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At a few minutes past 5pm last Thursday, the lights at the junction of Guild Street and Seville Place flick red to green.
A car, top of the queue in its lane, revs. To its left, a cyclist pedals along the strip of road, separated off with 13 tall flexible wands.
The car driver starts to make the gentle turn to the left, sweeping towards Sheriff Street Upper – across the cyclist who is headed straight on, and who slows quickly as the car crosses in front of them.
The cyclist falters, coming within centimetres of the vehicle.
For a while after his sister Donna was killed at this spot in September 2016, Neil Fox regularly came here, he said, earlier this month.
Some who live on the street come out to talk when they see him. They’ll mention how they still hear the screeches and shouts of near misses or collisions, he said.
Until recently, Fox’s has campaigned on national issues to support safer cycling, he says: on minimum passing distances, on adequate funding.
Lately, though he has been thinking of how to do something more directly to remember his sister. “To do something to make the site safer,” he says.
As part of this effort, he put out a call for cyclists who commute through this particular intersection to share their experiences, and what might make it safer. Many have responded with stories of near misses, avoiding collisions with heavy traffic by just a sliver.
Others had already marked the spot on our Bicycle Collision Tracker. “They sort of started turning when it was too late for me to stop,” said Gwendolyn Connolly, of a collision she had there with a car in April 2017.
“He literally went inches, not even inches, very very close,” said Shelley Hanna, of a time a car turned left across her, too, in winter 2016. “It was terrifying.”
Many of those who have written in so far with their experiences of that junction say they were hit, or nearly hit, when a vehicle turned left across them, as they were headed straight on.
Others said it was cars travelling from the other side, and turning right across them, that brushed by.
Connolly says she was cycling into work, and had stopped at the red lights at the junction. She was near the top of the queue of traffic, she says.
When the light turned green, she tried to go straight. But a car came up from behind and swooped left across her path. She hit the back of it, and was badly bruised. “I kind of fell backwards towards the traffic,” she said.
Peter Collins says he cycles that way once or twice a week, when he takes his kids sailing down in Poolbeg.
On one day – which he captured on video – he and his kids were moving forward towards the advanced stop space for cyclists at the head of the traffic, when they lights changed in their favour.
His eldest daughter, at the front, cycled on. A northbound car turned right across them. It was a near miss. His daughter is a “seasoned cyclist” and was okay, he says.
Shelley Hanna was hit once and had a couple near misses there, she said. One was in December 2016, as she pulled away to head straight on when the lights turned green.
She had stuck left into the wanded-off cyclist strip. A moped undertook her and turned left. A car also pulled away fast on her right, and turned left too, she says.
The car swerved slightly and hit her with its side. She had to put her legs down to steady herself, and the wheel of her bicycle was knocked in.
“I’m lit up like a Christmas tree,” she said, when she cycles.
Hanna had two other near misses there that same year, which she also logged on our bicycle collision tracker. Again, they were with cars turning left.
“I cycle from Ringsend up to Phibsboro and that is the only junction that really worries me, the nerves kind of get you when you’re coming up to it,” she says.
After Donna Fox was killed, Dublin City Council put in plastic wands to mark off a stretch of the road along the left for cyclists at that junction. Many said they don’t make things safer, though.
Says Hanna: “I don’t think the cars can see you properly. I don’t think they’re aware that you’re there, if you’re in behind them,” she says.
Now, she goes out into the middle of the road before she reaches them. “I just pull out in between the cars,” she says. “So they’ve no choice but to stop. […] I definitely think the wands should be moved.”
Says Connolly: “The bollards sort of blind the drivers to the bikes I think. It’s like they don’t pay attention.”
“You’re coralled in,” says Collins. “The wands actually disguise you, or hide you.”
Some of the wands are often damaged. “Obviously hit by vehicles and whatnot,” he says.
Dublin City Council Press Office didn’t address a question as to how often these wands were replaced in 2018 after damage. “The bollards are inspected each month and replaced as required,” said a press officer.
To the left of the cyclists are metal guardrails which are dangerous too, said Collins and others. (It’s recommended that these are removed in the National Cycle Manual, too.)
Engineers should look at taking out these guardrails, says Will Andrews, who lives in East Wall and cycles that stretch. “Those are trapping cyclists.”
Learning from the Past
After the inquest into Donna Fox’s death, jurors gave a couple of recommendations to the director of road safety and driver education at the Road Safety Authority (RSA).
One was that all major busy junctions be audited for driver and cyclist volumes “with a view to the maintenance of the colour road markings making them highly visible”, says Daryl Fenlon, a clerical officer with Dublin City Coroner’s Court.
The other was for an extra traffic light for cyclists to cross this particular junction safely, Fenlon said. The court passed that on. “It is up to transport bodies to implement them,” he said.
Fox says he isn’t sure whether that’s what’s needed – but that road engineers need to listen up. “The first step is to listen to people who cycle that on a regular basis,” he said.
Those who cycle the route have different ideas as to what might make it safer. As well as scrapping the flexible wands and ripping out the metal barrier, some suggested giving cyclists a green light before cars, so they could be out and clearly visible.
Others suggested a left lane, to the left of the cycle lane, for cars turning left, so they’re not turning across cyclists at the junction.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said the council investigated the junction at Seville Place and Guild Street after the collision, alongside An Garda Síochána. “No specific issues were identified with the road or layout,” they said.
The council plans, though, “in the short term” to swap the bollards for what are called “orca separators”, which are more like plastic mounds to separate lanes.
“In the longer term, the entire junction is being redesigned as part of the Canal Way cycle route,” they said.
A spokesperson for the National Transport Authority (NTA) said the revised junction “has been brought to the earliest stages of the delivery programme of that large project”.
A Delayed Cycle Route
Fox was under the impression that this was going to happen a lot faster – that it would already have been done by now.
In June 2017, Fox met with Minister for Transport Shane Ross and ahead of that, officials in the Department of Transport and the NTA exchanged a few emails about what was on the agenda.
The junction is being amended in phase two of the Royal Canal Cycleway, wrote Michael Aherne, the NTA’s head of transport development to Derek O’Neill in the Department of Transport, and construction would start that year, he said, in emails shared with Fox by a Sunday Times journalist.
Aherne also noted that they’re using wands on more schemes – but also that the National Cycle Manual doesn’t recommend “having ‘straight ahead’ cyclists on the inside of a dedicated left hand turn lane”.
He pointed to what the NTA recommends instead – with an image from the cycle manual which shows a left lane, to the left of the cycle lane, that vehicles have to draw across.
In response, O’Neill asked about putting more wands further towards the junction where Donna Fox was killed, which would force vehicles to slow more to turn the corner, if it’s sharper.
He also raised concerns about how guardrails have been found in London to contribute to cyclist fatalities, because they block escape routes, so they’ve been taken out. “Is anything similar being considered here?” he said.
Fox says the road hasn’t been redesigned in any way since. “In my view nothing has been done about that.”
The final three phases of the Royal Canal Greenway are way behind schedule.. The scheme was granted planning permission in 2015, but phase two didn’t go out to tender until early 2018.
Contractor ROD was on site in December to start preliminary works, “with no significant on-site activity anticipated before January 2019”, said a council management report in mid-December last year from Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan.
The NTA allocated €500,000 in 2016, €1.5 million in 2017, and €1 million in 2018 for phase two of cycleway.
The council drew down €422,000 of this in 2016, €176,000 in 2017 and €224,000 in 2018, figures show.
Fox says there’s a lot of emphasis on developing big greenway projects to encourage tourists and recreational cycling, which is all to be encouraged.
“But in my view that’s much less urgent than actually providing proper cycling paths,” he said.
Fox’s visits to the junction of Guild Street and Seville Place after his sister’s death there were part of him trying to grapple with what had happened, to try to grasp some kind of meaning.
“Because it’s the last place she was alive. For me, she’s more there than the grave,” he says.
He has always been touched by how kind those who live along the road have been, he says. But while some have suggested a ghost bike to mark the spot, he wants a safer junction.
Connolly, who collided with a car there, said a few people came out of the row of houses along there to help her.
“A woman brought out a chair and a cup of tea,” she says, and she sat there as people walked to work around her. “It was very sweet of them. […] I’m not good with shock, I was quite upset.”
Fox says making the junction safer would be his way to thank those who have been kind to him, too. “To try to give something back there,” he says.