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 – ie: roads – 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.