In November 2019, Neeraj Jain was killed as he cycled to work, hit by a cement truck turning left as he continued straight on, a collision report done by Gardai and a council engineer at the time found.
The truck was headed to the new children’s hospital building site in Rialto, via a small slip road that curves from South Circular Road onto Brookfield Road, in front of a Mace newsagent.
Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act to Oisín O’Connor, who says he is a safe-streets advocate, suggest that residents raised concerns about safety and construction traffic before the collision.
The emails also detail a suite of measures put in place straight after, from a traffic warden and a new management plan for traffic using the slip road.
It’s unclear, though, how long some of those lasted, whether the traffic warden is gone, and what became of the idea of rejigging the junction and getting rid of the slip lane altogether.
“I’m actually standing there now,” said James Larkin, on the phone last Friday. He cycles through this junction on his commute.
The junction looks the same, Larkin says. “The same thing could happen again. There is absolutely no reason why it wouldn’t.”
A spokesperson for BAM, the construction company building the site said: “The health and safety of all stakeholders in the construction of the National Children’s Hospital is of the utmost importance to BAM and comprehensive policies are in place to ensure this.”
Dublin City Council did not reply to queries sent on Thursday and Tuesday, asking about safety improvements at the junction.
On 1 November 2019, the day of the collision, a redacted correspondent wrote to the council and Kevin Street Garda Station, forwarding a past email about a truck breaking a red light.
“There have been several ‘near-tragic’ incidents at this particular location caused by construction traffic from the children’s hospital project,” they also said, of the corner by the Mace.
Several local residents have raised their concerns time and again, says the email. But the “paltry response” was to put up poles along the footpath to stop lorries mounting.
“At one stage BAM committed to having a person ‘police’ the junction which lasted a few days,” they wrote.
“We have been calling for more policing of the heavy, speeding traffic to little avail,” the email continued.
“I hope something effective will be done now albeit too late for one very unfortunate person, their family, and friends,” they said.
Most of the other complaints from residents to the council between October 2019 and August 2020 centered on early-morning noise at gate 3 of the site on Brookfield Road, and trucks idling or parking up ahead of the permitted workday.
But a few mention general safety concerns, too, and the lack, or a limited number of traffic marshalls.
Before and After
On 4 November, three days after Jain was killed, a Dublin City Council engineer emailed BAM Construction, the main building contractor for the hospital.
The engineer asked to meet “asap” to review traffic management for the hospital site, show the emails.
The ways in and out of the site needed to be looked at again, and any necessary temporary traffic measures put in place “to safeguard vulnerable road users”, said the council’s engineer Bernard Lester.
Lester also attached photos of the bollards on the footpath near where the collision had happened, installed by BAM on the corner next to the slip road outside the Mace newsagents.
“Roadworks Control Unit have no record of application or permit issued for installation of the bollards,” Lester said.
“BAM may have installed bollards to protect pedestrians but they appear to facilitate vehicles cutting the corner and this is not acceptable,” he said.
Lester told BAM to consult with its temporary traffic management designer “as a matter or urgency” and come up with a plan that complies with “Chapter 8”. (Chapter 8 refers to the rules for temporary traffic measures.)
Neither Dublin City Council nor BAM Construction replied to queries about the bollards sent on Tuesday.
An email a few days later on 7 November from a redacted correspondent updates Lester on what measures they have taken at the junction.
A traffic marshall was in place “until further notice”, it says, “to monitor the movements of vulnerable road users (cyclists and pedestrians) when construction traffic bound is turning on the slip lane”.
Said Larkin on Friday: “After the death of the cyclist there was a steward there intermittently.”
“They were doing absolutely nothing. As far as I can see they were standing on the path just watching,” he said.
Larkin hasn’t seen a steward there since the summer, he says.
The email from last November also mentions plans for a temporary traffic management plan for construction traffic using the left slip lane where the collision happened and the idea of removing the slip lane.
Later emails, from March this year, mention that the council may have a plan for permanent works to change the junction.
But the slip lane is still there, and no changes have yet been made, says Larkin. At least, not that he’s noticed.
That end of South Circular Road has become a no-go area when cycling with his two kids, says Ciarán Byrne, a resident nearby.
“You wouldn’t even dream of bringing children along there,” he says.
Byrne has noticed fewer trucks at the site recently, though, because much of the concrete for the foundations has now been poured, he says.
That’s a silver lining, he says. “But it’s a disaster of a road even without the children’s hospital.”
A spokesperson for BAM said in an email that they adhere “to a strict traffic management plan as part of the planning approval, which is updated as the project develops, as well as ongoing engagement with public authorities.”
Dublin City Council has said it is looking at stricter safety measures for HGVs to eliminate blind spots.
But there are specific road infrastructure changes that should be made too, says O’Connor, who filed the FOI for the emails.
“The improvement to be made is to remove left slip turns,” O’Connor says.
A left slip allows a car driver to take a left turn really quickly, he says.
At the junction where Jain lost his life, the left slip turn drifts gently from South Circular Road onto Brookfield Road.
“What we would want is a 90-degree-angled left turn,” O’Connor says. Like in a T-junction, forcing drivers to slow.
“And if there is no space for that then just a combined turn for straight and left turns,” he says.