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On a recent Friday, Stephan Köppe stands at the new, improved Herberton Road junction along the Grand Canal, explaining what’s wrong with it.

It’s about 4pm, on a cold, crisp day and the sun is low and soft on the broad expanse of road.

The recently widened footpath where he’s standing is brand-new, nearly white concrete. There are a couple of white vans parked illegally on it.

Most mornings, Köppe takes his kids – ages six and 10 – to school from their home south of the canal, through this junction, over the canal, and north to their school.

This junction, where Herberton Road, going north-south, intersects with Dolphin Road, going east-west along the canal, used to be a major obstacle.

But in recent months, as part of a larger project to make walking and cycling along the Grand Canal safer, the council made the corners sharper, to slow down cars going around them, and added crossing lights for pedestrians and cyclists.

“Before this was redone, this was the only junction without a pedestrian crossing,” Köppe says. “When the new traffic lights went in we were so delighted.”

But the problems persisted, he said that day, 10 March: the timings of the lights for cars and the lights for pedestrians put them in conflict.

Asked about this problem on 13 March by email, a spokesperson for Dublin City Council replied on 16 March that the timings of the lights had been changed to solve it.

The improvements to this intersection are part of the first phase of a larger project meant to make walking and cycling along the canal safer and more pleasant.

Growing pains are to be expected with these kinds of projects, says local Green Party Councillor Michael Pidgeon. “To be honest, I think one of the things is when you put in new junctions, like any sort of traffic measure, I find for the first month or so creates problems.”

Along the Grand Canal

The council’s Grand Canal Pedestrian & Cycle Safety Improvements Project includes changes from Suir Road in the west 3.8km along the road next to the canal all the way up to Leeson Street in the east.

Construction started in June, from the western end of the project, according to a council booklet. The plan is to finish by the end of this year.

It’s to include upgrading footpaths, installing eight new pedestrian crossings, extending footpaths to make 11 crossings shorter, and resurfacing and increasing the widths of cycle lanes, among other measures.

Works on the Herberton Road junction took months, with the lights finally installed in early March. After years of hoping for something like this, Köppe was happy.

“This is great, really great for cyclists, really great for pedestrians,” he says.

But he soon noticed that people following the green man’s prompt to use the pedestrian crossing to go north across Dolphin Road would find cars coming right at them.

There are no green arrow lights to help drivers going north or south on Herberton Road to turn east or west onto Dolphin Road along the canal. So they’re left to wait until there’s a gap in traffic to make their turn and then zip through.

Often enough, they’re left sitting in the intersection until their light turns red before they can find that gap to make their turn. And then two or three cars will zip through, a common manoeuvre at intersections across the city.

Stephan Köppe at the Herberton Road junction. Photo by Sam Tranum.

The problem is, just as they are trying to zip through, the green man is telling pedestrians to step into the street to cross it, Köppe says.

Köppe had hoped that his 10-year-old might be able to go to and from school on his own now. “This is also about being able to teach independence,” he says.

But the way the intersection was that day, he wasn’t ready to allow that – not yet, at least, he said.

Bad Timing

When the council puts in new traffic measures, such as new junctions there are usually a few bugs at first, said Pidgeon, the Green Party councillor, by phone on 13 March.

Sometimes those problems disappear as people get used to the new measures, and sometimes the council needs to make changes, he Pidgeon says.

“And actually, I think this for me falls into the category of where you learn something and you change something,” Pidgeon says.

Adjusting the timings of the lights would help, he says. “It’s a bit of a short gap between motorists’ lights going red and pedestrian lights going green,” he says.

Pidgeon said he’d raised the issue with the council, and the response was that the intersection’s not done yet: there’s still some resurfacing work to do, and some lines to paint, and they’ll put in traffic sensor loops.

Once all that’s done, “I think we should start to have a better sense of how the junction’s working … Hopefully within a few weeks,” he says. “But at the moment it’s not right. Absolutely.”

By Thursday 16 March the timings of the lights no longer put turning cars in conflict with crossing pedestrians.

Dublin City Council “became aware of the issue of vehicles breaking the red signal at this location shortly after the switch over to the new traffic signal system”, the press office spokesperson said.

“In order to improve pedestrian safety the time of the red signal after the traffic phase and before the pedestrian green man starts has been increased. The issue was also reported to the local Garda station,” they said.

The Mystery Cycling Signal

Aside from the issue of the intersection design sending cars driving into crossing pedestrians, there was another, on that Friday visit to it with Köppe: the mystery cycling signal.

Standing on the south-west corner of the intersection, looking east across the new pedestrian crossing, there is a traffic light for cyclists: little red and little green bicycles to tell cyclists when to stop and when to cross.

The mystery light at the Herberton Road junction. Photo by Dave O’Carroll

But why is it there? Why would a cyclist be going either the wrong way down the cycle lane, or through the pedestrian crossing and along the footpath on the south side of Dolphin Road? There is a cycle lane going the right way on the other side of the road.

Pidgeon said he wasn’t sure. Maybe once the works on the intersection are done it’ll become clear? Or maybe it’s for some later project? “But it’s not totally clear what that’s, that’s for, for me either,” he said.

The answer: that signal for cyclists, and others on the other crossings at the junction, are for children, who might cycle along the footpaths to stay safe, the council spokesperson said.

The crossings are designed to be wide enough to “allow sufficient space for pedestrian and cyclist to cross at the same location and allow less experienced and younger cycle to safely navigate the junction”, they said.

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  1. The ineptitude! Yes there will be bugs in every new system, but those errors are unacceptable. These are the basics! Albeit the “errors” have been fixed, but this system should never have gotten to the final stage, where people were using it; – whereby a green light was telling pedestrians to cross, while at the same time driver’s were been told to turn onto the road that pedestrians were in the process of crossing. Unfathomable! Who signed off on this?! It’s pure luck that a terrible accident didn’t happen in the interim.
    And the “mystery” cycling signal. It beggars belief!

    1. Drivers weren’t being told to turn; Drivers were driving into the junction (on a green) and sitting in the junction until their light had turned red (because they were turning across traffic). So when they were actually turning, the driving light was red (but they were already passed it).

  2. All very well but you don’t reference TII plan for a strategic cycling corridor on the North bank. It will run from Goldenbridge via Griffith bridge to Dolphin House and beyond. Maybe that scheme had been dropped in favour of theseimprovements on the south side?

  3. The answer for the mystery cycle light is shocking. If the design for the actual cycling part isn’t safe for children to use, and they have to use the footpath instead, then it isn’t safe.

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