Davis Street Redesign – An Embarrassment to Limerick

As part of the Parnell St., Wickham St., & Davis St., Urban Realm and Street Improvement Project, work was recently completed on the newly remodelled Davis Street and the short stretch of Parnell Street in front of the newly remodelled Colbert Station Plaza. To say the end result of this work is not in keeping with the Council’s own City Development Plan 2010-2016 wouldn’t come near to describing the design quality of this new streetscape. The end result is actually an embarrassment to the city and clearly demonstrates that those responsible for delivering on Limerick City and County Council’s corporate vision “to define the Limerick we all desire to live, work, invest in & enjoy” are either wholly incompetent or simply consider documented strategy plans as PR fluff that is best ignored.

Irish Rail recently completed phase 1 of a €16.8 million redevelopment of Colbert Station through the construction of Colbert Station Plaza. Any visitors coming to Limerick by train will arrive at Colbert Station. Colbert Station also serves approximately one million bus passengers a year so it is easy to see the important role this station plays in the economic viability of the city. Davis Street sits facing Colbert Station so it makes an obvious route to choose for anyone wishing to travel to the City Centre.

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Davis Street from Google Street View in Sept 2014

Prior to the commencement of works on Davis St, it was a standard street layout – two-way motor traffic, parking at both sides, a few small shops, a pub, a bookies, etc. The first plan proposed by the Council involved converting the street to single lane one-way traffic (heading towards Colbert Station), parking at one side only, introducing a contraflow cycle lane and widening the footpaths. I wouldn’t agree with the cycle infrastructure originally proposed for a number of reasons:

  1. The cycle lane is only partially segregated where Davis St meets Parnell St. Segregation should continue the full length of the street.
  2. The barriers proposed to segregate cyclists from motor traffic are a danger to cyclists.
  3. There is no cycle lane heading towards Colbert Station so cycle users are expected to share the same lane as motor traffic.
  4. The junction design between Davis St and Parnell St is dangerous for cyclists and doesn’t seem to offer any clear access route to and from Colbert Station.
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Original design proposal. Fairly rubbish by modern standards but at least it makes some acknowledgement of the need for cycle infrastructure.

Keep in mind that Colbert Station is the only train station serving Limerick so we should expect many visitors to our city who will not be familiar with the city’s road network will need to use this street to travel to and from the city centre. As a design proposal, I would have given it about 4 out of 10 and asked the designers to come back with an updated proposal that addressed these issues.  As the entire project is subject to Part 8 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001-2013, the public are invited to make submissions on the design (which is perfectly acceptable) allowing them to highlight any concerns or issues they might have. There are numerous other steps to be completed also as part of the process but the final planning application must be passed by the full Council. And this is where the problem lies.

A number of submissions were lodged, mainly by local traders, and the basic tenant of the submissions was that the plans were welcomed but could everything please stay the same (ie: keep traffic layout and parking as is and do not introduce any cycle infrastructure as that will get in the way of real business). The Council duly obliged so rather than the original proposal that made some, albeit weak, attempt at progress, we got nothing. In fact we managed to get something worse than nothing which is an achievement in itself.

Taa-daaa! The new and improved Davis Street. Take a bow whoever is responsible for this design.

Irishcycle.com covered the Council’s reason for the changes in their excellent story “SAFETY CONCERNS” CITED FOR SCRAPPING LIMERICK CYCLE LANE PLAN BUT REPORT POINTS TO LOSS OF CAR PARKING so I won’t repeat what they have done here. What I will do is look at some of the infrastructure that was delivered and explain why we would have been better off if the Council had done nothing in the first place.

Street from other end showing problem of illegal parking.

The only change to the street layout was the removal of parking at one side and widening the footpath to take the space previously occupied by parked cars. If that was all that was done then you could at least argue that pedestrians were somehow prioritised and that they at least would be delighted with the new layout but no, the Council couldn’t even get that right. In their wisdom, they installed a row of metal bollards along the widened path to either a) prevent illegal parking or b) protect pedestrians from cars mounting the footpath. Either reason does not justify the inclusion of these bollards which have significantly reduced the usable width of the path for pedestrians.

Bollards to protect pedestrians from motor traffic. Look at how much space is lost between the bollards and roadway. Picture thanks to @PaulieWelded

The funniest, or saddest, part of the redesign is the cycle infrastructure. This consists of 2 little bikes painted onto the road at either end of the street. It…it…it…it. I just don’t know what to say. It leaves me speechless.

Limerick’s progressive cycle infrastructure.

What exactly are these two little bike paintings meant to represent? By their size, location and frequency, they send out a clear signal that cyclists and cycling are insignificant on this street. The National Transport Authority’s National Cycle Manual offers designers of cycle infrastructure guidelines on solutions for various road types. The new Davis Street is 5.5m wide. According the NTA’s guidelines,

“Where such streets are less than 5.5m in width, there should be no central lane marking, thereby ensuring all road users in either direction yield to each other. For widths between 5.5 and 7.0m, a central lane marking should be provided to separate opposing traffic.”

As there is no central lane marking, I will assume that the Council are specifying the lane width as less than 5.5m therefore defining it as a “Narrow Shared Street”. The proposed design of cycle infrastructure by the NTA for this type of street include “cycle logos in centre of lane to emphasise correct cyclist position”.

NTA Cycle Manual design guideline for ‘Narrow Shared Streets’

This for me would be an unsatisfactory solution also as Davis St has too much through traffic but it at least highlights to motorists the cyclist’s entitlement to use the road also and something that could and should have been applied by the Council. To be fair to the designer of the revised proposal, the street was supposed to have buff coloured surfacing which would have acted as a traffic calming measure but that was also dropped somewhere along the process for standard asphalt.

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The revised proposal showing that street should have been finished with buff surface treatment.

So where does this debacle leave us now? As part of the revised design, planned cycle infrastructure for Parnell St. has also been dropped so we can expect to see more 1970’s inspired urban transport infrastructure where private cars are prioritised over people and all other forms of transport. At the launch of Limerick’s 2030 Strategic Plan in 2013, Limerick City and County Council CEO Conn Murray described Limerick 2030 as “a once in a generation plan to guide the economic, social and physical renaissance of Limerick city centre, the wider county and Mid-West region.” From what we’ve seen so far, do we think this Council is capable of delivering on such lofty ambitions given they were incapable of getting the design of such a simple project like Davis Street anywhere near acceptable by basic 21st century standards? There’s a reason Limerick has fallen into economic decline over the last few decades so my initial excitement over the potential of Limerick 2030 has well and truly dissipated as our Council’s ineptitude will continue to embarrass not just themselves, but the whole of Limerick.