Opposite St Fintan’s High School in Sutton, the tide was out and a pungent salty smell lingered in the air on a balmy evening last Monday.
Five large men, dressed in black lycra, whizz by in a tight pack on their racing bikes. Three of them ride side by side while the other two follow three feet behind on the cycle path.
They move in a pack and there is plenty of room for them along this stretch of path. There is a pedestrian lane for walkers on the right, and a wall divides the cyclists from the traffic on the left.
It is a different story seven kilometres west from here, further along the cycle track towards the city centre.
In Fairview, the same salty smell is in the air but the cycle track is different. It’s changed from a segregated path along the seafront to a shared lane with buses on the road.
From this point, all the way into the city centre, the cycle tracks jump from going up onto footpaths to back onto the main road in bus lanes.
“It’s the busiest route for bicycles, I think, coming into the city on the north side,” says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner.
And while a new plan, which was announced on 29 May, has pleased some councillors, others are still unsatisfied even though construction of the track is due to start early next year.
A Slow-Moving Process
“The plans for the Clontarf to City Centre Cycle route started before I had grey hair,” says Green Party Member of the European Parliament Ciarán Cuffe.
“It’s been a slow-moving process but the Covid crisis, amidst tragedy, has advanced many of the plans for walking and cycling,” Cuffe says.
These new plans are a part of a wider project for the proposed Sutton to Sandycove cycle track, which would run 22km and connect the north side to the south side of the city.
Currently, a segregated cycle track on the north side of this project starts opposite St Fintan’s High School and stops where the Clontarf Road meets the Alfie Byrne Road.
The Clontarf to City Centre Cycle Scheme would see the cycle track being extended to Connolly Station.
What’s the Difference?
The new plans will see an extension in cycling and walking infrastructure, larger bus lanes, and a new sustainable drainage system for rainwater.
A segregated cycle lane of 5.4 kilometres is intended to go along this route, which would separate cyclists from traffic with a concrete kerb.
In Fairview Park, an elderly man pushes his bike along this cycle track on Monday. The stretch of cycle lane he’s on is currently shared with the footpath.
The cycle path bends around the back of a bus stop creating a pinch point for pedestrians, cyclists and people waiting for the bus.
The track then merges again with the bus lane 100 metres down from the bus stop at the top of the North Strand Road. The 27a bus is sitting at the traffic lights here leaving little room for cyclists to wait on the road.
According to the plan, cyclists will also be given a three-second head start over vehicles at traffic lights.
Under the new proposal, one kilometre of new bus lanes will be added from Alfie Byrne Road around Fairview Park on to Connolly Station, along with an upgrade of 4.4 kilometres of existing bus lanes
For pedestrians, the scheme proposes to upgrade pavements and separate them from cyclists with concrete kerbs.
This is an improvement on the previous plans for this route, says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner.
“There was going to be a lot of trees knocked down and there was going to be a lot more of taking away from footpath spaces [in the previous plan],” says Horner.
The plan proposes taking away more road space instead of footpath space while providing more protective segregated pedestrian infrastructure, Horner says.
It is planned that 86 trees will be removed, and 133 trees will be planted, for the new route.
Horner also says the planned sustainable-drainage system is a great addition. It intends to have trees and plants absorb more of the surface water on the street, because the current drains have had trouble in the past handling the amount of rainwater, she says.
“It’s also a lot more visually pleasing just to have plants and confined areas of trees,” says Horner.
Ciarán Cuffe, the Green MEP, says he thinks the plans are a huge improvement on previous proposals. “The first draft is so-so, but the revisions improve things,” he says.
“Yes, a significant amount of trees will be lost in Fairview but I think the designers have worked hard to find a compromise that works for traffic,” says Cuffe.
“While I welcome the plans, I am cautious,” says independent Councillor Mannix Flynn.
Flynn says the new infrastructure proposed in this plan is not enough to encourage people to choose a bike over a car. “We are still not getting rid of one single car,” he says.
Another concern is where this track ends, says Flynn. “When you come into town then, there is no joined-up thinking. You’re straight back into a jungle of hostility and danger,” he says.
Other councillors share these concerns.
“The only disturbing aspect for me is this proposed one-motor lane from the bottom of the Malahide Road to just before Edge’s Corner [Edge & Sons Hardware Store],” says independent Councillor Nial Ring.
The Howth Road, Malahide Road and the Clontarf Road all converge at that one junction, Ring says. “And now if that is to be only put down to one lane, I can only see congestion,” he says.
(CORRECTION: This article was updated at 9.32am on 10 June to correct the spelling of Nial Ring’s name and on 7.25pm on 11 June to correct proposed cycle track to Sutton to Sandycove. Apologies for the error.)