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10/07/2024
Irish Politics

Let’s not make the Dublin traffic plan the subject of a culture war


With a yellow weather warning in operation for Dublin and the east of the country, it was notable that centre city traffic was very light on Tuesday morning. Were people working more than usual from home? Was it the holiday effect?

Whatever the reason, it was no day to venture out unnecessarily. And there was every reason to postpone commuting to the city. The usual effect of rain is to increase traffic congestion in Dublin city centre and the suburbs.

These thoughts occurred as I reflected on the current controversy about the Dublin city traffic reduction plan. I don’t share the unequivocal support voiced editorially in this paper for the traffic restriction plans announced earlier in the year and am sceptical as to whether it will bring more life to the city centre or improve the liveability of the city, as some claim.

The latest plan should have been the subject of a much wider consultation process. If any parts of the plan have their claimed-for merits, they should have been introduced gradually. That would allow their effects, positive or negative, to be judged more carefully.

For instance, there is now a strong, almost ideological, objection voiced to restricting some of the proposed vehicle bans to the 7am to 7pm period. Why? Dublin Bus claims that car users ignore those time limits unless they are 24-hour bans. But the smallest enforcement with consequential penalty points would deter, if not stop, private motorists and commercial vehicles from violating them routinely.

I was struck by some of the pro-ban rhetoric which described opposition to the plan as “populist”. What does that term mean? Does it mean “alarmist” and unjustified? Does it make sense to describe opponents as “centre right”? Is the traffic plan left-wing in some way?

The concerns of city centre businesses and traders as to the effect of the new restrictions are real. There are genuine grounds to fear that the plan will encourage Dubliners to seek shopping and recreation and entertainment opportunities in suburban and out of town malls.

The cyclist lobby is vociferous and they are entitled to be. The number of bikes to be seen among pro-plan protesters at City Hall on Monday evening tells its own tale. But there are others who are less vocal than the cyclist lobby but have at least as much at stake.

Many people living within the canals own cars and depend on them daily for getting to work or social activities, travelling though and crossing the city. They can’t afford to use taxis, they can’t practically use bikes or e-scooters for many reasons, including the weekly shop. Buses don’t suit them and the Luas system doesn’t go where they want to go.

Given current ambitions and Government targets for use of electric vehicles, the emissions and pollution argument for measures that may seriously and permanently hollow out the life of the capital needs to be scrutinised very carefully; one might have thought that gradual change rather than major experiment is wiser.

The BusConnects programme may not be the panacea that traffic engineers at the National Transport Authority imagine it to be. The €20 billion that we will probably spend connecting Swords, the airport, and Dartmouth Square underground would be better deployed in an accelerated major extension of a surface Luas network connecting the city centre with far more of Dublin’s suburbs.

But all these issues have been decided by an opaque process that already devised and shelved hugely costly transport schemes for the capital.

We are told that we are going to have wetter weather patterns in future. That may not deter hardy, lycra-clad cyclists, but others may find Dublin will be a city with a less lively retail centre than car-accessible suburban shopping centres.

There is a strong case for safe cycle access to the city. I would favour cycle-only express ways for cycling commuters with Amsterdam-like cycle bridges crossing the canals and new use of lanes and by-roads to create a really safe cycle network.

Is it not strange that the use of compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) to create such a network has never really been attempted? To give one example, Leeson Lane off Lower Leeson Street could easily be connected with Ely Place and Hume Street for cyclists’ use, avoiding the bottleneck at St Stephens Green. There are many other similar opportunities right across the Dublin city centre, inner and outer suburbs.

We really need a much more workable CPO procedure to make our city liveable. Polarising opinion does not help the debate or make Dublin a better city – economically or socially. Sloganeering about “populism” is over the top when discussing real people’s real concerns for their city.


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