A recent Evening Echo article (“Cyclists on Greenway a danger to pedestrians”, 23/05/2018) described cyclists on the Blackrock-Passage West greenway as a threat to pedestrians with “accidents waiting to happen”. The article then reported the discussion among county councillors on this matter.
Like councillors, the Cork Cycling Campaign is concerned about the safety of cyclists and pedestrians on this shared pathway in the city and county. The Campaign strives to improve safety for all cyclists and to encourage mutual consideration, understanding, and respect between cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians. We have an etiquette guide for cyclists which includes brief advice about how to cycle safely and considerately on shared pathways:
Below we make some observations about this particular matter, describe causes of conflict, and make recommendations to promote the safe and enjoyable usage of the path for all users. The use of the path is a complicated issue and improvements require careful consideration of numerous factors.
As noted by councillors, the Blackrock-Passage West Greenway is very well used by walkers, runners, and cyclists. It is clearly an important and attractive amenity, meeting the dual needs for transport and recreation in local communities. Given the high volume of users and the multipurpose nature of the pathway, it represents outstanding value for taxpayer money. The popularity of the path is therefore a cause for celebration.
The greenway provides significant physical and mental health benefits for all users. When it also serves as an attractive transport corridor for cyclists, the route delivers valuable indirect benefits, such as reduced traffic congestion and air pollution elsewhere. This means that the effective functioning of the path has ramifications beyond the path's immediate area. The dual-use nature of the greenway can also play a significant role in raising the proportion of sustainable travel in the Cork metro region. These multiple recreational, environmental, and transport benefits of the route are goals of several national and local policies and should be strongly supported.
As pointed out in the council discussion, the high volume of people using the greenway has brought different users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists, into conflict with each other. Both pedestrians and cyclists have equal rights to use this route and the needs of both types of users should be accommodated. Similar pathways elsewhere function smoothly; we are optimistic that effective actions can be taken to ensure that this important route also works well. Finally, we note that the issues raised about this particular route are quite common and occur to a greater or lesser extent on other pathways in the city and county. Developing a clear and sensible approach to this issue, and applying it both here and elsewhere, is important.
CAUSES OF CONFLICT BETWEEN DIFFERENT PATH USERS
Our experience is that most conflicts arise between users travelling in the same direction but at different speeds. The conflict has two causes – a behavioural aspect and an infrastructural component.
a) Behavioural considerations:
There seems to be relatively little public awareness about how pedestrians and cyclists ought to interact with each other. The greenway works best if ALL users understand the needs of other users, are aware of potential conflicts, and show consideration towards others. Conflicts arise when users’ actions hinder sharing the path with others.
In our experience – as both cyclists and pedestrians – most difficulties arise when:
- walkers, runners, or cyclists occupy the middle or right hand side of the path or travel several abreast. Doing so severely restricts the space available for faster path users to overtake. All users, whether cyclists, walkers, or runners, need to be aware that others may wish to pass them.
- cyclists pass too close to pedestrians or runners. This situation mostly arises when slower users do not leave enough room for runners and cyclists to pass.
- cyclists travel too fast. The route should feel safe for everyone and cycling at high speed is inappropriate on this type of pathway.
- cyclists do not ring their bell to warn others of their approach. On the other hand, it should also be noted that walkers and runners sometimes resent this warning, ignore it, or do not even hear it (if wearing headphones, for instance).
- children and animals behave unpredictably or startle. Cyclists and runners need to be aware of this and pass cautiously. At the same time, guardians and pet owners should keep their charges away from faster path users.
- dogs are not kept on leashes and close to their controllers. Leashes should not extend across the entire pathway. In low light conditions, leads may not even be visible to runners or cyclists and could cause an accident.
Many of these issues are already addressed in the relatively new signage on the path: keep left, ring your bell, etc. Unfortunately, users do not adhere to these guidelines.
b) Infrastructural considerations:
Path width is an important characteristic for facilitating mixed use and a wider pathway would immediately reduce the number of conflicts on the greenway. The path should be wide enough to accommodate 2 or 3 people walking abreast while leaving enough space for a cyclist or runner to pass safely from behind with enough space to do so safely. The width should also be able to accommodate a significant increase in the volume of people beyond those currently using the space. If the greenway is well known, attractive, and functions well as both a transport corridor and recreational amenity, even larger numbers of users would be expected (and this would be a desirable outcome). This has already occurred on the pathway and the present high user volume exceeds the original design capacity. Any future path width should build in the capacity for increased usage rates.
Both behavioural and infrastructural causes of conflict need to be addressed to create a safe and attractive pathway. We make several recommendations.
1. Review path usage guidelines. Although current guidelines are sensible, they should be periodically reviewed in light of changing patterns of pathway use. The Cork Cycling Campaign would be happy to contribute our expertise as cycling representatives in the planning and design processes for the further development of a greenway or cycleway network in Cork.
2. Reinforce the Keep Left rule. Of all the guidelines for using the path, the Keep Left rule is most effective in reducing conflict between faster and slower users of the greenway. A simple and elegant solution to reinforce the Keep Left rule would be to paint counter propagating arrows on the path every 200 metres or so. We recommend this approach. It would cost little and could be quickly and easily implemented. It would look neat, and regularly remind everyone to keep left except when overtaking others.
3. Review and replace signage. The existing signage conveys necessary information about using the path and fills a void in the public’s awareness of how to share a pathway with different types of users. However, the cartoonish nature of the present set of signs does little to convey the importance of the path usage guidelines. This may partly explain why these guidelines are widely ignored.
4. Do not separate pedestrians and cyclists. At the current path width, we do not recommend separate lanes for walking and cycling. There is no reason to be optimistic that all users would follow this rule because it would reduce the space available to users and make the path feel cramped. It is likely to be widely ignored. It would also bring people (some of whom are children) who are cycling in opposite directions much closer to each other – here the differential speed could be high enough to cause serious injury in the event of a collision. This approach should therefore be avoided on safety grounds. (However, if the path were significantly wider, separating different users could be the best approach if there is sufficient space.)
5. Widen the path. At the infrastructure level, we strongly recommend widening the path. Although greater awareness and accommodation for the needs of others will reduce difficulties in interactions between users, the shear volume of users really needs a much wider path. Not every pathway needs to be extra wide, but this one does.
Cork Cycling Campaign recently launched the vision of a continuous “Lee-to-Sea” Greenway from Ballincollig to Crosshaven via Cork city centre and Carrigaline. The former Blackrock-Passage-Crosshaven railway line would be a key piece of the proposed route. The Lee-to-Sea Greenway – combining leisure use, a commuting function, and significant tourist potential – is also an outstanding opportunity to secure national funding to upgrade the entire route. Doing so would deliver very strong commercial, environmental, and recreational benefits to the city and county, while helping to alleviate the traffic congestion bedevilling the region.
The Cork Cycling Campaign are happy to engage with councillors, walking and running groups to review the causes of such conflict and look for positive changes to maximize the value of the path. Like others, we want to see this and other shared paths function smoothly and safely while accommodating many users. We are delighted by the number of cyclists, walkers, and runners that the Greenway attracts and see it as proof of the need for many more similar facilities.