Safe routes to school

June 9th, 2022 | by aobaoill |

Galway City Council are currently running a set of consultations regarding proposed developments under the ‘Safe Routes to School’ programme, for a number of schools in Galway city. The schools involved include those in Mervue, Renmore, Raleigh Row (Scoil Íognáid), Shantalla, and Westside (GETNS and St Joseph’s). The Renmore proposals have received some media attention, after a local councillor came out against proposals to discourage vehicular traffic outside the school, arguing that it would lead to traffic congestion, and prevent local residents from parking on Ballyloughane Road. (Note: all houses facing onto Ballyloughane Road have private driveways.)

With two children in Galway Educate Together NS (GETNS), I have made a submission in response to the proposals for the area around GETNS. In general, I am supportive of what is proposed, but am concerned that the proposals are very minimal. In particular, while the Renmore proposal, for example, recognises that a ‘safe route’ must address the full route taken by children, if walking and cycling are to be encouraged, the GETNS proposal addresses just the area immediately in front of the school – an area that is currently congested, to be sure, but which excludes the various daunting junctions that must be tackled by many of those coming to the school.

GETNS, as the longest established multi-denominational national school in the city, attracts a cohort from across the city, but in particular from areas like Westside, Rahoon, Knocknacarra, and other suburbs on the west side of the city. It is from these areas in particular that we can expect to attract additional pedestrian and cyclist commuting to the school. The only children who can access the school without crossing a major junction are those

(The Safe Routes project is unlikely, in itself, to convert those travelling from the eastern side of the city, or from commuter towns like Moycullen and Oranmore.)

The route along Siobhan McKenna Road is a significant one for those travelling to the school by foot or bike, but it has significant shortcomings that affect child safety, and interfere with its attractiveness for active travel. There seem to me to be five main issues here:

  • Car traffic can travel at high speeds along this road (when not prevented by congestion). A visual speedometer installed by the council regularly records speeds in excess of the 50km/hr legal limit. As a relatively straight road (with some gentle curves), relatively flat, and quite wide, the road design induces faster speeds from drivers. My understanding is that there were speed bumps on the road a number of years ago, but they were removed following complaints from residents.
  • There is no cycle route along the road. The outer edge of the path does have a tarmac surface for part of the route, which can give the impression of serving as a cycle path, but the tarmac is far too narrow to serve this purpose, and there is no separation between pedestrians and cyclists, as recommended in national guidelines. Nonetheless, many cyclists do use the path on the northern side of the road, in large part because younger cyclists can feel nervous using the main road surface, with the fast-moving cars mentioned above. Cycling was, it appears, the main issue raised by parents in a previous stage in the consultation process, but cycling routes get no attention in this proposal.
  • There are numerous junctions with residential streets, which feature very wide turning radii. These encourage drivers to turn at speed, and increase the distance to be travelled on the road surface by pedestrians. Where dropped kerbs are in place, these are often set around the corner, meaning pedestrians must turn into the residential street in order to follow the ‘safe’ pedestrian route across the road. All of this conflicts with best practice for pedestrian routes.
  • Some obvious, and much-used, but busy, crossing points on the main pedestrian arteries to the school lack any formal (controlled or uncontrolled) pedestrian crossing, which increases risk to pedestrians, and deters pupils, parents, and others, from walking. The junction with Circular Road, at the end of Siobhan McKenna Road, is one prominent example. Rahoon Road, other than at the base of the hill at Seamus Quirke/Bishop O’Donnel Roads, is another – though I understand that a crossing near the entrance to Millar’s Lane is under active consideration as part of the development of the Millar’s Lane active travel route. It can also be difficult for pedestrians to cross on the Browne roundabout (junction of Thomas Hynes and Seamus Quirke Roads), though again redevelopment of this is under active consideration as part of the bus corridor plans. Finally, while Moyola Park can provide a safe, low-traffic route from GETNS, and the end of the much-used Siobhan McKenna Road, to the active-travel friendly NUIG campus, there is no pedestrian crossing facilitating entry to the ‘central campus’ pedestrian entrance at Áras Moyola / Alice Perry Engineering Building. This, even though Newcastle, Westside, and Rahoon have large student populations.
  • Galway has a long history of urban design that actively impedes permeability, including developments that prevent future introduction of permeability. (I am thinking here of neighbouring housing estates where cul de sacs are offset, so that there is no point at which a pedestrian cut-through can be introduced.) Kissing gates, overly narrow cut-throughs (preventing access by those using mobility aids or pushchairs, and making access difficult for those with bikes, scooters, etc.), and other design features are depressingly prevalent in our designed environment.

With the previous points as prelude, I attach below the main parts of the submission I made to the consultation on the Safe Routes proposals for GETNS:

The proposed changes are welcome, but insufficient to achieve their stated goals. While our children currently walk and cycle to/from school, we are hopeful of transitioning to cycling next year, but the current lack of cycling facilities, let alone ones meeting national recommended standards, is a significant barrier. This, in particular, needs further attention.

In addition to the changes proposed, I would recommend the following:

  1. The “Potential Pedestrian/Cycle link to Moyola Park” (marked on drawing 11220-1000) should be implemented. At present, those reaching the school from the East (eg from NUIG Central and North campuses) need to travel through Moyola Park as far as the N59, and then double back down the road towards the school (and vice versa). A cut-through from Moyola Park would reduce the amount of pedestrian/cycle traffic on the already congested entry way to the school, reduce the amount of pedestrian traffic at the western end of Moyola Park, and encourage cycle use (by making it easier to use the low-traffic, and relatively safe, Moyola Park to travel from the school to the cycle-friendly NUIG.
  2. At present the pedestrian crossing on Thomas Hynes Road has a staggered ‘on demand’ system, and there can be a significant delay from pressing the button to getting a green light, resulting in signficant numbers of pedestrians, including young children travelling alone, crossing against the red. In line with the Safe Routes to Schools document we should “Omit staggered crossings in favour of direct/single phase crossings” (p16), shorten the maximum waiting time for a green light once requested, and add signage/markings to alert drivers of the upcoming lights.
  3. A segregated cycle lane should be provided to join the school, along Siobhan McKenna, with the pedestrian route at the southern end of Claremont Park. It is notable that “New/improved cycle paths” were the highest-rated request from the previous consultation (64% of GETNS parents), but that this plan provides no specific improvements to cycling facilities. As a short-term measure, the left-turn slip lane at the end of Siobhan McKenna (at the junction with the N59) should be removed (in line with guidance, p16), and use of kerbs/bollards/wands to quickly/cheaply create segregated cycle lanes (in line with recommendations on p18) should be investigated.
  4. Additional measures to enhance pedestrian/cycle safety along the Siobhan McKenna route would include side road upgrades to reduce kerb radii, at the entrances to Laurel Park, John Coogan Park, Gaelcarraig Park, Inishannagh Park, and the junction with Bóthar Lé Cheile.
  5. Ensure dropped kerbs and tactile paving at all crossing points. At present there is no dropped kerb at the vehicular entrance to GETNS.
  6. The path at the crossing point on Thomas Hynes/N59 can be over-crowded – widen the path to leave plenty of space for those waiting to cross the road, while also facilitating those walking along the street. There is space to expand the paths on both sides of the roads at these points.
  7. In line with the Safe Routes document and DMURS 4.2.5, the use of guard rails at the pedestrian crossing on Thomas Hynes Road should be discontinued – and the elements above will provide DMURS-compatible safety features that will make them redundant.
  8. The path on the south side of the road from Thomas Hynes past the front of the school, and continuing to CROI, is far too narrow – I have had problems navigating with a pushchair in the past. This is exacerbated by the presence of various obstructions (eg street lighting). In line with DMURS 4.2.5, these should be minimised, and moved to the side of the path – I am glad to see the proposed plan includes mention of this, though it appears that the mid-section of the path, near the middle zebra crossing, will continue to be very narrow.
  9. Implementation of a crossing point on Circular Road, near the North-West corner of the Westside sports field, should be introduced. Given the ongoing enhancements to the Millar’s Lane route, and the possible introduction of a crossing point on Rahoon Road near the entrance to Rosán Glas/Millar’s Lane, this has the potential, together with enhancement of pedestrian facilities on Siobhan McKenna, to create a safe pedestrian/cycling route from Kingston, through Rahoon and Westside, connecting with NUIG and the city centre. As GETNS attracts children from a wide catchment area (due to its distinctive ethos), this will serve pupils from across this area, as well as providing general enhancements to the public realm.
  10. The access point from Rahoon Road to Rockfield (which provides access to Claremont and thus Westside) is too narrow for a child to easily/safely bring through a bike/scooter, or for a pushchair to be used. This is a significant problem for safety, permeability, and universal design. This entrance point needs to be widened, at least to facilitate pushchair/wheelchair access to the bus stops on Rahoon Road, and to facilitate travel by bike by parents and children.

In retrospect, I could also have added the following points (and may add them to a supplementary submission):

  • The distance along Upper Newcastle Road, between the signalised junctions with Thomas Hynes Road (at the northern end) and R338 (at the south) is 1.0km. This road segment has five bus stops on it, and on the west side has multiple pedestrian routes joining Thomas Hynes Road (and the residential areas to the west, including Westside, Rahoon, and Knocknacarra) with Upper Newcastle, including paths through Greenfields, Fairlands, Moyola Park, and Ardilaun Road. In addition, it is anticipated that the future Newcastle Community Centre (to be located adjacent to GETNS/CROI) will have pedestrian access from Upper Newcastle Road. To the east, this segments has to multiple parts of the NUIG campus, including the North Campus (including Corrib Village, where most residents are reliant on active travel, and the Institute for Lifecourse and Society, which acts as a significant bridge between campus and community), and Central Campus (which includes significant teaching locations for engineering, health sciences, and business).
  • The lack of any pedestrian crossing along this segment adds up to 1km (10-15 minutes) for pedestrians who rely on pedestrian crossings – and additionally mean that those who follow ‘desire lines’ between safe pedestrian routes on each side of the road are put at increased risk. The introduction of two additional pedestrian crossing points along this road segment should be considered – one between the Greenfields/Fairlands entrances to the road, and another close to the Central Campus entrances to the road (which are close to the two pedestrian routes from Moyola Park).
  • There is a very short segment of a cycle lane at the northern end of Thomas Hynes Road, on the eastern (south-facing) side, but this ends suddenly, before connecting with any junctions. Segregated cycle lanes on both sides of this road, for the full length of Thomas Hynes Road, will (together with cycle lanes on Siobhan McKenna Road, and the existing route on Seamus Quirke Road) significantly aid cycle connectivity between GETNS and Dangan, upper Newcastle, and areas to the south of Galway University Hospital (eg Shantalla, the West, upper Salthill, and Claddagh).

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