Photo by Simon Auffret

Good sense seems to have prevailed.

As tweeted out by Green Party Councillor Ciaran Cuffe, chairperson of Dublin City Council’s transportation committee, a new option – Option 7 – has been published by the council for the Liffey Quay Cycle Route. (There’s a map of it below.)

The route is sensible for one overriding reason: it prioritises bus travel and cycling along Dublin’s north quays.

There is one flaw in the proposed plan, which we’ll dwell on below, but it is easily remedied – in fact, it may automatically rectify itself.

The Liffey cycle scheme forms a part of the comprehensive and well thought-out NTA Greater Dublin Area Cycle Network Plan. But the Liffey quays are a contested space with a massive over-emphasis on space for private vehicles.

A series of options and sub-options for the cycle route have been tabled, with some of them controversially diverting the proposed primary route off the quays altogether.

The newly released Option 7 has already received widespread support, according to Irish Cycle, the news resource for cycling in Ireland, and well it might.

The idea of Dublin’s quays (or at least part of them … the southern quays remain largely untouched by the proposals), being dedicated to bus and bike potentially yields huge returns for the city. And at little actual risk in spite of much media palaver.

First let’s look at the bare numbers.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland publishes daily traffic counts, picked up by loop detectors around the national road network.

A single inbound lane of car traffic coming into the city centre seldom carries more than 600 cars per hour. (There are no loops around the quays area, but in a congested area like this, probably far less).

With a typical occupancy of 1.35 people per vehicle, that’s a paltry 800 people per hour maximum. Door shut for any car-park lobby group thinking of forming in the next week or so.

The city council has said that the Liffey Quay Cycle Route will carry anything up to 1,500 cyclists per hour. That’s good, but hopefully in time, without any real capacity limits, it will be much higher than this. I believe it will.

The Luas, operating on a 4-minute frequency, will carry up to 4,200 people per hour. Anyone with their face pressed up against the pane of a tram window on a wet Wednesday morning will agree with this.

Now for bus, the so-called “humble workhorse”, but really the backbone of our transport system.

Published SCATS signal data (quoted in the proceedings of the Irish Transport Research Network 2013) confirms that “at Trinity College there are almost 400 buses in both directions during the peak hour (08:00-09:00)” – this snapshot was taken before the Luas Cross-City diversion set in – and that “O’Connell Bridge has around the same, except with competing movements”.

In actual fact, up to 110 services are scheduled down the quays in the morning peak, which is down from 130 during the boom years. That’s a potentially massive 13,000 or more people being moved down the quays in one hour.

This indicates both the potential of the city-centre bus network and the importance of bus in providing mobility in Dublin.

I’d like to add – and it’s a subject for another day’s discussion – that these on-street bus capacities significantly outstrip those of any of the metro schemes being proposed for Dublin at the moment.

And that’s in a highly unplanned environment with very little priority, traffic management or design for public transport going on. The Liffey Quay Cycle Route, as well as providing good priority for cyclists, will change things for bus travellers and pedestrians too.

All this is possible while enhancing, not damaging, the city-centre economy. This is because of one important nugget of information.

The city council, in public presentations around the Liffey Quay Cycle Route, estimate that 30 to 40 percent of vehicles travelling down the quays are “through-trips”, i.e. not bound for the city centre at all. (It’s a pity so little of such technical information is actually published about this and other projects.)

By diverting these through-trips away from the city centre, suddenly it is possible to start designing for a different future.

The Liffey corridor is the first thing most people think of when asked to describe the city.  A calmed cycle and bus corridor along much of its length promises to connect hundreds of thousands of people, from the western towns of Blanchardstown, Lucan, Clondalkin, Tallaght and beyond, reliably and comfortably to the centre.

It will also create spaces for people to dwell in. Croppies Acre, the gates of which have recently been opened, are a testament to this. On a sunny day, people are now using this space exactly as they should be: to relax and enjoy.

Even though the new Option 7 does not extend the Croppies Acre park down to the quay-side, like in popular earlier options, the historic and simply landscaped space will be enhanced by reduced noise and speed levels, as well as improved access, air-quality and health.

The council should consider engaging with the National Museum of Ireland, and seeing if the two walls separating the Croppies Acre from the fabulous Collins Barracks museum complex can be removed. It would transform the area.

Finally, the slight problem mentioned earlier. Option 7 envisages that through-trips and city-bound trips will divert northwards onto Blackhall Place. In reality, few city-bound trips will do this.

Most of them will follow the (less well-emphasised) southbound route over Watling Street Bridge. Following Ushers Island, Oliver Bond Street and Cook Street, this takes many vehicles down to Christ Church and off to the southside. But it can also take trips back onto the quays.

For those travellers who do need to take their car into the city, with the new Liffey Quay Cycle Route in place, this new Option 7 will make things easier for them too.

David O’Connor lectures at DIT and co-runs the MSc in Transport and Mobility, a new multi-disciplinary programme in transport planning. Follow him on:

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