Why the brakes were pulled on the Liffey cycle scheme
National Transport Authority’s decision to suspend the project followed years of discord
The National Transport Authority this week halted Dublin City Council’s management of the Liffey cycle scheme. File photograph: David Sleator
It would be hard to argue with Fine Gael councillor Ray McAdam’s assessment of how plans for a cycle route along the river Liffey have been progressed by Dublin City Council: “We have made a complete balls of how we’ve managed this from day one.”
City councillors were told this week that after five years of planning, the assessment of 16 proposals, and the presentation of eight different route “options”, for the segregated cycle path along the river Liffey from Heuston Station to the East Link, the National Transport Authority had called a halt to the council’s management of the scheme.
The authority told the council it was suspending funding on the project and ordered it not to do any more work on plans for the path until a review of the project was commissioned. In other words: step away from the cycle path until we see if we can sort this ridiculous mess out.
And it is indeed a mess. It’s not as if the council dashed off a scheme on the back of an envelope; it took three years to go through all the different possible permutations for getting cyclists safely from Heuston to the Point, eventually narrowing them down to four, which were then made available for public consultation in February 2015.
Three of these involved a two-way cycle path on the north of the river, while the fourth proposed paths on both the north and south quays. The public picked a northside two-way option, which involved keeping a continuous cycle path along the river and diverting traffic to Benburb Street beside the Luas line.
The diversion was necessary to get around a particularly narrow section of Ellis and Arran Quays – broadly the part between the James Joyce Bridge and the Four Courts that would not be able to accommodate two lanes of traffic and the two-way cycle path.
Six months later, the council said it could not go ahead with this route because the diversion would send buses through an apartment block already under construction in Smithfield. Permission for the block had been granted in 2014.
Seven months after that in May 2016, the council put forward an option of putting cyclists on the diverted section instead of the traffic, but the following October, the council’s traffic department said they had changed their mind because cyclists didn’t like the plan.
Their next plan involved diverting cars from the quays for about 1.5km. They decided to have more public consultation. This found that a new group, the people living in the area through which cars would be diverted, didn’t like the plan. Business organisations weren’t keen either, because motorists would take longer to get into the city centre.
Which leads us finally to May of this year, when the most recent option, the “attempt to please everyone at considerable expense” scheme was put forward, putting the cyclists on a boardwalk over the river for part of the route, and having a shared bus and car lane for another short section, in the process diverting nobody at all from the river.
Even as he described the scheme, Brendan O’Brien, of the council’s traffic department, said it wasn’t a great plan and the previous one was better. It was after that the NTA decided to pull the breaks.
Maybe the NTA’s consultants will come up with a new option that no one has considered, or maybe they will choose one of the earlier rejected plans, or maybe they will recommend the whole notion is scrapped.
Whatever decision is arrived at it will involve, as McAdam might say, someone growing a pair.