Lynn MacGrane pushes her baby Conall in a pram at a brisk pace.
She’s just joined the Royal Canal Way, a canalside path, turning down from a bridge on Phibsboro Road outside the Bernard Shaw pub.
She often takes this route to collect Conall’s brother from his creche in Dublin Industrial Estate, she says.
If only there was a bridge over the canal a little further to the north-west, joining Cabra where she lives and the creche in the industrial estate, she says. Her daily walk to and from the creche in the morning (and again in the afternoon) would probably take less than half an hour, rather than close to an hour.
MacGrane has to walk all the way to Phibsboro or Broombridge, to either of two bridges 2km apart, with no accessible crossings in between, just the narrow planks at the locks.
“It’s nice on a sunny day,” she says, leaning over her pram uncomfortably to push open the kissing gate into the industrial estate. “But if it had a wheelchair-accessible bridge, it would be nicer.”
Some pedestrians with prams wish that they could get across the canal in this area a little easier. Others, don’t see the point as there’s not much to cross for. But at some point in the future, with redevelopment, there may be.
A spokesperson for Waterways Ireland said that locks can’t be made more accessible, and they’re not keen to create more bridges between Phibsboro and Broombridge as they’ve created an ecological corridor.
Costs and Logistics
There are a trio of lock gates leading up the hill from the Phibsboro bridge, with narrow planks across them that nimble pedestrians can use to cross . McGrane couldn’t cross them with her pram, she says. “I’d be afraid to try them.”
Hence the slightly more roundabout route.
“Some people can cross the locks, but I can’t go with the buggy,” says Martin Vician, who has also headed this way from Cabra, and is calmly strolling a pram with his sleeping baby.
The lack of accessible crossings also bothers him, he says.
There are some nice places to go for a walk with the buggy close by on the other side of the canal like Mount Bernard Park, he says. “But you need to go to Phibsboro and then all the way back to go to there.”
Although Vician likes the idea of another bridge over the canal he can see that building it could be difficult, he says.
“I can see that there are some problems like that the bridge would need to be, like, high for boats to go under,” he says.
Further along the canal, Lena Foley and Mary Kennedy – members of the Royal Canal Clean-up out for a leisurely stroll, a break from their monthly blitzes in this stretch of the canal between locks 6 and 7 – raise similar issues.
The bridge would have to be high to let boats through and Foley isn’t sure the demand would justify the expense, she says.
Kennedy says Waterways Ireland’s funding can be limited. “Unless there was a very good reason, I’d say that would be something that wouldn’t really be in their plans.”
Agatha Tocchio grabs the collar of a golden retriever, to stop it from running out into the front garden. She and the dog, and others, rent rooms in a cottage that overlooks the canal.
Living here feels safe and quiet, she says. “It’s really lovely that there’s no traffic here.”
A new bridge would maybe be easier for walkers, she says. “But at the same time, the people kayaking, it would be an issue for them.”
She finds the walk isn’t too far to the bridges anyway, she says. “Just literally walking five minutes there is a bridge.”
Michael Pidgeon, a Green Party councillor, says no one from his constituency – which takes in a stretch along the Grand Canal on the southside of the city with not many accessible crossings – has brought it up as an issue.
But it would be the remit of Waterways Ireland, he says, rather than the council.
It’s quite hard to put in a bridge that isn’t raised, he says. There’s a bridge with steps that crosses the canal at the Goldenbridge Luas stop. “The difficulty there is [it is] probably no use for people with prams, or it’s certainly a lot of hassle,” he says.
You have to go up and down two flights of stairs to cross, he says. “Because if you don’t put a bridge at the lock, without clearance for boats, it has to be a step bridge.”
As for modifying the walkways along the locks to make them accessible, a spokesperson for Waterways Ireland said that wouldn’t really work.
Locks are designed for managing water levels and efficient boat navigation, said the spokesperson.
“It is not possible to widen or add ramps to this infrastructure to allow it to fulfil its function whilst meeting health and safety requirements,” they said.
Waterways Ireland has not received any requests to make the locks more accessible to wheelchairs and buggies, they said.
Accessible crossings or footbridges are planned in Local Area Plans, created by Dublin City Council, said the spokesperson.
On the path in front of the cottages, at the midway point between Phibsboro and Broombridge, Stephan Monaghan pauses to catch his breath on a long cycle back to Finglas.
He’s noticed the lack of bridges across, he says. “It is annoying actually. You’re going all the way down there to get back up here.”
He points down the curve of the canal, to where the Prospect Road bridge is, linking Phibsboro and Glasnevin.
More bridges would be a good idea, he says. Across the water is Shandon Gardens, a residential street parallel to the Royal Canal, and close to the Phibsboro bridge.
There should be a handy walkover for people that live there, he says. “So that they can get on to the canal straight away.”
Just after Shandon Gardens, the canal walkway on the southern side ends, blocked by a metal fence that continues along the water’s edge.
This side of the canal is an ecological corridor so it isn’t open to the public, said the Waterways Ireland spokesperson. “This forms part of our commitment to biodiversity. There are crossings at both Phibsboro at Cross-guns bridge and at Broombridge itself, both nearby.”
Foley says across from Shandon Gardens would be the most logical place for a bridge if there was to be one.
Says MacGrane: “I imagine the people that live in the houses here would feel differently.”
From their front porch on Shandon Gardens, John and Sheila Steadman gaze over at the canal across from them.
John says he can’t imagine why a bridge would be built here. “The amount of people in wheelchairs who use the far side of the canal is minimal. You never see them.”
Possibly because the locks aren’t accessible and the hill from Phibsboro bridge is steep? “It is possible,” says Sheila.
But the bridge would have to have steps so it wouldn’t work for people with wheelchairs, she says. “It doesn’t make sense.”
In the summer, people flock to the green space across from the houses. “They enjoy the picnics, they enjoy children, no hassle.”
But on occasion, people come and throw stones across the canal from the other side, she says. “So all of a sudden you give them access to this side, where do you go?”
Building a bridge would be loud too, like when the canal basin was repaired years earlier, she says. “Absolute nightmare. We were up every night of the week.”
The council has been rezoning industrial sites, like Dublin Industrial Estate, so they can be redeveloped, says Cat O’Driscoll, a Social Democrats councillor.
Many industrial estates are close to canals, she says, because waterways were used to transport things. Redeveloping these sites could also lead to more bridges, she says.
Canals without multiple access points can make people feel vulnerable and unsafe, she says. “As a woman, I walk the canal knowing that if something happens, honestly, I’m very far away from getting off of it.”
A spokesperson for Waterways Ireland said, about making Dublin’s canals more accessible: “Accessible greenways have been constructed, are under construction or in various stages of planning along most of these towpaths.”
“Parts of the canal are unsuitable for development due to operational requirements, their age, protection of biodiversity, and proposed status as natural heritage corridors,” they said.
Along the Royal Canal, MacGrane says there are enough locks, but she just wishes they were accessible. She thinks she’d see others out then, too.
“When you’re on maternity leave you do a lot of walking,” she says. In Ashtown and Drumcondra, where there are more places to cross, more people with prams and in wheelchairs use the canal, she says.
“Nobody uses this part of the canal because there isn’t anywhere,” she says, “like you kind of come to a dead stop there and you can’t access it on the other side.”