Battle intensifies over proposed new 115km track for cycling

Posted on: January 1st, 2018

Barrow towpath

Barrow tow path: The plan is to turn this walking track into one with a hard surface. It would then be suitable for cycling; along 115km of scenic canal and river banks. Decision day is imminent. But there is disagreement about the future of the Barrow towpath (Photo courtesy Rothar Routes)


Barrow towpath may get major overhaul for cycling, walking


The dispute over a proposed new 115km cycleway and walkway along the Barrow towpath is intensifying.

Waterways Ireland, which is in promoting the project, has defended it in the face of criticism.

And that defence comes just weeks before several local authorities are due to decide if they will approve the plan.

A number of local groups are campaigning against the mooted new Barrow towpath track. They believe it will spoil the natural beauty of the existing walkway.

They also say the existing grassy surface should stay because cyclists will go too fast on a harder surface.

At present walkers use the track; though cyclists could also ride it. The proposed new surface would be much more suitable for cycling.

As a result, more cyclists would share the facility with walkers. That’s a major bone of contention for those opposed to the upgrade.

The Waterford Greenway has been launched as debate over the Barrow project – through Carlow, Kildare and Laois – has raged.

And the Waterford development has proven a huge success. More cyclists than walkers have flocked to it since it opened in March.

That fact perhaps strengthens the case for putting a new surface on the existing towpath to tailor more for cycling.

However, those against the new Barrow proposal point out the greenways make use out of lapsed railways.

The Barrow proposal involves putting an unbound hard core surface rolled in crushed limestone onto the existing towpath; a track in the grass made by walkers.

The Barrow Way runs about 115km from Lowtown in Co Kildare to St Mullins in neighbouring Co Carlow. It winds its way along river and canal paths.


Barrow towpath

A path has been beaten into the grass by walkers for much of the way. But this is what stretches of the Barrow towpath look like.


The local authorities who must approve the new plans nine months ago asked Waterways Ireland for more information on the project.

It has now provided a report defending its plans. Waterways Ireland has pointed out the proposed new surface, for a 2.5 metre wide path, works well in other parts of the world.

Compacted stone and dust unbound path is planned for the vast majority of the Barrow towpath, it says.

Many global slow tourism attractions, the agency says, use the same surface.

A proposal to retain the grass surface – with plastic gridding added – was consider. It was abandoned on the basis the grass would become uneven and unsightly.

The agency also says the proposed path will follow the existing one. As a result, it believes the environmental impact will be minimal.

And it also claims the choice of surface will make the path safe in all weathers and accessible for a variety of users.

It believes flooding will not get any worse. And it believes the mooted surface type and width will not only mean lower environmental impact but will also keep costs down.

It believes the path will be used by a maximum 1,500 people per day. This seems low, especially given the success of the Waterford Greenway. The Barrow Tow path is also three times as long.

New research conducted by Waterford City and County Council reveals almost 250,000 people have visited the Greenway.

Furthermore, some 141,906 of the total visitors have cycled the greenway. Cycling visits are much higher than those by walkers.

Some 105,639 have walked some or all of the greenway.


Olivia O’Leary vocal in opposing plans

Journalist and broadcaster Olivia O’Leary is committee chairperson of the Save the Barrow Line group opposed to the new plan.

O’Leary says replacing the grassy surface with a hard unbound surface intended to make the route suitable for cyclists would interfere with the area’s ecosystem.

The existing grass surface, she says, already accommodates cyclists, walkers, anglers and joggers.

“But we are against the putting down of a hard unbound surface on the narrow towpath which will encourage speed which raises major safety issues beside a waterway.”