All posts by Gerry Dornan

The Big Lie of Road Planning

The big lie of road planning is that designs are future proofed to take account of future demand. It is true that they are future proofed but they are future proofed on the assumption that use of private vehicles will increase. They are not future proofed in accordance with government policies to decarbonise transport or on health objectives.

Approximately eight years ago, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS) in Ireland developed a suite of papers which led to the Strategic Framework for Investment in Land Transport (SFILT) and in 2015 the Strategic Investment Framework for Land Transport (SIFLT). Both SFILT and SIFLT largely reflected 20th century thinking on investment in transport with a roads first policy. This was despite active travel having been identified as a major contributor to combating obesity and growing concern among public health experts about sedentary lifestyles and the impact on both adults and children. The suite did include a paper on climate change but the paper was published before the 2015 Paris Agreement and the 2018 Citizen’s Assembly report.

In 2016, the DTTAS published the Common Appraisal Framework for Transport Projects and Programmes. Its purpose was

….. to develop a common framework for the appraisal of transport investments that is consistent with the Public Spending Code (PSC) and also elaborates on the Public Spending Code in respect of the appraisal of transport projects and programmes to assist scheme promoters in constructing robust and comparable business cases for submission to Government.

In essence, it set down parameters for the assessment of road schemes based on the roads orientated SFILT/SIFLT. Needless to say, the DTTAS had identified a large number of major road schemes across the country and in 2018 the Common Appraisal Framework was used to justify their inclusion in the National Development Plan 2018-27 and in Project Ireland 2040.

After the general election in 2020, the new Programme for Government included an unprecedented increase in funding for walking and cycling for which all government parties deserve credit. However, since then there has been pushback by officials and politicians who continue to prioritise roads. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform published a Review of the National Development Plan (Review to Renew) in which the Strategic Investment Priorities list National Roads as the second priority behind Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, but ahead of Environmentally Sustainable Public Transport in fourth place, Climate Action in eighth place and Education, Health and Childcare in tenth place.

The cross-party Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport adopted a similar line. The Committee claims to accept the objective of decarbonisation of transport to meet national targets and/or that the carbon impact of projects should form part of project appraisal. However, in a submission to Review to Renew, the Chair of the Committee, Kieran O’Donnell T.D., listed the priorities as

(i) The national road network,
(ii) Environmentally sustainable public transport and
(iii) Airports and ports.

The Committee claims that the national road network is the key to regional connectivity, not only for motorised vehicles, but also for cyclists. (Only the 1% of cyclists “brave cyclists” would agree with that statement.)

The Committee also expressed concern that the current Minister for Transport had revised SIFLT and that the revision, now called the National Investment Framework for Land Transport in Ireland (NIFTI) was already being used to assess projects. The Committee welcomed the commitment from the Minister that the NIFTI will go to public consultation and will be approved by the government before finalisation of the Review to Renew but it put down a marker that it intends to engage further with the Minister and his Department on this strategy.

In planning future transport needs, two key steps are the use of databases to estimate current car trip generation and the extension of car trip generation to future decades. In plain English, this means estimating how many trips will result from a proposed development in the current year and how many additional trips will result in the future, typically a period of twenty or thirty years.

Irish engineers generally use a largely UK database such as TRICs to predict the number of journeys generated by private vehicles from a proposed development. However, the result of Ireland emulating a country with one of the highest car dependency rates in Europe (rather than a country such as the Netherlands with one of the lowest), reinforces the status quo and in Ireland in the last twenty years has contributed to flatlining in the proportion of people cycling nationally.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) sets out the calculation of future demand on national roads for the next 30 years in its Project Appraisal Guidelines for National Roads Unit 5.3 – Travel Demand Projections. As it specifies a growth rate in future years of between 1% and 3% per annum depending on the county and assumed growth rate, TII are in theory designing roads on the basis of up to 90% more trips in 2051 than at present. In recent years, the TII has published National Road Indicators annually which report the actual growth of traffic on the national road network. The results are shown in Table 1 below:

Annual Growth4.1%4.6%3.0%0.5%2.5%
Table 1: Annual Growth of Traffic on the National Road Network

Between 2015 and 2019, the actual annual growth of traffic on national roads is even greater than the TII’s highest prediction with some regions of the country experiencing increases greater than 5% per annum. This gives rise to questions about the sustainability and cost benefit analysis of current road plans.

Phil Goodwin is emeritus professor of transport policy at a number of UK universities and some twenty years ago was one of the first academics to report on the phenomenon of “evaporating” or “disappearing traffic“. In an article last year on the appraisal of road schemes, he challenged the cost benefit analysis of new roads and how the increase of carbon emissions from cars using new roads is minimised by comparison to the percentage of overall carbon emissions. This is in contrast with employment, where additional employment, whether for 10 or 1000 new jobs, is welcomed as a positive development rather than comparing the increase as a percentage of overall employment levels.In response to the largest ever road building programme in the UK, he wrote:

The new decarbonisation strategy requires that we will use cars less, by a substantial amount.

A similar reduction is required in Ireland. The Appraisal Guidelines refers to four scenarios – Sustainable & Urban Communities, Global Communities, Dispersed Communities and Car focussed Communities but it appears that local authorities, which are responsible for planning transport infrastructure only concentrate on the last scenario – Car Focussed Communities – in developing their Transport Strategies.

Neither the Department of Transport nor the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport acknowledges in a meaningful way the central role of transport in creating unhealthy communities and the financial burden it imposes on society. If this government is to be successful, the current road projects in the National Development Plan must be reviewed with revised appraisals and realistic models to ensure that future investment is in accordance with current government objectives rather than ones that belong in the past.

NOTE – NIFTI is currently the subject of public consultation with a closing date on 28th May. Details at .

Kildare Town – Council Fails to Provide for Cycling

(This post previously appeared on the Maynooth Cycling Campaign website)

Kildare County Council recently carried out Covid-19 works in Kildare Town. Part of the works included the reallocation of space in the town square from car parking to tables and benches for people to sit and relax. The change in the environment from a place dominated by cars to a place for people to linger is striking and has deservedly been warmly welcomed.

However, the same cannot be said of the second works in the town on Cleamore Road (Academy Street). Cleamore Road is approximately 250m long and contains a school, community building, shops, factory unit and private houses. Its cross section varies from 7.5m at the lower section, 8-9m in the middle section and increases to 15m at the upper end. Traffic has been restricted to one direction and footpaths have been widened to give more room for social distancing.  The photographs below show the result of the works.

Kildare Town Covid Works

Cyclists from the north west of the town have to take a circuitous diversionary route via Grey Abbey Road to access the school as no contraflow cycle track has been provided. Rather than providing a School Street or School Zone to enable children to safely cycle to school, the work is more likely to encourage cycling on the footpath than to encourage more cyclists.

The works have been heavily criticised by cycle campaigners for its failure to properly provide for cycling. Covid funding was intended to provide for increased walking and cycling, not walking OR cycling. Over 1000 children attend the adjacent St Brigid’s School but according to the 2016 Census, only 7 children cycled to primary school. As can be seen from the photograph, cyclists are expected to share the road with cars.  Few parents allow young children to share the roads with cars anywhere, so why does the Council expect them to do so in Kildare Town?

Kildare County Council made a short video of the works which can be seen here. A council engineer describes how the works allowed the footpath on one side  to be widened a minimum of 3m and on the other side to nearly as much. While this is true of the lower section, it is patently untrue in relation to the middle section. As can be seen from the photograph, there is room for parking on both sides of the road and a footpath on just one side ( and also hatching for vehicles) but there is no room for a dedicated cycle path. To crown matters, parking on the west side is perpendicular to the road – just what is needed for reversing cars to deter any cyclists with doubts about cycling safety. Further along the road, there are road markings which indicate “Private Parking” in front of the factory unit so the Council acquiesces in the decision to allocate public space to parking for a private company. The Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets sets out a road user hierarchy with pedestrians at the top, followed by cyclists and with drivers of private cars at the bottom. The design for Cleamore Road ignores this but councils get away with such decisions as they are judge and jury on the matter.

In Ireland, cycling has flatlined nationally for the last twenty years. Unless Kildare County Council starts to provide high quality cycle infrastructure,  it won’t change in Kildare for the next twenty. In the July Stimulus,  Kildare only received half the allocation of similar commuting counties such as Meath and Wicklow. If the council continues to ignore the needs of cyclists with designs such as Cleamore Street and even worse recent examples in other Municipal Districts, Kildare will be lucky to get half in the future.

Submission on Grand Canal Greenway Turraun to Shannon Harbour

Grand Canal near NAAS

1.0 Introduction is Ireland’s national cycling advocacy network, and the Irish member of the European Cyclists Federation. We are delighted to make this submission to Offaly County Council in relation to the proposed greenway along the Grand Canal from Turraun to Shannon Harbour, on behalf of the thousands of everyday cyclists throughout the country.

This proposed scheme has the general potential to encourage greater levels of walking and cycling locally in the immediate area. The scheme will also be a vital link in the overall Grand Canal Greenway extending from Dublin to the Shannon, and is a key element of the greater Offaly cycling development plan. It will undoubtedly open up commercial opportunities for increased visitor numbers and links to the various attractions in the area, and throughout the county.

We are happy to see local authorities proposing schemes that provide for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists, and encourage sustainable travel. Overall we are supportive of this scheme and the basic design quality. We commend Offaly CC for advancing this proposal, but have a number of comments to make, and seek clarification on, in relation to the posted documentation, which we feel is not comprehensive enough, and is of a cursory nature.

2.0 Specific Comments

While overall we respect the desire to implement this design, we are disappointed that there are limited design details or cross sections available in this Part 8 at critical points that make it difficult to assess the final design viability. We would also comments in general on the Part 8 documentation, as follows:

  • The layout of the drawings in this published Part 8 is initially confusing and counter intuitive. Despite the description of the route in the Part 8 documentation as from Turraun to Shannon Harbour, the drawing sequence and kilometrage runs in the opposite direction. It is initially very confusing, and difficult to navigate.
  • The level of detail on the actual drawings is very poor, and should have been enhanced by insertion of actual images at particular points on the main drawings, as well as specific cross sections, to enable proper assessment of the proposals.
  • Not enough detail is supplied at road crossings in relation to the proposed signage. While we assume that Offaly County Council will comply with the necessary signage, it is incumbent on the Council to provide clear details of the proposed signage and safety measures.
  • No details are supplied of links through Shannon Harbour and beyond. The canal towpath greenway ends abruptly alongside the canal at Shannon Harbour, with no indication or discussion of access through the village or on to Banagher. This is a deficiency in the Planning Report.
  • There is no mention or discussion on any proposed information and route signage or special features, to add to the experience of the Greenway user. This once again is a deficit in the planning report
  • Clear drawing details should have been supplied in particular for the under bridge accesses proposed at L’Estrange Bridge, Judges Bridge, and Gallen (Armstrong) Bridge. To literally just state, that ‘Railings and chicanes (will be installed) on greenway on approaches to ….. Bridge’ is not acceptable. Full details and drawings should have been posted.
  • The proposed greenway surfacing is either quarry dust or surface dressing throughout. This is not the preferred surface type for the average cyclist. wants to see a smooth asphalt type surface for all greenway routes, as this type of surface helps to reduce falls and skids, and enables easier access for prams and wheelchairs. A quarry dust or surface dressing surface does not give a smooth ride, can be a cause of skids and slips, and generally requires a higher level of maintenance.

3.0 Conclusion/Summary

While broadly welcomes these proposals to link the existing Grand Canal Greenway to Shannon Harbour, we are disappointed with:

  • The Part 8 documentation details of the proposed scheme, as outlined above
  • The lack of clarity and detail at specific points along the proposed route, including road signage and under-bridge details
  • The development/description of cycle links into Shannon Harbour village and beyond
  • The fact that there is no mention of potential route enhancement features to attract users and visitors
  • The surfacing proposals as outlined are not of the required cyclists’ standard

We hope our comments will be taken on board, and we are available at any stage to discuss any of the items raised above.

Cycling Festival Fun in Lockdown Times

People across the country have been (re)discovering the joys of cycling over the last few months. And with the promise of increased funding for cycling it feels like the start of a real cycling revolution.

Cyclists have a lot to celebrate right now. What better way to do it then by taking part in this year’s “Leitrim Cycling Festival 2020(or wherever you are). This is not another online event. This is happening in your home, your county, this weekend. It’s a very simple idea – we can’t all be together so why not have our own mini cycling festivals wherever we are, while following the safety guidelines.

The Leitrim Cycling Festival is a celebration of bicycles, communities and Leitrim. But you don’t even need a bicycle to take part. The festival programme always includes lots of family friendly activities like picnicking, art making, dancing, eating cake. This year’s festival is no different. The Leitrim Cycling Festival team have put together a simple programme of events for the weekend of the 20th and 21st June 2020 which includes a picnic in your garden or local park, a slow bicycle race, a ceili in your kitchen, more cake and of course some bike rides. You can join in with their ideas or come up with your own.

Although this year we may not all be able to enjoy the beauty of Leitrim, we can all celebrate the wonders of cycling and communities. Communities have never been so important so even if you have not joined the cycling revolution, why not join in with some of the other events? Why not just eat cake! And although the festival is not online the team are encouraging everyone to post pictures and videos so that we can all join in with each other’s mini festivals, wherever you have them.

For more info find them on Facebook @LeitrimCyclingFestival on Twitter @CyclingLeitrim or go to .

Check out the full programme on Saturday June 20th & Sunday June 21st.

Jo Sachs-Eldridge, Leitrim Cycling Festival – 085-8161653