Sandymount cycle path a hot topic in Dublin Bay South byelection

Contentious scheme is also the subject of a high-profile High Court legal dispute

A proposed cycling lane in Sandymount has caused "fear and loathing" among the community and has ended up in the High Court. Video: Enda O'Dowd

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When plans for a cycle path along Strand Road in Sandymount were first announced last August as part of Dublin’s City Council’s Covid-19 response, it is unlikely many expected the issue would end up in a high-profile legal row.

With local elections almost four years off, it was perhaps less likely still anyone thought it would be a hot canvassing topic on the doorsteps.

However, both circumstances have come to pass. The council’s plans for the cycle scheme are the subject of a High Court challenge and have become an election issue, but the prize this time is not a council seat but a spot in the Dáil, to replace Fine Gael’s Eoghan Murphy in Dublin Bay South.

The intensity of feeling the cycle route has provoked has perhaps become a greater matter than the cycle path itself, which was after all intended to be introduced as a trial.

For a six-month period the council proposed restricting traffic on Strand Road to one lane, with a one-way system along the coast to the Merrion Gates.

The sea side of the road was to be requisitioned for cyclists and the remaining single lane would be for outbound traffic only, heading in the direction of the Merrion Gates.

Almost 3,000 people responded to a public consultation process on the cycle track proposal, last autumn, with 56 per cent in favour of proceeding with trial. Just over a quarter (27 per cent) objected to the trial, while 17 per cent stated they had some concerns –the effect on traffic, particularly local traffic, chief among them.

While Strand Road residents did not in the main object to the council’s plans, many residents living in Sandymount village did. They felt the consultation did not fairly reflect their views, given that anyone could respond to the council’s survey, but the traffic changes would most directly affect their lives.

Alternative proposal

The STC Community Group, representing residents of Serpentine Avenue, Tritonville Road, Claremont and adjoining roads in Sandymount, put forward an alternative proposal, which would see the sea-side footpath turned into a cycle path, with pedestrians using the “land side” of the road.

The last 270m before the Merrion Gates, where the footpath would not be wide enough to accommodate cyclists, would become a “shared space”, the group said, with speed restrictions for motorists to improve safety.

The council rejected this plan, but established a forum chaired by Dublin lord mayor Hazel Chu, to try to achieve some consensus with residents and other interested groups ahead of the trial beginning.

The trial was due to start at the end of last year, but was delayed until February, and then March as talks in the forum continued and then foundered. The trial plans were ultimately halted by the High Court when Peter Carvill of the STC group and Independent councillor Mannix Flynn, now also a candidate for the Dáil seat, began their legal action.

Of those most likely in with a shot for the Dáil seat, the views of Fine Gael’s James Geoghegan are probably best known.

He last January co-signed a motion with party colleague Paddy McCartan, Labour’s Dermot Lacey and Fianna Fáil’s Claire O’Connor, calling for Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and the National Transport Authority to revisit a €48 million 2015 plan to construct a cycle path on a boardwalk over the sea-side of Strand Road, instead of on the road. The NTA responded that the scheme would take at least six years to develop.

However Cllr Geoghegan is sticking to his guns on the boardwalk plans, maintaining the scheme will ultimately be required as part of flood-relief plans.

“The council has said we can’t build a high wall there, so we will have to have a boardwalk for flood-relief reasons,” he said. “Obviously it is going to take longer, maybe two or three years, but that is the right long-term solution.

“I think it is totally shameful that this ended up in the courts. Wherever you stand on it, it is a total failure of process that a trial [of a cycle scheme] ended up in the High Court.”

Design ‘tweaks’

Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan, unencumbered by the weight of months of council meetings on the issue, said she was in favour of the trial going ahead, referencing environmental and “ active mobility” reasons.

However, she still had an olive branch ready for those not enamoured with the scheme, saying it was “vital that we have meaningful consultation” with local communities. “The evidence shows that when you engage with communities, unforeseen consequences are flagged earlier but, more importantly, we get better planning outcomes.”

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said she was a “lifelong cyclist and committed to improving cycle infrastructure” and she also supported the trial. However, she said it would have been better if there was “local buy-in” for the scheme.

“I would like to see the trial proceed, and we could see if the residents’ concerns are borne out, and if there are tweaks that could be made in the design. We could see if some of the route could be placed off-road.”

Articulating the Fianna Fáil view on behalf of Cllr Deirdre Conroy, Cllr Claire O’Connor said the party wanted the off-road cycle path option.

Green Party councillor Claire Byrne is in favour of the trial, as is Social Democrats candidate Sarah Durcan.

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