Conor Collins would spot guardrails as he cycled. As a new parent, he now contemplates them as a buggy-pusher.
They can make it difficult to manoeuvre around town when pavements are so narrow and pedestrians are so squeezed for space, says Collins, an accountant and planning enthusiast.
“Sometimes I think there’s a misconception among pedestrians that they’re there to protect them. But it’s worse than no protection because the pedestrians are trapped,” he says.
Unnecessary guardrails should be taken out, says the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets(DMURS), prepared for the Department of Transport and the Department of Environment and published in 2013.
The trends seem to be going the other way though. More guardrails were put in than removed in 2017 and 2018 in the Dublin City Council area, figures show.
Council workers put in just one set of pedestrian guardrails in 2017, at the Glasnevin Educate Together at Griffith Avenue. The guardrails are across the street from the school’s entrance, on the other end of a pedestrian crossing.
They put in five sets in 2018. Some went in on Stillorgan Road near the RTÉ complex at the bottom of a pedestrian bridge, at Tonlegee Road, at River Road at Tolka Valley Park, at Ballymun Road at Our Lady of Victories church, and at Millbourne Avenue outside St Patrick’s School gate.
In those two years, three of those were installed under “NCBI consideration”, according to the council. Nobody at the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) was available to discuss this before this article was published.
This year, the council workers have taken out one set of guardrails at Christchurch Place and Nicholas Street.
The council press office didn’t respond to queries about why guardrails keep going in, whether there are other ways to make streets safer for pedestrians, and concerns that guardrails are a danger to cyclists.
Simon Whelan has been cycling to Leeson Street, where he works, for about 12 years. It’s what made him pay attention to the pedestrian guardrails on that street.
“It puts into people’s perspective that the city is for cars – these guardrails that are effectively to keep people away from the roads. Which is fair enough from a safety point of view,” he says.
(In 2009, a study by the UK Department for Transport looked at similar junctions, some of which had guardrails and some of which did not, and found “no conclusive evidence that the inclusion of pedestrian guardrailing at any type of pedestrian crossing or junction has any statistically significant effect on the safety record”.)
Robbie Sinnott, of the Blind Legal Alliance, a campaign group for people with visual impairment, says guardrails can disorient people with sight loss.
“There’s inconsistency in the entry and exit points,” he says. Sometimes, they’re on the right, other times on the left.
“The delay that causes, causes confusion. Cars don’t know whether to let me go,” he says. “A blind person could be trapped in there a while – you can lose your sense of direction.” Or a person can become trapped outside when traffic starts to move, he says.
Kerbs and dipped pavements help more, says Sinnott. Particularly as people who are diabetic and have sight loss can’t use textured pavements, he says.
“What we need is traffic-calming measures, not pedestrian-calming measures,” Sinnott says.
Guardrails are hazardous for cyclists, says Ciarán Ferrie, a member of I Bike Dublin, a cycling advocacy group. “You’ve nowhere to go and you’re squeezed onto the road if a bus pulls up beside you.”
If there’s no guardrail, you can hop onto the footpath, says Ferrie. “Why are they there in the first place? What they’re there for is to keep people off the road. It’s corralling of pedestrians.”
He gets why people think they’re important outside schools or where the footpaths are narrow, he says.
But there are other ways outside schools, he says. “Like restricting traffic on that road so cars aren’t passing at speed. There should be less clutter on the footpath, not more.”
A bigger concern is how the council is ignoring DMURS, says Ferrie. “Why is it there if it’s not being implemented? It’s not that we don’t know how to do it. We just don’t implement it.”
Cuffe says there are cases when the “builder gets the footpath wrong” and the kerb is left “dangerously high”, so the council has put in guardrails, Cuffe says.
But the onus is on the builder to fix the height, “rather than interfere with the public realm”, says Cuffe. He mentions Benburb Street as an example, where a set of guard rails sit either side of the entrance to Collins Square apartments. .
“A city is no place for ugly galvanised barriers,” says former city council planner Kieran Rose. “They’re contrary to national policy, so they shouldn’t be there.”
“The road network is a web, entirely connected to other parts of the web, which neatly click together,” says Collins, the accountant. There are no gates or barriers.
“But if you flip it, it’s not the same for pedestrians,” he says.