All posts by John

Vancouver Bus and Cycle

Many cities are currently struggling with their transport infrastructure. There are multiple issues and conflicting pressures to deal with. The present study offers a brief overview of one Canadian city: Vancouver1

The single biggest transport issue is usually seen as car dependency2; this is true all over the world, but nowhere more so than the North American continent. Some of the relevant aspects of Vancouver are:

  1. Coastal city: this brings a maritime climate, which avoids the cold winters characteristic of many other Canadian cities
  2. High Density: the city centre is characterised by many high-rise buildings
  3. Wide roads: this allows for four lane roads, and also reasonably wide pavements
  4. Diversity: Vancouver is diverse, in many ways: ethnically, culturally, demographically and economically
  5. Transit: Vancouver has a fairly good “sky-train” network (only partially elevated), which offers a handful of lines that offer basic cover of the city, and out to some of the suburbs3
  6. A dense and efficient bus network

Vancouver city centre, like most other North American cities, is laid out in a regular grid structure. This means a large number of similar junctions, almost all conventional traffic light controlled cross-roads. Catering for the diverse needs of public and private motorised traffic, cyclists and pedestrians is, in general, notoriously difficult. Vancouver deals with these problems with a particularly simple traffic light system: when the traffic light is green for one way, the pedestrian light is also go (white) for the same way. Turning traffic is required to wait for pedestrians; this applies both to left and right turning traffic.

Pedestrian crossing on (white) pedestrian light; straight on traffic in the same direction is “green” but turning traffic must wait until clear

This means that traffic behind the waiting, turning, vehicle is also waiting, but the two-lane road means that straight-on traffic is not usually delayed.

Significantly, the pedestrian waiting time is lower, and the walk time (time you can walk) is higher – than more highly segregated systems common in Europe.

Also significantly, this means the buses than ply generally straight up and down the major roads, are less delayed by lights than their European counterparts.

Arguably, this system is dependent on a highly traffic regulation compliant population, which is possibly the case in Canada, more so than some other jurisdictions.

Public Transport Ticketing

The majority of users, including tourists, use a “Compass Card” to “touch” on buses and the Sky-train. Like similar systems elsewhere, you only “touch on” on buses, but have to touch both on and off on the Sky-train. Compass cards can be bought and topped up etc. at machines at every Sky-train station. Recently, it has also become possible to use credit cards. Cash also is used occasionally.

Bus Features

It is very obvious that buses are much used by senior citizens and those less physically able, including wheelchair users. The bus includes a hydraulic fold up and down ramp than can be quickly deployed for a wheelchair, as on the right.

There is also a cultural element to this: when a wheelchair user is boarding, other passengers move out of the way, vacating fold-up seats to make space for the wheelchair.

Bus ramp used by wheelchair user

Buses operate a conventional two-door system, where you board at the front and exit from the middle door. It appears acceptable to exit from the front also e.g. when the bus is full. There is a touch pad for fare payment at the front door.

It is not uncommon to see one or two people board from the middle door, where there is also a touch pad, but this appears to be done to evade payment. Interestingly, drivers do not seem to attempt to intervene, perhaps because the subsequent disruption and delay would represent a worse outcome than the loss of the fare.

Bus stops are quite closely spaced, and are placed just after junctions, which offer slightly reduced delay4

Buses also feature a front mounted cycle carrier, for perhaps a couple of bicycles, see above. This shot also shows the on-street cafe, common in the city centre; this goes a long way towards “humanising” the street.

Bus Power Source

Buses use overhead power-lines, which provide low voltage direct current. This offers a system that is both energy and space efficient: electric engines are much smaller – and quieter – than internal combustion engines. They also offer better acceleration.

This does mean a somewhat cluttered “sky-scape” of overhead wires

The overhead wires characterise buses as semi-guided, as they can move sideways somewhat i.e. to move lanes, but cannot operate detached from their power source. There are plans to introduce electric buses with battery backup, which will offer flexibility e.g. to divert round road works or temporary road closures5. Some diesel buses are also used.

Bus Information Technology

Buses include a visual and audio indication of the next bus stop; a stop will not usually stop unless either there are passengers waiting to board, or a passenger has requested the next stop, which is common elsewhere.

Most bus stops only show the number of the bus service(s) offered at the stop; no real-time information is given. However, every bus stop has a unique code; if this code is sent as a text to a number shown on the bus stop, the time of the next bus(es) is returned; this obviously requires a passenger to have a phone and be willing to use it. Apps offer the same and more information, but this requires a Smart-phone and the use of mobile data, hence is less likely to be useful to an overseas tourist.

Most buses seem to be sufficiently frequent that even this modest effort is largely unnecessary.

By devolving the point of use system to the users’ phone, the IT systems become cheaper to install and supply, as the distributed part of the system, always the most difficult and expensive, is externalised.

Vancouver Cycling

In the city centre, cyclists are evident on all roads, although not in large numbers. Certain roads offer a bi-directional cycle lane, placed every few roads, in the grid structure.

Cycle lane seen across junction in green; also marked with a bicycle symbol on ubiquitous street signs, show US style, high up, placed in the same direction as the street they identify

Such roads are thereby reduced to one lane each way, with perhaps a single line of parked cars also.

Since wheeled traffic and pedestrians use the same traffic light system, the addition of cyclists does not need additional signaling. However, it is not clear how a cyclist might turn onto or off a cycle lane, nor exactly how pedestrian and cycle traffic interact.

Off-road i.e. non transport oriented cycling is very popular e.g. in Stanley Park, undoubtedly the jewel in Vancouver’s “Green” crown. In fine weather a nearly continuous stream of cyclists is seen, many on rental bikes. This route is one-way only for most its length.

Increasingly, other forms of non-vehicular traffic are seen; these include electric bikes, electric scooters, roller skates, hover-boards etc. Some of these move quite quickly and present new and mostly unexplored issues.

Overall, although there is some visibility of cycling in Vancouver, it seems unlikely that levels are high enough to manifest the well-known safety-in-numbers effect6

Cycling interests are promoted both officially7 and unofficially8

Conclusion

Even at a casual glance, it is obvious that Vancouver has got something important “right”, at least compared to other North American cities. This is obviously no accident, and is only so, and will only remain so, if the necessary political will is present.9

The core features of the city and its built, IT and social infrastructure that seem the most important are:

  1. Frequent and reliable buses and Sky-trains i.e. every 5 – 10 minutes for at least 18 hours of the day
  2. Dense i.e. high-rise city centre accommodation, where people can live a connected life without needing a car
  3. A tolerant society, where the less able feel confident to get out and about and use public transport easily, and all users feel safe
  4. Good Information Technology, in printed material, in display systems, in ticketing, in Apps, in websites
  5. Cycling is fairly well supported, although not yet all that popular
  6. Diverse use culture e.g. a) cash is rarely used but is still acceptable b) having a Smartphone and being able to use it confidently is an integral part of most peoples’ use of public transport, but is not essential to use the services c) Lifts, ramps and / or low-floor buses are available for the less physically able

Further Comments

  • It is obvious that there are fewer cars than are seen in other car dependent jurisdictions, both parked on-street and in motion; were this not so, it is doubtful that Vancouver would be as successful as it is
  • From a European perspective, four lane roads would generally be seen as undesirable in a city centre; Vancouver seem to have made this work quite well, apparently by a combination of limited on-street parking, frequent buses, frequent on-street cafe spaces and periodic cycle lanes
  • Anecdotally, the city “feels” reasonably safe; not that streets are quiet, more that noise and activity seem harmless
  • This short paper was based only on a brief visit; there is clearly scope for further investigation
  1. City of Vancouver transport portal: https://vancouver.ca/streets-transportation.aspx []
  2. Revisiting car dependency: A worldwide analysis of car travel in global metropolitan areas, Pedram Saeidizanda / Koos Fransenb / Kobe Boussauwb, Elsevier, Volume 120, January 2022, 103467 []
  3. All public transport in Vancouver is managed by: https://www.translink.ca/ []
  4. Transit Design Manual: https://www.bctransit.com/documents/1507213895398 – 2.1 []
  5. Bus transit modernisation: https://www.kiepe-electric.at/electric-buses/trolleybuses/references/vancouver-canada []
  6. Safety-in-numbers: An updated meta-analysis of estimates, Rune Elvika / Rahul Goelb, Elsevier, 2019 []
  7. City of Vancouver: https://vancouver.ca/streets-transportation/biking.aspx []
  8. Vancouver Cycle Campaign Group: https://bikehub.ca/ []
  9. Environmental determinants of cycling, Samuel Nello-Deakin, Elsevier, 2020 []

Great southern Trail extends into kerry

Liam O Mahony, Cathaoirleach of the Great Southern Trail Ltd (GST) visited the Greenway work in progress at Kilmorna near Listowel. The GST which has campaigned for over thirty years to convert the disused railway from Rathkeale to Tralee into a Greenway welcomes this long awaited extension of the Limerick Greenway across the Kerry Border and which is scheduled to be opened to Listowel by the summer.

Call for cycling ‘superhighways’ & less car use to cut transport emissions

The development of “cycle superhighways” in major cities where there is greatly-curtailed private car use, transport-led housing plans and increasing road charges are recommended in a new report by the Oireachtas Climate Action Committee.

Ireland should fundamentally redirect transport policy and apply the internationally recognised “avoid-shift-improve” approach to cutting emissions in the sector, according to its report issued on Thursday.

Full article (Irish Times)

750m cycle path costing €9 million opens along Dublin’s Royal Canal

A 750m long cycle path has been opened along the Royal Canal in Dublin’s North Strand at a cost of nearly €9 million.

The stretch is part of Dublin City Council’s Royal Canal “premium” cycle route, a 7km path running from the north quays to the city’s border with Fingal at Ashtown.

The first section of the route, a 500m stretch from Guild Street at the north quays to Sheriff Street, was completed more than a decade ago, but despite several announcements, work on the second phase to bring the path to Newcomen bridge at the North Strand only began in February of last year.

The newly opened section costing €8.9 million, consists of a segregated three-metre wide cycle track and two-metre wide footpath on a viaduct bridge alongside a linear park. The project also involved the realignment of the junction of Seville Place, Guild Street and Sheriff Street Upper and the provision of a pedestrian and cyclist crossing at its entrance with North Strand Road.

Full article (Irish Times)

Cyclist.ie’s Rural Collective

Last week a Zoom meeting was called for any interested groups, to discuss creating a new sub-collective of Cyclist.ie in order to build a mutual support network to promote and celebrate cycling in towns, villages and in between.  Cyclist groups introduced themselves and discussed their strengths, challenges and the vision for the collective. As smaller ‘rural’ groups often struggle with fewer volunteer resources, expertise, and energy than larger city-based initiatives, by banding together the idea is that they will be able to move forward more efficiently and effectively, with mutual support (and with less-burnout!).

Towns and cities represented at the meeting were Thurles, Bandon, Skiberreen, Clonakilty, Kilkenny, Leitrim, Sligo, Navan, Bandon, Kerry and Wexford.

While the mission and manifesto of the collective are currently being worked on with a launch expected later this month, the aim is to work alongside one another to better engage and work with relevant authorities and stakeholders, and to help bring forth a national transition towards a cyclist-friendly Ireland. To spread the love of bikes and work towards their manifesto goals, the collective will propose regular actions, fun-cycles and campaigns that member groups can host in their own communities. By joining forces to gain momentum, allies, and media attention the sum of their local actions will be greater than the sum of the parts.

If you, as a  group or individual  would like more information, or to get involved, please contact Allison Roberts (Cyclist.ie Executive Member/Clonakilty Bicycle Festival)

Clonakilty Bicycle Festival

The team at the Clonakilty Bicycle Festival started a podcast!  Now on it’s 7th episode it was started to spread the news about their festival and have decided to keep it going on a weekly basis year round!   Already on the podcast at warmshowers.org are interviews with Tahverlee, Mairead Forsythe (Love30), a cycle-history of West Cork, an episode with Cycle Bus leaders from around the country and more!

You can find the Clon Bike Cast most places you get your podcasts, or here. Please share and subscribe!

The Clonakilty Bicycle Festival had it’s 9th year in June at it was a roaring success, by branching out and re-envisioning what was possible in the lock-down organizers put together a programme of ‘anywhere in the world’ events, live streaming talks, film screening with director Q&A and more. Thank you to all who joined in, especially for our Global Scavenger Hunt which had 28 teams and over 100 participants from all corners of the globe. We are so looking forward to next year – our 10th Clon Bike Fest – we are already hatching plans to take over Clon with bikes… will you join us?

Get in touch with us at [email protected]  or www.clonakiltybicyclefestival.org

Wee Greenway Initiative – construction on the horizon for first stretch of greenway

Donegal County Council is set to issue a tender in June for construction of the first phase of the greenway. The 2.7km section through the town of Muff will create a segregated route to allow cyclists and walkers to move through the village, separate from existing vehicular traffic. 

This development comes hot on the heels of Derry City & Strabane District Council submitting a planning application for a new cycling and walking bridge to cross the Penny ‘burn’, located on the shore of River Foyle in Derry city. This forms part of the overall section linking Derry to Muff. The Council in Derry is confident that planning for the 8km section linking the city to the outskirts of Muff will come before its Planning Committee in October.

Donegal County Council has also begun preparatory work on the planning application for the Buncrana-Derry section of the greenway. It is planned that this 29km route will come before An Bord Pleanála some time during Q1, 2021, with the northern section being submitted for planning next month. At present the team tasked with delivering the project is now engaged with landowners regarding accommodation works as part of the construction phase.

Through its Council sources, the Wee Greenway Initiative is also confident that Donegal County Council is seeking financial assistance to begin the planning of the sections linking Buncrana to Carndonagh (32kms) and Muff to Quigley’s Point (8kms). These sections are vital to the overall project and if the Council progresses them, it will be a mark a massive boost for cyclists  and walkers alike in the region. 

For more information, see North West Greenway Network

Latest 2020 Road Traffic Collision Data Shows New Road Safety Strategy and Funding Are Urgently Required

Cyclist.ie ,the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network, welcomes the recent Garda Siochána and Road Safety Authority road safety appeal in advance of this June Bank Holiday weekend. However  Cyclist.ie is strongly of the view that the publication of Ireland’s new road safety strategy must be brought forward.

Just as for Slow Down Day one week ago The Road Safety Authority (RSA) and An Garda Síochána renewed their appeal for road users to take extra care on the roads this weekend. Shocking provisional collision figures for 2020 show that there has been a 17% increase in the number of fatal crashes and a 9% increase in road deaths compared to the same period last year.  Pedestrian deaths have doubled to 18 compared to  9 in 2019. The number of collisions is particularly disappointing at a time when Covid 19 restrictions meant that traffic levels  have been greatly reduced.

Cyclist.ie Chair, Colm Ryder stated that the effectiveness of all elements of the current road safety strategy needs to be examined.  Mr Ryder said, “ It almost beggars belief that at a time when people are working from home, businesses are closed, and traffic levels have been significantly reduced, that fatalities have actually increased” 

Mr Ryder suggested that the  new upcoming Road Safety Strategy must adopt the Swedish Vision Zero/Safe Systems approach. The Swedish Safe Systems Approach states that “human life and health are paramount and take priority over mobility and other objectives of the road traffic system”

However, a strategy is of no value without the means to enforce it and Mr Ryder stated that the new government must provide the Garda with sufficient resources for roads policing.   “While we acknowledge the work of the Garda in enforcing road traffic law, collision and fatality statistics are a clear indication that current levels of enforcement are insufficient”. The desired operational strength of the Garda Road Policing Unit is 1200 but at the start of 2020 the number of garda deployed was just over 700. 

While we await a new strategy and enhanced budget we can still act to reduce speeding on our roads. Mairéad Forsythe of Love30, Ireland’s campaign for lower speed limits stated that  government and local authorities need to step-up.  “Once again, we appeal to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to do the right thing and introduce a default 30km/h in all urban areas, and in areas where people walking and cycling are sharing space with cars, buses, trucks and HGVs.”

HOW THE GREAT SOUTHERN TRAIL GREENWAY MORPHED INTO A “WORKING FARMYARD” AT COOLYBROWN, ARDAGH, CO LIMERICK

Liam O’Mahony from the Great Southern Trail Greenway has sent us the following update explaining how the GST Greenway has morphed from a greenway to a ‘working farmyard’ at Coolybrown, Ardagh, County Limerick – and how this is at odds with maintaining the integrity of the publicly owned route.

The directors of the Great Southern Trail Ltd. (GST) have discussed the recent announcement by Limerick City and County Council (LCCC) of a €5 million upgrade for the Greenway and wish to draw public attention to the history of the “Coolybrown working farm” element of the otherwise broadly welcome proposals:

This story begins in 2003 with a successful planning application for a 180 square metre slatted unit to be constructed in a Coolybrown farm to the south of the railway. The application was revised in 2006 to double the size of the unit and this was also approved. 

In the interim the adjacent old Limerick to Tralee railway corridor had its right of way protected by the Mid-West Regional Authority for recreational and environmental pursuits in 2004.

Therefore, in 2007, when another incarnation of the yet unbuilt slatted unit manifested itself in planning application (07/1592) Limerick County Council, referencing the Regional Authority guidelines, wrote to the applicant on 20 July that it was “not favourly disposed” to the application and advised that it should be relocated to the northern side of the railway where the bulk of the farmlands and buildings were located. The Council requested further information. Surprisingly, having received no new information or proposals (only a regurgitation of the previous 2003 and 2006 files (received on 30 July), the Council approved the application on the following day, 31 July 2007.

These events all pre-dated the 2010 development of the Rathkeale-Ardagh section of the Greenway; all of which works were  undertaken by the GST. It was only then that it came to light that the plans approved three years earlier for (07/1592) had not been complied with. The slatted unit was now several metres closer to the railway than the planning permission permitted. In fact the cattle were being fed on the CIÉ railway property.

It was most surprising to the GST that Limerick County Council hadn’t apparently checked over the intervening three years to see that the structure had been built in accordance with the planning permission. The unauthorised slatted unit also received grant-aid from public funds; a matter which again merits investigation.

With the opening of the Rathkeale-Ardagh section by the GST the regulation of the situation in Coolybrown was an imperative. The landowner applied for retention under new conditions. It was to be hoped that the decision on this application (12/222) would bring closure to the saga and satisfy all the parties. The permission was granted but conformity with the conditions by the applicant and enforcement of them by the Council has unfortunately been less than satisfactory. 

That’s the story of the southside of the railway and now we proceed to the northside. CIÉ, being the owners of the railway route, have compounded the “working farm” scenario. They chose to split the railway corridor in half over a length of several hundred metres on the northside of the track in the Rathkeale direction. This was to facilitate the same landowner with direct and easy access to some external lands that he was renting. This more than generous decision of CIÉ in the early months of 2011 was as a result of representations made by a third party (whose name is known to the GST) directly to the then Chairman of CIÉ, Dr. John Lynch (recently deceased).

The overall result of the CIÉ and LCCC indulgence is that non local users of the Greenway when encountering a narrowing of the railway route and its less than attractive appearance, to their left and to their right, actually believe that they are in a farmyard.

To compound all of the above the  LCCC current plan to use public funds and to detour away from the railway for a length of 800 metres is the final capitulation. It is also a recipe for similar demands on sections yet to be developed.

During the GST twenty-five years of campaigning, developing and managing the Greenway we never entertained requests to deviate from the railway corridor. We viewed it as land held in trust by CIÉ for the people of Ireland.

Our hope now is that wiser council will prevail with this ill-advised current proposal being further investigated and resolved in the public interest.

The GST Greenway has the capacity to be a world class facility and of major benefit to locals and visitors alike. The integrity of the entire way without any proposed private diversion is a key element of the facility now and for future generations.

The Importance of the Broadmeadow Way

The news is spreading in Fingal that An Bord Pleanála (ABP) has granted permission for the construction of a 6 km Greenway from Malahide Castle across the Broadmeadow estuary to reach Newbridge House & Farm (permission granted May 19th).  This news has a particular resonance with me and my colleagues in the Skerries Cycling Initiative (SCI).  Why is it so important to us?!   A brief history will answer that.

As far back as 2008 we made a submission to the Dublin Transportation Office as it was then, advocating the creation of a cycleway from Balbriggan to Bray, noting that the Sutton-to-Sandycove cycleway concept was receiving attention from local authorities but the needs of cyclists north of Sutton along the coast were not being addressed. Then, in August 2009, the rail viaduct at Malahide collapsed and was repaired by November.  But before the restoration contractors had departed the scene, the government and Iarnród Éireann brilliantly offered them the job of sinking the piers of a pedestrian/cyclist bridge across the estuary into the seabed. Those piers are there now, all 13 of them, and this will make the task of creating the Broadmeadow Way much easier.  The following year, the SCI participated in an effort to organise a meeting between Fingal County Council, Iarnród Éireann and local representatives to discuss the bridge and how to promote cycling on the Fingal coast but the circumstances were not right at the time.

In 2013 the SCI wrote to the DTO’s replacement (sort of), the National Transport Authority, about their draft cycle network plan for the Greater Dublin Area and we again tried to sell the idea of what we then called “The Fingal Coast & Castle Way”. We wrote:

“This cycleway was conceived as one which not only provided excellent tourist and recreational coastal cycling, but also included direct links to major heritage and tourist-attractive sites along the way, such as Ardgillan Castle, Skerries Mills, Rogerstown Estuary, Newbridge House & Farm, Broadmeadow Estuary and Malahide Castle. Such a cycleway offers Fingal a genuine tourist product. ”

You can see how the Broadmeadow Way in our minds was critical to our overall goal of getting the Fingal Coastal Way – as it is now called – constructed.

In 2014 a public consultation process for the Broadmeadow Way began.  The SCI made a submission, advocating that the cycle/pedestrian track continue along the rail line as far as the Corballis Road, followed by a left turn up to the R126 and the gates of Newbridge House & Farm.  Again we tried to put this cycleway into the context of the Fingal Coastal Way, a plan which “embraces both cycling and the local amenity and heritage connections which powerfully raise the tourism profile of the cycleway.”

For the Fingal Coastal Way to work, two estuary crossings are required: one across the Broadmeadow estuary, which happily has been granted permission, and the second across the Rogerstown estuary.  This latter project must now take centre stage in the development of this marvellous Greenway.