After problems emerged with the favoured course for the Liffey Cycle Route last summer, Dublin City Council and engineering consultants Aecom had to retreat and take another look.
And they’ve retreated further than some people expected.
In a report up for discussion at the council’s transport committee meeting on Wednesday, Head of Technical Services (Traffic) Brendan O’Brien lists the problems with not just one of the options that had earlier been put out for public consultation, but all four.
They were are all slightly different possible routes for part of the ambitious north quays cycle-lane project, the part that runs from Heuston Station to Church Street.
But none were quite right, so now there’s a fifth option on the table.
Not everyone’s convinced. Finding fault with the new, fifth, proposal, Cian Ginty of irishcycle.com has thrown his helmet into the ring, with a sixth option.
What’s Wrong with the First Four Options?
It’s unclear whether the problems with the four options that were put out to public consultation could have been foreseen.
Option 1 required a boardwalk that, a January 2016 report found, would have had a serious impact on the heritage of Mellows Bridge and Arran and Ellis quays.
Options 2 and 3 required a bus to be rerouted through a parcel of land in Smithfield where a new apartment building was being built. (Local residents had also expressed serious concerns about how traffic diversions would affect the area around Benburb Street.)
And with Option 4, which would see a one-way cycle track on the building side of both the north quays and the south quays, there were concerns about safety, and how bikes and buses would co-exist.
Perhaps, engineering consultants Aecom decided, it was best to come up with other options: hence, Option 5.
It could just be the usual messy process that leads to a viable option, and a complicated route, but the length of time it has taken to get to this place is frustrating for some.
“I do think what is ridiculous is the amount of time this is taking,” said Fine Gael councillor Kieran Binchy. “We’ve been talking about a Liffey Cycle Route for a couple of years now . . . it’s ridiculous, we still haven’t got a draft of the Liffey Cycle Route.”
It’s unclear how much all the consultation from Aecom about all these different route options is costing the council in total. The company’s head of external communications, Muna Al-Azzawi, said all queries should be directed to Dublin City Council.
On Friday 27 May, a Dublin City Council spokesperson said that: “The work requested of Aecom involved reviewing the four options and determining if any issues could be overcome, identifying a fifth option, determining it’s feasibility and preparing a preliminary design is likely to be an additional [€]11,000.”
In December last year, the council refused a Freedom of Information Act request for records that show how much Aecom was paid for consultancy for the route, on the grounds that it was commercially sensitive, so it’s unclear how much it was paid for the original portion of work.
How Did They Miss That?
Fine Gael councillor Paddy McCartan thinks the problems surrounding the four options presented last year should have been foreseen, particularly, he says, the apartment development in Smithfield that foiled options 2 and 3.
McCartan’s party colleague, Paddy Smyth, defends the failed four options, but recognises there should be some accountability when it comes to consultancy contracted by Dublin City Council.
“Once these issues arise, once they’ve gone out for public consultation, it easy to say ‘Well, you should have seen this coming,’” he says. “There is a benefit to giving multiple options just to see what comes back.”
And yet a whole building passed by both Aecom and Dublin City Traffic Management?
Smyth says that usually when such a project kicks off, thorough searches of the land registry and the planning office are conducted. It’s still unclear how the development was missed, he says.
“I would hope that in future we have a clause in any contract we have with any consultancy firms,” says Smyth, “that if such a glaring omission is made in the consultancy report, that we have some recourse and some ability to recoup some of the funds spent on the consultancy.”
The Option 5 that councillors will discuss on Wednesday is also not without its problems.
The new option “involves directing the Liffey Cycle Route to the north of Croppies Acre, along Benburb Street, via Smithfield, Phoenix Street North, Samson Lane and rejoining the North Quays via Church Street”, says the report.
The major change from earlier proposals — which is contentious — is that the Liffey Cycle Route would, for a section, run along Benburb Street, away from the river.
The council argues that this new option provides good connectivity to the Phoenix Park and allows cyclists to avoid the swollen junction at Frank Sherwin Bridge, with a toucan crossing in place at the bridge for cyclists wishing to access Heuston Station.
It also provides, says the council report, the opportunity for better links for students at DIT’s Grangegorman campus. In addition, under Option 5 cycle traffic could be segregated from vehicle traffic, with local vehicle traffic sharing the Luas lines in the area.
But cycling advocate Cian Ginty of irishcycle.com isn’t convinced.
“They’re going to bring them [cyclists] in on the east side of Smithfield,” he says. “How are they going to get them past the apartment complex? Are they going to use one of the footpaths which are already in use or are they going to put cyclists on the tram tracks? That’s not going to make anybody happy, either option there.”
He wants the council to consider a sixth option, which would keep the Liffey Cycle Route along the river, with a boardwalk between Queen Street and Church Street to accommodate pedestrians. There, it wouldn’t interfere with Mellows Bridge.
He suggests a few other tweaks too, which he says would give more room for buses to turn.
Option 6, though, does still send buses down Benburb Street and so could face concerns and push-back from local residents, who already feel the area has to deal with piles of traffic.
“I think it would obliterate the area,” said Elizabeth O’Brien, a concerned local homeowner on Benburb Street, last September, in relation to proposed traffic diversions.
Option 5 or Option 6?
Ginty’s Option 6 is nowhere near the Transportation Strategic Policy Committee’s chamber.
Councillors are only being asked to discuss Option 5 on Wednesday, and “assuming this report meets with the approval of the Strategic Policy Committee, it is proposed to proceed to preliminary design of the Liffey Cycle Route”, says the report.
Fine Gael councillor McCartan says the Benburb Street detour for cyclists is a concern, but thinks Option 5 is the most inclusive, when taking into account all stakeholders involved.
“I know it adds on to the journey, and I’d need to study the other proposal [Option 6],” he says. “I think at this stage, taking into account not just the cyclists but everybody involved, this is probably the best option.”
He said he will, however, ask how cyclists will navigate the Luas tracks running down Benburb Street, and whether or not they’ll be properly accommodated under Option 5.
McCartan’s Fine Gael colleague, Binchy, says he said he also was unsure about Ginty’s alternative.
“I think it’s worth considering,” he says. “It’s all very well somebody coming up as a neutral party so to speak, but it needs to be evaluated in the same way the other options were evaluated.”
But unlike the council’s Option 5, Ginty’s amalgamation of different options retains the riverside park, and keeps cyclists firmly along the Liffey, something that Green Party councillor Ciarán Cuffe, head of the transport committee, sees as problematic.
“I’m not a great fan of that proposal, I have to say,” he says. “I just think diverting general traffic to the north of Croppy Acre would be horrendously expensive and would create a very poor-quality urban environment.” Cuffe also notes the difficulties getting around the pinch points at Mellows Bridge.
Fine Gael’s Smyth says the unique selling point of the Liffey Cycle Route was in the title: a riverside cycle path. While Smyth admits that sacrifices often need to be made elsewhere to facilitate an amenity, watering it down is “a real disappointment”, he says.
“If that has to be the case for safety purposes, for engineering purposes, then that is a real pity,” he says. “But I think we should do everything we can do to ensure that we get the best amenity and for me, that is keeping it on the Liffey.”
Although Smyth says he’ll have to consult before he comes out with his preferred option, keeping the cycle track riverside is a priority. “If we can do it, we should do it,” he says.
Independent councillor Mannix Flynn says he won’t be supporting the council’s Option 5 for the route. He says the traffic management department has wasted time and failed to deliver on the project.
“The process is gone, we need to re-look at it entirely and just scrap what’s there,” says Flynn. “Let’s start the process again.”
Fine Gael’s Binchy thinks it’s about time they made the call.
“We’ve to come to a decision,” he says. “What we need is one report that sets down all the options, the pros and cons, and we, as councillors, need to take responsibility and vote on it and pick a route.”
[UPDATE: This article was updated on Friday 27 May at 21:25 to include comments from Dublin City Council press office about the additional money likely to be paid to Aecom for work in relation to Option 5.]