Cyclists hail scrapping of NRA “fake greenway” scheme
Similar schemes based on putting recreational and touring cyclists beside busy trunk roads should now be halted and reviewed by Government
Cyclist.ie, Ireland’s National Cycling Network and Lobby Group, has welcomed An Bord Pleanala’s rejection (9 September) of a controversial Kerry County Council/National Roads Authority (NRA) scheme for the N86 in the Dingle peninsula. The road upgrade scheme running from Camp to Dingle had attracted particular concern because the designers planned to co-locate a tourist cycle-path directly beside high speed traffic for the entire length of the scheme (28 km), rather than making use of the old Tralee-Dingle Railway alignment (abandoned) and adjacent minor roads along the route. The designers missed the fact that an off road cycle route would be a tourist attraction in itself, creating an entirely new tourist product.
The proposed road development was touted as one of four Tourist Route Pilot Schemes in Ireland, incorporating cycle lanes to encourage use by cyclists. However Cyclist.ie and local concerned groups such as Meitheal Fhorbairt Inbhuanaithe Chorca Dhuibhne identified serious failings in the concept and detailed design of the scheme. These failings were highlighted in submissions to An Bord Pleanala’s oral hearing held in Dingle last May.
Cyclist.ie holds that the preferred way to develop a tourist/recreational route like this would be with an off-N road alignment and that Kerry has a number of potential routes which meet this criterion that are shovel-ready, like the Great Southern Trail.
Only this week Kerry County Council publicly stated that it will not be applying for funding to extend the Great Southern Trail into Kerry, despite talking about it for over 20 years. It is seen as the key route of the proposed National Cycle Network (NCN) in Kerry, and Minister Dr. Varadkar recently stated that he would like to see developed. We have the ridiculous situation where Limerick County Council developed its cycleway section which terminates now in a field at the border with Kerry!
The cyclists point to the success of the Great Western Greenway in Mayo as illustrating the problems with the NRA approach to cycling provision. They say that greenway’s success is based on a particular experience of cycling: cycling as a social activity where the participants can cycle side-by-side and talk with each other, and experience the sounds of nature and countryside on their way. And stop and chat to locals.
Recreational cyclists are not just looking for a strip of tarmac that is “free” of cars but for a cycling ‘experience’ that is away from the noise, smell and other disturbances of high-speed traffic. There are various features that are readily adaptable to the greenway concept: canal towpaths, abandoned railways, forestry tracks, parklands, coastal routes and so on. Ireland has a huge network of minor country roads that also represent a huge untapped tourism resource.
The cyclists say that similar pilot schemes based on the same design for the N56 in Donegal and the N59 in Galway should now be halted and reviewed by Government. The points made by the Board also reaffirm Cyclist.ie’s established concerns over other NRA-inspired schemes such as hard-shoulder conversions on the R448 in Carlow/Kilkenny, the R420 (former N80) in Offaly, the former N6 in Roscommon and Tramore to Waterford.
Over the past year, Cyclist.ie has been working closely with the National Trails Office and Dept of Transport Tourism & Sport on the development of Guidelines and Standards for Rural Cycle Routes and looks forward to increased cooperation and communication with the NRA on the development of these routes throughout the island, to ensure that Ireland gets full benefit from a recognised high quality product.
In addition to an extensive network of abandoned or little used railways, Ireland has an extensive network of country lanes and boreens (green-lanes). In many cases these already provide an ideal environment for cycling tourism. This is recognised in the 2007 Failte Ireland Cycling Strategy which proposed an Irish Cycle Network using “the network of country lanes and roads throughout the country. These roads have been chosen where traffic levels are light and lanes have a line of green grass up the centre”.
Cyclist.ie has proposed to the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport that this national resource be better managed and protected for the benefit of both tourism and local residents by introducing “local access only” legislation similar to that found in other European countries. In Germany and France, an established traffic reduction measure for local roads in both rural and urban areas is to prohibit any through-traffic that does not have business there: in France, the ‘sauf riverains’ sign; in Germany, the ‘Anlieger frei’ and similar signage. This immediately eliminates ‘rat runs’ without any physical re-engineering. With speed limit reduction the roads remain open to cyclists and walkers, who benefit from relatively traffic-free routes that also provide short cuts unavailable to other commuters. In rural areas, these regulations permit the creation of extensive cycle routes where the only other traffic is local residents and farmers accessing their land. There is a need for similar “Residents/Agricultural traffic only” regulations in Ireland. There is an imperative to develop eco-tourism led tourism products in this country to encourage more visitors who wish to walk or cycle in quiet and beautiful landscapes away from national and regional roads and the thundering of traffic.
Details of planning decisions at http://pleanala.ie/casenum/HA0035.htm