Cyclists hail scrapping of NRA “fake greenway” scheme
Cyclist.ie, Ireland’s National Cycling Network and Lobby Group has welcomed An Bord Pleanala’s rejection of a controversial 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 cycling path directly beside high speed traffic for the entire length of the scheme (28km).
See also Irish Times article
The cyclists are hailing the decision as a vindication of the Failte Ireland tourism strategy and National Cycle Policy Framework (Department of Transport, 2009) which is to avoid busy roads. The rejection of the NRA design calls into question (1) other routes of the same design elsewhere and (2) the NRA’s role in delivering vital cycling infrastructure, so important for eco-tourism development. [Decision by ABP on 7 November, 2012]
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 a Bord Pleanala oral hearing held in Dingle last May.
The cyclists point to the success of the Western Greenway in Mayo as illustrating the problems with the NRA approach to cycling provision. They say the Greenway’s success is based on a particular experience of cycling: cycling as a social activity where the participant can ride side-by-side and talk to each other and experience the sounds of nature or the countryside as they cycle quietly on their way. 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. (This includes being away from high-speed sports cyclists) 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. 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”
In contrast, the designers of the Dingle to Camp scheme chose not to make use of the old Tralee Dingle Railway alignment (abandoned) and adjacent minor roads along the route. Instead a 28m wide corridor was to be driven down the peninsula and cyclists kept within metres of speeding traffic for the entire length of the scheme. In a response to Kerry County Council, the planning appeals board has stated that the scheme as proposed “would have an unacceptable detrimental impact on the visual amenities and landscape character of the area”. With regard to the cycle paths the Board has instructed that they be dropped from the scheme. The grounds given include that the proximity to the carriageway might not offer an attractive recreational route. The Board recommends that alternatives possibly using quieter non-national roads would deliver a more desirable and successful cycleway. The Board has asked the applicants to resubmit a scaled back scheme that seeks to minimise interference with natural features such as hedgerows and tree lines.
At the oral hearing, it was pointed out by Cyclist.ie that there was scope to “hide” the proposed cycle route from the main road behind existing embankments and hedgerows. The original aim of this scheme was to provide a cycling route down the Dingle peninsula and it is necessary that an appropriate route is still provided in any revised scheme. Cylist.ie is ready to provide every assistance to Kerry County Council in designing a more suitable treatment.
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 the 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.
It is clear that the NRA has a flawed understanding of cycling and what delivering successful cycling infrastructure is about. The cyclists say that the continued involvement of the NRA represents an apparent threat to the delivery of a viable tourist cycling product for the country. There are clearly now questions over the continued involvement of the NRA in the development of cycling infrastructure. Cyclist.ie has previously called for a moratorium on the construction of roadside cycle tracks until an appropriate supervisory structure is in place. We still await that development.
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. Cyclist.ie has proposed to the Department of Transport 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. 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.