How to Easily Transform Childers Road Into a High Quality Active Travel Corridor

The R509, better known as Childers Road, works as an inner ring road around the southeast of Limerick city. It measures around 4km in length from Ballinacurra to the Parkway roundabout. Until the completion of the M7/M20 connections to the south of the city, apart from serving local traffic, Childers Road carried all traffic from Kerry and West Limerick heading to Dublin. As this is no longer the case, the road’s function has changed but it is still a hostile and dangerous road for anyone wanting to cycle along it. Childers Road is earmarked to be a primary cycle route according to 2016 Limerick Cycle Network proposal and the initial draft of the Limerick and Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy has indicated a new BusConnects route along it but who knows when any of this will happen. Being such a busy route will make any proposed changes controversial – particularly if the proposed changes include the addition of bus lanes to the existing carriageway. Not only will this flawed approach to transport planning do little to enable modal shift, it will also make the provision of safe and attractive active modes of travel impossible along this route. New cycling projects rarely utilise the infrastructure that already exists ā€“ ie: roads ā€“ instead, the focus has nearly always been on the provision of additional, usually low quality, segregated cycle lanes. So before our local authority and the NTA propose a costly and flawed ‘upgrade’ for Childers Road that will probably take 10 years (if ever) to be realised and makes active travel about as attractive an option as it is today, there is an alternative option.

Let’s look at what providing a high quality cycle route along Childers Road would provide first. There are 5 large supermarkets on Childers Road – Lidl, Aldi, Tesco and Dunnes (x2), 5 shopping centres/retail parks, 4 schools, sports clubs (Claughaun GAA, Old Christians GAA, Our Lady of Lourdes Boxing Club, etc), a hotel, a health centre, two industrial estates as well as numerous other employment centres. There are also numerous residential areas running at either side of Childers Rd – Ballinacurra, Janesboro, Southill and Garryowen. Despite the promises of regeneration, Kincora Park and O’Malley Park in Southill are still isolated from the surrounding areas thanks to the busy road network that borders these areas. If Childers Road was turned into an attractive and safe cycle route, it could also become the primary cycle route connecting Raheen with Castletroy and the University of Limerick.

The highlighted areas in the image from Utrecht show where the dedicated cycle track connects with a quiet service road that is used by local motor traffic only. The surface colouring is consistent to maintain a seamless transition from one section to another along this cycle route.

In 2018 I first visited The Netherlands to study their cycle infrastructure and one of the things that struck me was how seamless the transition between different types of infrastructure on a single route was – residential street, cycle street, segregated cycle track, etc. While some sections of the route would be shared with motor traffic, the volume and speed of motor traffic is deliberately kept low through street design and traffic planning so that cycling still feels safe and relaxing.

Entering Delft on a cycle street along the route we took from The Hague. As you can see, this is a residential area but through traffic is not allowed so it is quiet and safe for all ages and abilities to use with cycles. Our journey also incorporated dedicated cycle tracks but the consistent surface colour and quality meant you don’t really take notice of the change between types of infrastructure.

So how does this fit with Childers Road? Currently there is a two way cycle track running from The Parkway Roundabout to the Kilmallock Roundabout. From the Kilmallock Roundabout to the Roxboro Roundabout there is nothing but a busy carriageway and a footpath. From Roxboro to Ballinacurra however, while there is no cycle infrastructure, for long stretches there are quiet residential roads running parallel to Childers Road that are perfectly suited to cycling. The problem is that right now they are not very convenient to access or use but that could be changed quite easily.

Starting in Greenfields, I have put together some layout changes along Childers Road to show how easy the transition from inhospitable road for motor traffic to a high quality active travel corridor. Even when the route passes along a quiet residential road, the surface should be red – as is shown in the drawings. This helps to enforce the idea that this is a single continuous route that is safe to cycle on. Typically, black top road surface finishes indicate car priority so it is important that resurfaced roads are done so with red bitmac. This wouldn’t be anything new for Limerick Council as they have done this already in the city (Park Road) and county (Lough Gur Road – see below) to indicate to motorists the presence of cyclists (ignore the mad 50kph speed limit though).

Locations of layout drawings along Childers Road from Greenfields (1) to Parkway Roundabout (9)

Use the slider to see what changes need to be made to the existing road layouts. To view larger drawings, right-click on any of them to open them in a new tab.

1. Junction at Greenfields. Lidl is located in top left, school for deaf is at bottom right, church, childcare services and local community centre at top right. Ties in with Ballinacurra ‘greenway’ by cutting through Ballinacurra Gardens at bottom left.
2. Disused railway line crossing diagonally just to the right of centre.
3. Junction with Colbert Avenue in the centre. Our Lady Queen of Peace National School is to the right.
4. Maldron Hotel at bottom right, Circle K filling station at top right.
5. Roxboro Roundabout. Slightly narrowed entry and exit arms at pedestrian crossing points to prevent multi-lane motor traffic at crossings.
6. Childers Road passing underneath Limerick-Dublin rail line. Kilmallock Roundabout on the right. Ties in with existing cycle track on right.
7. Tipperary Roundabout. Existing cycle track needs to be upgraded.
8. Childers Road Shopping Centre at bottom left, St. Brigid’s National School at top left, Claughaun GAA Club bottom right.
9. Parkway Roundabout. Parkway Retail Park at bottom, Parkway Shopping Centre at top. Ties in with existing cycle track going to University of Limerick.

The following are a series of ‘artist impressions’ of what this route would look like travelling from Greenfields to the Roxboro Roundabout. As you will see, it wouldn’t take a lot to turn this into a high quality walking and cycling route.

Childers Road from Greenfields to Roxboro Roundabout showing locations of photo overlays
Approaching Hyde Road
Just after passing Hyde Road
Ballyclough Avenue
Ballyclough Avenue, approach disused railway crossing
Sycamore Avenue, at other side of disused railway crossing
Passing Our Lady Queen of Peace National School on the left
At junction to Kincora Park/M7/M20
Between junction to M7/M20 and Circle K fuel station.
Outside Circle K fuel station

The benefit of doing something like this is that it avoids the inevitable arguments that ensue should any existing road space need to be reallocated from motor traffic to cycle traffic. Only the Roxboro Roundabout and the link between that and the Kilmallock Roundabout need slight carriageway modifications. Between these two roundabouts, the carriageway is 10m wide. Going by DMURS (Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets), this only needs to be 7m. There is also a wide grass bank on the Kennedy Park side that could be pushed back another 50cm (or more) – this would allow for a 2.5m two-way cycle track, while not ideal, would allow enough space for 2 abreast cycling most of the time and also provide for at least 1m horizontal separation from the busy carriageway alongside it.

Cross section of Childers Road between Roxboro Roundabout and Kilmallock Roundabout.

The entry to the Kilmallock Roundabout as you come under the railway bridge also needs some slight adjustments but again, motor traffic would be largely unaffected by the changes – just remove some of the central island separating the entry and exit motor traffic lanes to free up space for segregated walking and cycling infrastructure.

As people from Limerick would be aware, there is a segregated two way cycle track already running between the Kilmallock Roundabout as far as the Parkway but it needs to be upgraded as there are numerous issues with it.

They don’t build them like they used to. I don’t know when this was built but it was before the National Cycle Manual was introduced and its probably my favourite stretch of cycle infrastructure in Limerick (even though it’s only about 300m-400m in length between the Kilmallock and Tipperary roundabouts)
One problem with this old infrastructure is that the cycle track (left) is higher than the footway – it should be the other way around for accessibility reasons.
Another easy-to-fix problem is the use of anti-tank bollards and convoluted walking and cycling intersections.

The current government have made so much money available for walking and cycling that funding is no longer an argument or excuse for not building high quality walking and cycling infrastructure. All that’s in the way from doing this is the Council Executive as I’d be pretty sure there wouldn’t even be political opposition to a cycling project like his. For a change.

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