”. 

One DCC project that we covered in our Bicycle Blackspots investigation was the Clontarf to City cycle route. Our analysis found that this commuter route was the worst stretch in Ireland for cyclist collisions.

If you include the entire length of Fairview Park, starting at the Howth Road junction, to the IFSC, this 2.6km route had 80 collisions including two fatalities, seven serious and 71 minor injuries from 2005 to 2016.

A new cycleway has been planned for this area for many years with segregated cycle lanes to line the entire route and redesigned traffic layouts.

“By the time it’s implemented, it will be close to 13 years from when it was proposed,” said Ryan. 

There was concern a few months ago that this project was not proceeding, but it is now back on track, with a different timeline. 

A spokesperson for the council said that the tender was issued on 18 December to contractors that were previously shortlisted and “it is anticipated that a contractor will be appointed in May 2021″. 

Construction is expected to start next July with the project to be completed 21 to 24 months after that.  

In the video below, you can watch Alan Downey from the campaign group iBikeDublin travel along this route into town, with his sons Cian (6) and Darragh (4) out the front of his cargo bike. He also talks about some of the issues he encounters on a daily basis. 

Source: Noteworthy/YouTube

Cycling infrastructure has been built at a significantly faster rate in Dublin over the past few months compared to previous years, according to Dublin Cycling Campaign. If DCC keep building at the current rate, it will take 25 years to implement the Greater Dublin Area Cycling Network Plan, compared to the group’s estimated 250 years at the previous build rate. 

A spokesperson for DCC said that “planning for an accelerated delivery of the cycle network expansion programme is underway, with the preparation of the cycle network map nearing completion”. They added:  

“However, this plan cannot be finalised until the overall framework has been approved by both the Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority (NTA).”

Temporary plans made permanent 

IMG-2496 A new parking-protected cycle lane on Merrion Street Lower in Dublin. Source: Maria Delaney via Noteworthy

Almost all Covid mobility measures are temporary and need to go through consultation or further approval to become permanent. 

The DCC spokesperson said that the protected cycle lanes installed as part of these measures continue to be monitored and “a decision will be made on whether or not the measures should be made permanent will be taken once the pandemic is under control”. 

In DLR, Burns is waiting for the results of an independent study by TU Dublin that they commissioned to find out how the Coastal Mobility Route and other measures they built are working. At that stage – around Spring of next year – they will have a public engagement process. 

Then ultimately a decision will be made by the council whether to hold on to it or not. It’s still wide open as it is temporary. 

In Galway, the City Council had positive news. There are 11 cycle routes currently under development and construction is to commence next year, according to the spokesperson. 

Callanan is hopeful. “We’ve seen a real engagement with local media around safer walking and cycling facilities. We’ve seen a huge surge in our membership. Trying to buy a bike in Galway over the past couple of months has been near to impossible. This all points to a shift in people choosing to make shorter journeys on two wheels and that’s to be welcomed.” 

STOLEN WHEELS Investigation

Following the publication of our Bicycle Blackspots investigation earlier this year, we were asked by a number of readers to examine the issue of bike thefts through the Noteworthy idea submission form

Over 5,000 bikes are stolen each year, with many more unreported, so how can we stop rampant bike theft in this country? Through Noteworthy, we recently launched - for crowdfunding – a proposed investigation into this issue. 

Here’s how to help support this project> 

Want an inside look at the investigations we currently have under the microscope at Noteworthy? Sign up here


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Maria Delaney

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