Limerick – The Anti-Bicycle City

When I started writing this blog, the intention was to raise awareness of the poorly designed cycle infrastructure around the city and propose solutions that would show it is possible to design and build a viable cycle transport network if there was any ambition within Limerick City and County Council (LCCC) to do so. The design quality of cycle infrastructure included in the redeveloped Davis Street and in the emerging preferred option for the remodelling of O’Connell Street are what finally drove me to start this blog. How could something so important to the future development of the city be so poorly and haphazardly designed? With that in mind, I set about documenting Limerick’s badly designed cycle infrastructure but pretty soon I ran into a problem – Limerick doesn’t really have any cycle infrastructure to document or critique.

Most of my local cycling to date has been of the sporting variety on the rural roads around County Limerick. Many times I would have travelled through the city as part of my training spin but I never paid that much attention to the cycle infrastructure at the time as the city was just an obstacle I wanted to get through as quickly as possible. Since moving closer to Limerick city recently and trying to use my ‘normal’ bike instead of my car in and around the city whenever possible, I have become much more aware of Limerick’s streetscapes and the LCCC’s attitude to bicycles as a mode of transport.

Before we go any further, let’s just remind ourselves of a few things.

  1. According to the LCCC website, “Limerick City is fast becoming one of the most progressive Irish cities in the field of healthier, more sustainable travel and was awarded the title of Ireland’s first Smarter Travel Demonstration City in a national competition funded by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTT&S) and co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) under the Southern & Eastern Regional Operational Programme 2007-2013. Due to the designation, the city will receive funding of €9million from the DTT&S/ERDF over five years.” The Smarter Travel project and funding finished in December 2016 but a budget was carried over so that the Smarter Travel Behavioural Change Programme will continue (but more on that scary proposition later).
  2. Ireland’s National Cycle Policy Framework has set a target of 10% commuting by bike by 2020 (doesn’t state whether it’s of journeys or population).
  3. Cycling has been in steep decline since the 1980’s. The numbers using the bike for commuting in Ireland fell from 7% in 1986, to 4.2% in 1996 and to 2% in 2006.
  4. 2.4% of Limerick people cycle to work in 2017, less than half that of Galway.
  5. In 1986 a total of 23,635 primary level pupils cycled to school whereas in 2006, only 4,087 primary school pupils cycled to school (a decline of 83%).
  6. Transport accounts for 19% of our annual green house gas emissions.
  7. The EU 2020 Climate & Energy Package requires a 20cut in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels).
  8. Ireland will only achieve around 6% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, thus incurring fines from the EU.
  9. The government’s draft National Mitigation Plan (pdf) describes as “extremely challenging” many of the changes that will have to take place if Ireland is to meet the EU’s 2030 targets of a 30% reduction in emissions, compared to 2005. It accepts that in two key areas, transport and agriculture, emissions will actually increase between now and 2020.

So we have a local council who says we are one of the most progressive Irish cities in the field of healthier, more sustainable travel, yet greenhouse emission from transport are increasing and rates of cycling are dropping at an alarming rate. Something doesn’t quite add up.  LCCC’s solution to increasing the number of bicycle commuters is through the “Smarter Travel Behavioural Change Programme”. From what I can see, this basically is a bunch of marketing nonsense that does anything and everything except address the poor quality or non-existent cycle infrastructure that people actually need in order to cycle.

We’ve already spoken about the Davis Street shambles but other recent projects are no better. William Street is one of Limerick’s busiest thoroughfares, starting at O’Connell St. in the middle of the city. William Street underwent a major overhaul in 2011 which isn’t long ago. From what I’ve heard, the original plans removed on-street parking and included cycle lanes but after consultation with local businesses, the parking was kept and the cycle lanes were scrapped. A two lane motorway running through the heart of the city was the end result.

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Before (2009). Taxi rank is on the right side of the street.
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After (2014). The taxi rank has been moved to the left side of the street (hidden behind trees).
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The new and improved William Street. Motor traffic is waiting for the lights to go green at the junction with O’Connell St before racing up this motorway. The bus on the right doesn’t even have a driver in it – William St. is also used as a temporary bus depot.
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Lady on left has running shoes on – suitable for crossing William St.
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Ample on-street parking at both sides further up William St.

As you can see, there is absolutely no concern or allowance for cycles on the street. But it doesn’t stop there, let’s look at Catherine Street which was redeveloped in the last 10 years also. I can’t find any ‘before’ photos but here are some of Catherine St. in 2017. Again, absolutely no space allocated to cycles, even though this street used to have two lanes of traffic and parking on both sides. You could say that the removal of one traffic lane and on-street parking is a positive but the inclusion of staggered loading bays at either side cancel this out a little. Wouldn’t it have been so easy to include cycle lanes going in both directions along this street instead? Is LCCC even aware of a thing called a bicycle?

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A street calling out for a bike lane. Wider footpaths are good but you could land a plane on these.
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Do we think these people are really loading? And just look at all those bollards to protect pedestrians from motor traffic. Safety first!

When you get to the end of Catherine Street you turn onto Thomas Street where the same street design philosophy continues. “Bikes? What are they? Never heard of them. Stand aside now and let the cars through.”

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Thomas St. Bollards, bollards, bollards. And more loading bays (used for illegal parking). The space where the van is parked was originally a disabled parking space but has been converted into a loading bay now

These streets were all redesigned and redeveloped in the last 10 years. Limerick is made up of long wide straight streets that are so easy to turn into cycle and pedestrian friendly streets but LCCC just do not have the will or the foresight to do this. They, quite unbelievably, are stuck in some 1970’s mindset where the car is seen as the primary mode of transport throughout the city. Unless our council engineers and elected representatives suffer some sort of Road to Damascus conversion in the near future and finally see what every other even mildly progressive city around the world has done or is doing, the city of Limerick is without doubt going to lose the great opportunity offered by the 2030 Strategic Development Plan to turn Limerick into a truly vibrant, business friendly, liveable city for its people. Limerick has a vision but those who are responsible for delivering it are blind and cannot see it. In a few years we’ll be looking back and saying “if only”.