Editor’s Note: We asked you which of three readers’ queries we should follow up on. You voted for us to look into how plans to redevelop the Royal Canal were going. Here’s what we found out. 

A little over a year ago, Dublin City Council announced that the Royal Canal would get a spruce-up, with a new 7.1-kilometre pedestrian and cycle track.

While the canal paths are in decent shape past CrossGuns Bridge towards Ashtown, there’s considerably less space to manoeuvre further down towards Croke Park. By the time you hit Newcomen Bridge, there’s no access leading towards Sheriff Street.

With several disused sites dotted along the route, along with litter and overgrown vegetation, the canal really could do with some attention.

A Slow Start

Once finished, the Royal Canal stretch will complete the Dublin leg of a national cycle route that leads to Galway. But it is looking like it may be some time before cyclists and pedestrians can use the new greenway, which will stretch from Sheriff Street to Ashtown.

The public consultation was done and dusted in July 2015 and planning permission has been granted.  Of the four phases of the Royal Canal project, one is finished and three are yet to be done.

The first was a cycle route of 400 metres from Guild Street to Sheriff Street Upper. That bit was actually already done before the plans for the project were drawn up, which then included it as Phase 1.

Phase 2 will stretch over 520 metres from Sheriff Street Upper to the North Strand Road. The plan is to include space along the route to accommodate a playground and a skate park.

Phase 3 is longer. It’s 2.1 kilometres, to be exact, and continues on from North Strand Road up to Phibsborough Road at CrossGuns Bridge. Under the plans, the route will be resurfaced and there will be a new access ramp at Croke Park.

Phase 4, from CrossGuns Bridge to Ashtown, will be even longer: 4.3 kilometres.

High Hopes

On Monday, I walked with Colm Ryder of the Dublin Cycling Campaign along the canal from CrossGuns Bridge down to Binns Bridge in Drumcondra.

He said there are a few things he’ll be keeping his eye on as the project progresses. For a start, there’s the width of cycle paths.

Two firms were hired to suggest the best width. Civil engineers ROD/Aecom suggested 4.5 metres. OSCS said that for Phase 4, after CrossGuns Bridge, it should be a 5 metres.

“These are the kinds of things that need to be ironed out,” says Ryder. “There’s got to be consistency.”

There’s also the question of whether there will be a new pedestrian bridge to cross the canal between CrossGuns Bridge and Binns Bridge.

“We feel there’s no need for that extra bridge,” he says. “It’s a cost that doesn’t need to be incurred, that we could actually facilitate a cycle trail all the way up on the north side, up as far as CrossGuns bridge and then work on the crossing, transfer the cycle track to the north side going west.”

As we make our way along the route, a heron glides to the opposite bank. The ducks suddenly scatter. Dog walkers amble along as a gaggle of lads dip behind a disused metal shed, out of sight.

There are already many pedestrians on the north side of the canal, says Ryder. Mixing bicycles with loads of people walking is a mistake, he thinks, and it could backfire if the design doesn’t make it comfortable for cyclists and pedestrians.

“People are using it, but not as widely as is likely to be in the future,” says Ryder. “Certainly below Binns Bridge, as you’re heading towards Croke Park, they’ll have to widen the paths.”

If the Royal Canal is to get this costly facelift, Ryder thinks it should be properly maintained and monitored. CCTV and passive policing only go so far, he says.

“This issue arose big-time in relation to the first major canal route that was built between Inchicore, along by Bluebell, out to Adamstown,” says Ryder. “There were huge antisocial issues.”

If the route is busy and maintained, this will limit any antisocial issues though, he said.

Although the next phase, which starts at Sheriff Street, has yet to get off the ground, the main point of contention is about how easy it will be for people to join the route at different points.

At the moment, the plan would see the removal of “kissing gates”, which slow down cyclists, and the other gates put in to stop vehicles from getting onto the greenway.

Ryder thinks that access onto the route from outside for cyclists and pedestrians is something the design and engineering teams must prioritise.

Dara Carroll of MCO, a project-management firm, said the group talked to locals in Sheriff Street and the area over several months. Among residents’ worries were access points from Oriel Street and Ferrymans Crossing, said Carroll.

Policing and antisocial behaviour, particularly at Bellmans Walk, which is often used as a dumping ground, were also raised.

It’s hard to gauge how these suggestions will impact on the final design.

The Next Step

It’s a grand plan that could give the Royal Canal the amenities it deserves. With increased surveillance, health centres and added landscaping, the old route would be transformed.

Later this year, the second phase will proceed to design stage, said Sara Morris at the National Transport Authority.

In 2017, they’ll put out a tender for the contract, and that segment is due to be done in 2018. But that depends on whether the funding is there, she says.

Phases 3 and 4 are also due to be designed in detail at some point this year, but it will be some time before works begin. And there’s no completion date yet.

Although funding has been allocated for the design process in 2016, the overall delivery of the revamp, says the NTA, is dependent on “budgetary constraints”.

The project is expected to cost between  €10 million and €12 million.

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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