21 May, 2014

An Open letter to the City Engineer

Michael,

I thought I'd drop you a line just to share my experience of walking and cycling around Dublin with my kids over the last few years. There has been improvements but it still is a huge challenge.  You’re spending €80 million every year on transport in the city and I’m not convinced that the money is being spent correctly. We’ve had some good policy documents in recent years: Smarter Travel from 2009, and the Design Manual for Urban Streets and Roads which came out last year. Even if we go back twenty years the Dublin Transportation Initiative promised a significant move towards sustainable travel, and yet things seem to be moving slowly in the city.

 Maybe if I describe my journey from home to school to give you a flavour of the challenge…

I live in Stoneybatter, and our eleven year old is in school on Parnell Square.

If we’re cycling we leave the house on our bikes around 8.30 am and there’s a steady flow of cars rat-running through the area. There is a right turn ban off Infirmary Road, but it’s not really enforced.  Every few weeks a Guard might pull in a few cars, but if you’re driving you’d be more than likely to get away with it, so there’s a lot of cars streaming through the residential area.

At Temple Street West there’s a footpath on only one side of the road. The road is fairly wide and this means that traffic speeds up on to Arbour Hill before heading down into Stoneybatter itself. A footpath on both sies of th road shouldn't  be a luxury, but hey...

There are no traffic lights where Arbour Hill meets Stoneybatter so we generally turn left on to Arbour Place to avoid the traffic, and get to the pedestrian crossing near Mulligan’s Pub. The only problem is that the cars also follow us to avoid the traffic, so as we cycle down the back lane there are cars revving up behind us trying to get past.

Once we get on to Stoneybatter we press the button on the pedestrian lights. Incidentally why is the default position green for cars? Just asking.  Anyway, after waiting for a hundred seconds (I’ve timed it) we get five seconds to cross. It could be eight seconds, but it feels like five. You should know that people tell me their parents don’t go out walking much anymore, because they don’t have enough time to cross the road. A longer Green Man signal would be good.

North Brunswick Street is a racetrack. Once cars get past Grangegorman Lower they put the boot down. If cars time it right they can be doing about fifty as they pass the ‘Brunner’ - the Christian Brothers School. Thankfully the road narrows and slows the cars as you approach Church Street. However there’s no cycle lane, but there is enough space for two lanes of cars. Turning right can be a challenge, on a bike though. If you’re walking the pedestrian crossing heads off toward Phibsborough, which probably explains why most people on foot run across when they get a chance. Jan Gehl, the great Danish Planner  says that walking routes should follow the ‘desire lines’ but that’s another day’s work. On the right hand side is a derelict site, owned by the City Council, and full of litter. As a matter of fact the Council sometimes puts up ads saying you shouldn’t litter on the palisade steel fencing, hiding the litter and dereliction behind it. Nice.

There’s a left turn filter lane on to North King Street from Church Street. These are a nasty piece of work for pedestrians and cyclists, in fact they’re downright dangerous, but I’m sure the accident figures show you that. They’re great for cars though. North King Street is pretty wide, one of those roads where the City Council pretty much knocked down everything twenty years ago to get two lanes of traffic (and a bike lane I hasten to add) in both directions. The road narrows as you approach Bolton Street, and there’s generally a car or two parked on the cycle lane as people pull in for their morning coffee and paper. I don’t mind pulling out into the traffic, but it’s not that easy for an eleven year old. Incidentally, a loading bay or two might help things? I wish I knew what is it that you have against installing them.

As we head past DIT on Bolton Street there’s another coffee shop and a shop or two. The Guards stopped parking in the cycle lane once I sent several pix to the Super, but the City Council trucks have a habit of pulling in for a cuppa, maybe that’s something you could work on.

We cycle up toward Dorset Street. You used to allow parking on the cycle lane during rush hour in the morning rush hour, but after a year or two of writing to you, you were nice enough to change the parking hours so it is generally clear of parked cars. We’d turn right onto Dominick Street, but the traffic speeds are generally too high. Maybe a 40kph speed limit would calm the traffic, but the existing 50kph limit means cars generally do 60 or 70, so it’s a bit risky.

We pull in on the left near the Maldron Hotel where the Wax Museum used to be, and use the footpath from then on in. There’s generally a taxi parked on the footpath there,  picking up guests from the hotel but we can usually squeeze past.  Did I mention loading bays?

We get back on the bikes at Parnell Square. That corner of the square is a real race-track, Formula One style, if you really want to know. Cars start accelerating once they’ve passed the Rotunda, and because the street gets wider and wider, they’re generally speeding big-time by the time they get to the corner near the Hugh Lane Gallery. The Council has published three or four plans for narrowing the road here over the last twenty years, but who knows, maybe the next one will be implemented. Every year people put flowers up on the railings to commemorate the loss of 16 year old Adam Moran who was knocked off his bike here a few years ago  .

There’s another filter lane as we head down towards O’Connell Street. My biggest worry here is that cars will rear-end us, but so far so good, fingers crossed. We can relax once we get to the school, but I thought I mention one thing: it would be great to have a bikes stand or two outside the door of the school, it might even encourage more cycling.

I won’t bore you with too much detail about the journey home, but I you should know that we avoid Parnell Street. Why you might ask, given that there’s a cycle lane most of the way? Well, the bike lane is actually a glorified parking lot, so it is best avoided. Another thing, people living nearby  in Greek Street flats are concerned about the plans for making the  surface car park permanent where the Fish Market used to be; They’d prefer a soccer pitch for the kids. Thought I'd say it to you.

Oh, one more thing, I know there’s a lot of road works needed on North King Street, to get a new storm drain for Grangegorman, but the sign telling cyclists to get off their bikes sends out the wrong signal to those of us who try and choose a sustainable way to travel.  I just thought I’d say all of this to you, as I notice that one of the bike lanes planned for Rosie Hackett Bridge didn’t seem to make it through the construction process.

One final plea: why not reinstate the post of Cycling Officer for Dublin? You could even throw in responsibility for walking as well. Somebody needs to ensure that walking and cycling are higher up on the City Council’s agenda.

Thanks,

Ciarán

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