Subscriber OnlyOpinion

Frank McDonald: Major hurdle may now face future cycleways

Legal challenges threaten Dublin's ability to become pedestrian- and cycling-friendly

One of the really positive benefits of the Covid pandemic is that it prompted more enlightened local authorities worldwide to reallocate road space in favour of cyclists and pedestrians. Dublin was no exception to this trend, with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council leading the way by installing a coastal cycleway between Seapoint and Sandycove as well as calming motorised traffic in villages such as Blackrock.

But given the overwhelming dominance of cars on city streets, facilitated by road-widening schemes in the past, there were bound to be battles over the drive to change traffic priorities. The recent High Court order quashing the proposed cycleway on Strand Road in Sandymount not only killed that scheme in the short term but also has “potentially devastating consequences for our capacity to deliver future cycling projects”.

That’s what Owen Keegan, Dublin City Council’s chief executive, said in reaction to the order made by Mr Justice Charles Meenan on July 30th in a judicial review case brought by Sandymount resident Peter Carvill and Independent councillor Mannix Flynn, who has a long record of opposing better facilities for cyclists, claiming that they behave as if “they’re in some sort of velodrome”, as he said at a council meeting in 2018.

The same High Court judge on Wednesday adjourned until October another legal action brought by company director Nicola Byrne seeking to reverse Fingal County Council’s pedestrianisation of New Street in Malahide, on the basis that it had resulted in additional traffic on “narrow unsuitable streets” in the village as well as complaints to An Garda Síochána about gangs of youths drinking on New Street and “doing bicycle stunts” there.


On Monday, The Irish Times reported that some shopkeepers in the Grafton Street area believe that more “well-heeled” shoppers from the wealthier suburbs were being deterred from driving into the city centre because Dublin had become a “hostile place for cars” and that “mature customers . . . don’t cycle and don’t want to take crummy buses”, according to Martin Deniau, of Monte-Cristo collectibles in the Powerscourt Townhouse.

Car park impediments

Yet every single one of the numerous multistorey car parks in the city remains in operation and all are still easily accessible. In several cases, their locations effectively checkmate moves by council officials to pedestrianise more streets. The most obvious example is the Brown Thomas car park on Clarendon Street, which is the only impediment to turning South William Street into a pedestrian zone – due to the location of its exit there.

Three of the multistorey car parks are owned by Dublin City Council and leased to operators, while many of the others were built with the aid of lucrative tax incentives introduced in 1995 by Ruairí Quinn, the State’s one and only Labour Party minister for finance. Now, car park operators and department stores are in the Dublin City Traders Alliance, which was set up to oppose the council’s plans to turn College Green into a public plaza.

Council officials originally intended to progress the College Green scheme using their powers under the 1993 Roads Act, without having to go through a formal planning process – just as they did in the Strand Road cycleway case. But they later changed their minds and subjected the scheme to an environmental impact assessment (EIA). In the end, it was rejected by An Bord Pleanála primarily due to negative impacts on city bus services.

Technically, the cycleways on the Liffey quays are “temporary” measures implemented under the 1993 Roads Act, in the context of Covid. Cian Ginty, editor of, has noted that the route on the north quays is deficient because it is “stop-start/non-continuous”, with long stretches in bus lanes mixing with taxis and buses. What cyclists want is something that would be more like the Seapoint-Sandycove “coastal mobility route”.

Restaurant gains

The contraflow cycle lane on Nassau Street had been talked about for years and is also “temporary”, but at least it’s now there and highly unlikely to be removed after the pandemic is over. Similarly, it seems improbable that the gains made by restaurants – such as those in Merrion Row – in getting “build-outs” from footpaths for outdoor dining will be set aside any time soon to restore the status quo ante, which was all about catering for traffic.

Similarly, the pedestrianisation at weekends of Parliament Street – first proposed in the Temple Bar Framework Plan 30 years ago – and Capel Street has proved immensely popular, giving these streets a continental feel at least on balmy summer evenings. Restaurants and pubs have been the principal beneficiaries, with build-outs catering for al fresco dining and drinking where once there had only been parked cars and moving traffic.

In the case of Strand Road, Mr Justice Meenan found that the proposed cycleway – which would have removed all northbound traffic on the road, between Merrion Gates and Ringsend – constituted “road development” within the meaning of section 50 of the 1993 Act because it went “beyond signs and certain road markings”. Therefore, the project – billed as a six-month trial – required an EIA and a planning application to An Bord Pleanála.

If council officials must now follow this procedure every time a cycleway (or pedestrian street) is proposed, it would be “an enormous hurdle” with “significant implications for the rest of our cycling programme” because of the extra costs, delays and workload involved in carrying out even “modest” interventions, as Keegan warned. Also, further legal challenges by those determined to retain the status quo cannot be ruled out.

Frank McDonald is a former environment correspondent