On an unseasonably warm day this week, Marie Jennings was on her usual three-mile walk in the Phoenix Park.
Part of her loop takes her onto the footpath alongside Chesterfield Avenue, the main road running through the park from its city-centre end to the Castleknock Gate in the city’s northwest suburbs.
It’s a busy road. Motorists and cyclists use it to commute. It’s also busy outside commuting hours, because it’s the main route to Dublin Zoo, the tea rooms, the playground, and Áras an Uachtaráin.
The tree-lined path that Jennings walks is parallel to the road and cycle path, but separated from them by a few metres of slightly downward-sloping grass.
“Later in the evening in winter, when I’d be finishing a walk and it would have gotten dark early, I don’t like walking in here because it’s a little too dark. I just feel a little bit afraid,” she says.
Sometimes, when it’s a bit too dark, she walks on the cycle path, which is closer to the road and the light of the gas lamps. “It can happen both ways,” with cyclists sometimes using the footpaths, she says.
This is a safety issue, said Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy. “All along Chesterfield there are significant pinch points where traffic crosses and pedestrians and cyclists mix, especially towards the Conyngham Road end.”
Reports to our Cycle Collision Tracker recorded a cyclist hitting a pedestrian from behind, knocking him over, and a cyclist being hit by a driver entering the Phoenix Park Monument roundabout.
After a fatal accident on Chesterfield Avenue in 2016, when a cyclist died after colliding with a pedestrian, the Office of Public Works (OPW) initiated a review of the infrastructure along the road, according to a spokesperson for Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy.
While the full report isn’t available online yet, Fine Gael Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe described six possible changes to make Chesterfield Avenue safer, during a Dáil debate on cycling facilities last Thursday.
The solution the government chooses should prioritise safety and practicality, while protecting the historical integrity of the park, Murphy said. “[I]f we are serious about getting commuters out of their cars, the appropriate infrastructural changes need to rolled out through the park.”
In the Meantime
While the OPW considers which of the six options to choose – if any – “road markings will be improved along the cycle lane and the route is regularly patrolled by the Park rangers”, Donohoe said in the Dáil.
A spokesperson from the OPW, which has jurisdiction over the roads in the park, said that “OPW Local Management are reviewing all of the current road markings with a view to improving same. This work will be carried out in the forthcoming season.”
The average park rangers unit has three rangers on the early shift, from 6:30am to 5:15pm, and three rangers on the late shift, from 12:45pm to 11:30pm, the spokesperson said.
Patrolling Chesterfield Avenue is part of their job, she said. They can’t issue fines to motorists, pedestrians or cyclists. But they do have some authority under the bye laws of the Phoenix Park 1925 Act, she said.
According to section 7(1) of the act, if a uniformed “park constable” sees anyone in the park do anything that’s considered an offence, they can either “demand from such person his name and address, or order such person to leave the park”.
If they won’t cooperate, they can take them into custody, or remove them by force, it says.
All six options Donohoe described would include narrowing the carriageway to slow vehicles down. The estimated costs of the plans range from €1.45 million to €6 million. In three of the options, existing parking along the road would be removed. In all options, the existing gas lamps would be retained.
All of the options would involve making changes to the existing footpaths and cycle lanes. The first one removes parking and proposes a 2-metre raised cycle lane on both sides of the carriageway, with new footpaths between 1.8 and 4 metres wide.
Option two also eliminates car parking and sets out a 2-metre cycle track, this time protected by a concrete buffer. The proposed up-to-4-metre footpath “could be shared to accommodate leisure and inexperienced cyclists”.
In the third proposal, cycle and walking tracks would run next to each other on a 4-metre raised verge on both sides of the road. Parking would be retained.
Option four details a two-way cycle track on one side of the carriageway, and a shared pedestrian/inexperienced and leisure cyclist footpath on the other side. Both tracks would be protected by a sloped verge. This plan includes parking along the road.
Option five is 2-metre-wide raised cycle lanes and up-to-4-metre-wide footpaths on either side of the road, both protected by a sloped verge. Parking would be removed under this plan.
In option six, parking would be retained on one side of the road, and a two-way cycle track installed on the opposite side. This plan proposes two footpaths, ranging from 1.8 to 4 metres wide, on either side of the carriageway, which would also be shared with inexperienced and leisure cyclists.
“The current layout of Chesterfield Avenue is under review at present with Senior Management of the Office of Public Works considering all options,” the OPW spokesperson said.
Cycling campaigners welcome “any improvement to the current layout”, says Paul Corcoran, chairperson of the Dublin Cycling Campaign.
But he and Colm Ryder, who is also in the Dublin Cycling Campaign, both said they preferred options that involved removing car parking along Chesterfield Avenue.
“Anything that prevents pedestrian-cyclists conflicts is welcome and removal of car parking spaces will improve the public realm of the park,” Corcoran said.
Ryder suggested building a car park, banning car parking along Chesterfield Avenue, and introducing a bus service into the park.
Said Corcoran: “Options 1 and 2 would be our preferred designs but I can’t imagine OPW removing all the current parking spaces.”
What have the six options left out? “I can’t understand that there is not plan to upgrade the crossing of people on Chesterfield Avenue beside the Zoo,” Corcoran said.
Jason Bell, who cycles the length of Chesterfield Avenue most days, thinks the best thing that could happen for park users is better lighting.
He was sat on a log earlier this week with his partner, their bikes propped next to them.
The only lighting along the road currently comes from the black gas lamps the park is known for, he says.
Especially during rush hour in winter, when it’s dark, “lighting would be very helpful for the likes of cyclists and everyone really”, he says.
Bell thinks better signage would help too. He says he’s always watching out for walkers because they sometimes mistake the cycle lane for the footpath.
When it’s dark, cycling in the park can be “crazy”, Bell says. “It’s kind of like you’re out in the wilderness … you’re watching out for pedestrians, cars, and reindeer as well sometimes.”