700% increase in bus lanes and €1bn 25-stop light-rail system part of Cork transport plan

A €1bn 25-stop light-rail system linking Ballincollig to Mahon via a new docklands bridge is among the proposals contained in the long-awaited Cork Metropolitan Area Draft Transport Strategy (CMATS) which has been published by the National Transport Authority (NTA) today for six weeks of public consultation.

But work on the Luas-style project is unlikely to start before 2031 with the immediate focus instead on a €545m investment package in the bus network that will deliver a 700% increase in bus lanes across the Metropolitan region - from 14km today up to 100km.

It is hoped that by 2040 over half all journeys in the morning peak will be by sustainable transport modes compared to just 33% today.

The bus network has been described as the workhorse of the city’s future public transport system, with ambitious predicted journey times of 20-minutes from Mahon to Blarney, 20-minutes from Ballincollig to Glanmire, 15-minutes from Dublin Hill to Togher, and Ringaskiddy to Cork Airport in 30-minutes.

The main CMAT proposals include:

  • a €545m investment in the bus network to deliver a 700% increase in bus lanes - from 14km today to 100km and other bus priority measures, with a high-frequency east-west bus corridor from Ballincollig to Mahon, and 220 new buses;
  • This strategic transport corridor will act as the precursor for a 17km Luas-style tram system linking Ballincollig, via the city centre and docklands to Mahon Point, but work won’t start on it before 2031;
  • A north-south transport corridor, with a link to Cork Airport, as well as six strategic park-and-ride sites
  • New commuter rail stations at Blarney/Stoneview, Monard, and Blackpool/Kilbarry, on the Mallow line and at Tivoli, Dunkettle, Ballynoe, Carrigtwohill West and Water Rock, on the Cobh/Midleton line, and upgrades to stations in Cork, Cobh, and Mallow;
  • The electrification of the suburban rail network in Cork and the addition of 10km of dual track between Cobh Junction and Midleton, as part of a €274m investment in rail services;
  • a €230m investment in the development of 200km of primary bike lanes, 150km of secondary cycling network, 60km of inter-urban cycling networks and 140km of Greenways, with an expansion of the bike share scheme and improved ‘end-of-line’ facilities for cyclists such as showers and better parking, to help foster a culture of cycling in Cork;
  • And a ban on heavy goods vehicles from the city centre.

The €3.5bn plan, which was developed by the NTA, in conjunction with Cork City Council, Cork County Council, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, will facilitate new employment and housing in the City Docks and Tivoli.

The biggest element of the strategy is the €1bn Luas-style tram system which would run from Ballincollig, via CIT, UCC, CUH, St Patrick’s St and to Kent Station over a new bridge into the docklands and on to Mahon Point.

The system could carry 46m passengers per year, with journey times of 27 minutes from Ballincollig to the city centre.

Earlier drafts of CMATS focused on delivering a rapid bus transit system along this strategic transport corridor.

But the NTA said decision to recommend a light rail transport (LRT) system instead marks a departure from previous proposals to reflect the more ambitious growth targets of the National Planning Framework and the requirement to future-proof such a route up to and beyond 2040.

“The provision of LRT system will be a focal point to enable the growth of population, employment health and educational uses as envisaged by the NPF 2040. The LRT system will unlock strategic development opportunity sites and windfall sites in its catchment areas”

Despite the emphasis on public transport, €1.4bn will be spent on road projects, including the Dunkettle interchange upgrade, the M28 motorway to Ringaskiddy, the Cork North Ring Road, and upgrade of the South Ring Road.

The NTA says Cork will be the fastest-growing city-region in Ireland, with a projected 50%-60% increase in its population by 2040.

“This demand needs to be managed and planned for carefully to safeguard and enhance Cork’s attractiveness to live, work, visit, and invest in,” the NTA says.

Its chief executive Anne Graham said the strategy is great news for Cork from social economic and environmental points of view.

“It will deliver an accessible integrated transport network that enables the sustainable growth of the Cork metropolitan area as a dynamic connected and internationally competitive European city region as envisaged by the National planning framework 2040,” she said.

CMATS also proposes to develop Kent Station as a new transport hub to facilitate integration between the various transport modes, including the bus, cycling, light rail and suburban rail networks.

Public transport accounts for just 5% of the share across the whole day and all trip purposes.

Only 7% of journeys to work in Cork City are by public transport.

By comparison, walking has a 20% mode share, while the dominant mode is car which is used for 74% of trips.

Cycling makes up the remainder of trips, with 1% of all trips made by bike.

Read more about the plan in tomorrow's Irish Examiner

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