Roughan & O’Donovan-Aecom was appointed by Westmeath County Council to plan and design this dedicated coast-to-coast cycleway stretching 276km across the country and linking Dublin to Galway in 2012.
The project aims to bring revenue and jobs into economically disadvantaged, rural areas of the country in much the same way that Ireland’s first long-distance touring route, the Wild Atlantic Way, has done for the West.
Recreational tourism is a major, new driver of economic growth in rural Ireland. ‘Slow tourism’ is encouraging people to slow down, get out of town and visit previously overlooked rural areas with much to offer in terms of mountains, lakes, rivers and, of course, walking and cycling trails.
As the American author, Louis L’Amour, said in Ride the Dark Trail, “The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are travelling for.”
Government policies encouraging people to cycle instead of driving on holidays and shorter leisure trips led to the formation of the National Cycle Network, which promotes long-distance cycle routes linking Ireland around the perimeter and across the centre.
Across Europe, the Euro-Velo Cycle Network has proposed a ’mega-network’ of cycle routes linking the extremities of the continent across numerous countries to encourage long-distance cyclingodysseys.
Euro-Velo Route 2 (EV2) suggests linking Galway to Moscow over a distance of 3,700km.
Fáilte Ireland studies confirm that, within Europe, there is a significant marketfor cycle touring in Ireland, with a lot of interest from Germany, France and the Netherlands in particular. This research concluded that the development of high-quality long-distance cycle routes would attract more people to Ireland on cycle holidays, especially for longer distance routes suitable for a week-long activity.
Arising from this assessment, it was decided to develop the first long-distance cycle route in Ireland between Galway and Dublin as our part of the EV2 European cycle route over a distance of up to 270km (depending on the route chosen).
A total of ten agencies came together, under the management and coordination of Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), to deliver the project. These included Waterways Ireland, CIE/Iarnród Éireann, Fáilte Ireland and six local authorities, namely, Westmeath, Meath, Kildare, Roscommon, Galway County, and the former Athlone Town Council.
We adopted a holistic approach to the planning of the project, assembling a multidisciplinary design team comprising engineers, ecologists, archaeologists and landscape architects.
With the depth and breadth of expertise within the team, we could identify how best to showcase the natural and cultural heritage environment along the route to appeal to the cycling and walking tourist and day-tripper.
In delivering the project, the team drew upon international best practice in cycling infrastructure to overturn the conventional wisdom that the ‘shortest route is best’ and champion the ‘slow and interesting’ route instead.
The cycleway takes, therefore, an indirect route across the midlands, along an historic railway and canal teeming with wildlife and away from traffic and noise.
- 91km of towpath along the Royal Canal Network
- 45km of disused railway line from Mullingar to Athlone
- 140km of new build cycleway from Athlone to Galway
- New bridges across the rivers Shannon and Suck
- Regular service facilities
Sustainability and best use of materials were important focus areas during the design process. This was to limit the amount of machinery required to access a long and narrow route corridor with widely spaced access points.
Thin foundation and pavement construction was adopted, with machine pavers laying the sub-base to achieve a high-quality ride for cyclists. Previous experience identified this as the key to a smooth surface without, potentially, a macadam top course. In fact, macadam was only used on select sections of the route according to the location context and intensity of use.
In 2019, 756,000 people, including 540,000 pedestrians and 216,000 cyclists, used the greenway between Athlone and Kilcock. These figures suggest the greenway has the potential to become an exemplar for similar projects in an eventual full national cycle network.