COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Dublin is planning to make its city centre more accessible to more people. This involves planning for growing numbers of residents and commuters in the city centre. Cars — usually carrying just one person — already take up a disportionate amount of space, and space is at a premium. So restrictions on car use, while allowing access, is needed to give space back to people.
The proposals in the Dublin City Centre Transport Study were clearly always going upset some people. Some people just don’t like change.
We already have an article lined up addressing some of the criticisms of plans to make Dublin more accessible to more people, but an article by columnist Emer O’Kelly in yesterday’s Sunday Independent just takes the biscuit.
It could be easy to write off O’Kelly’s opinion article as a polemic of no consequences, but it’s important to address her points so everybody is clear that such points don’t hold much or any water.
Research, facts and clarity are clearly not a strong point of O’Kelly. First she attributes the planned Liffey Cycle Route to the Dublin City Council manager Owen Keegan, without mentioning that elected councilors promised in the Dublin City Development plan to have the route builtin the lifetime of the plan which is coming to its end.
Close to the start of the article she writes how Keegan, last year, “defended the now-infamous introduction of double cycle lanes on the north quays, which reduce motor traffic to a single lane, causing traffic jams throughout the day, rather than just at rush hour, as formerly”.
We at first forgave that phrasing of — which implies the Liffey Cycle Route is already in place — and put it down to just poor phrasing for whatever reason. But later in the article she returned to the same route and said: “the plan which reduced the north quays to gridlock a year ago, was put into effect without consultation: and at the time, Mr Keegan said bluntly he didn’t feel the Council had anything to apologise for.”
She seems to think that “double cycle lanes” are already in place on the quays, without any consultation. The Liffey Cycle Route, however, is very much so still on the drawing board and consultation is not finished. A first round of well publicised public consultation has taken place in recent months and more public consultation is to follow.
O’Kelly won’t be happy with the first round of consultation — 80% of 1,200 respondents to widely-publicised public consultation supported plans for a two-way cycle path on the north quays and another 17% wanted cycle paths on both quays — only 3% wanted none of these options.
She says that the plans within Dublin City Centre Transport Study “did not come before any elected representatives; it was announced without consultation with the public or their representatives”. This is strange stuff coming O’Kelly. She once stressed how a Government minister was “a democratically elected Government minister in charge of” his brief.
But maybe in this case she does not realised that the National Transport Authority, who started the process of the transport study, did so because they were given the task and powers to do so by “a democratically elected Government minister in charge of” transport?
On the local side, the study aims to facilitate the implementation of the Dublin City Development Plan and supporting documents such as the Dublin City Public Realm Strategy — both of which elected representatives voted for. Public consultation has started — it’s unclear how she thinks that such consultation could have started before the study was published.
O’Kelly is it seems a master in “roughly speaking”. Using the terms she says that thenew Dublin City Council proposals will mean that “the inner quays and College Green will be out of bounds to anyone who can’t walk or cycle” — this is, of course, nonsense. Why? Firstly because there’s no plan to restrict motor traffic from all “inner” quays and large amounts of car access will be maintained in the area. Secondly because, even where car restrictions apply, motorised and non-motorised wheelchair users, and electric mobility scooters can use footpaths and cycle paths, and these devices are allowed on buses and Luas trams.
She goes further and claims that the people who can’t walk or cycle includes “all people with a physical disability, all old people, and the majority of people who want to shop for anything more than a pair of tights.”
This again is sloppy writing which in a national newspaper amounts to disrespectful, ignorant nonsense — because many people with physical disabilities in Ireland and around the world can and do walk and cycle. Not all physical disabilities stop people from walking or cycling. Not understanding this while trying to use “all people with a physical disability” as a means of attacking liveable and sustainable cities is worse than sloppy.
The idea that “the majority of people who want to shop for anything more than a pair of tights” needs a car is on the other hand just bemusing. Surveys already show that the vast bulk of people who shop in the city centre don’t use cars — and, for those who do want or need cars, access won’t be fully cut off. There’s no such plan expect in the minds of a few set against change.
As somebody who, to my Dublin friends, is “from the country” I can tell you as a child I’ve more than a few memories of bags load of shopping being bought in Dublin City Centre and transported to the other side of the country without out a car. And as somebody who has lived in a number of locations in Dublin, I’ve bought a number of bulk items such as a large Dyson, a flatscreen TV, and many weeks of weekly shopping in Dublin City Centre without a car.
Shops in the city centre which sell bulk items usually also have home delivery. What’s more surprising is the items we have brought home from Ikea on the days we had no car, but that’s another story.
O’Kelly details how she was unfortunately injured by a fall and how she can now only manage to walk about 100m and is unable to carry anything heavier than about two kilos. Her accident is clearly unfortunately and a sad personal story, but only being able to manage 100m will not allow for walking from the Brown Thomas car park to the Brown Thomas department store and back with any decent level of browsing their overpriced items first. People who have such on-going or long-term mobility issues would not do well in Dundrum or Blanchardstown shopping centres, and, currently, in most cases would not be able to drive close enough to most city centre shops or should find it next to impossible to get a free parking space outside the shop.
She also tries to make a point in saying that many people who cycle and break the law and common decency. She counts these people as if this is a problem nobody knows about. The fact is, the law is to change so that these people will be risking the chance of getting on-the-spot fines. For some reason however we think we’ll be waiting a long time before O’Kelly writes about the more than 80% of drivers who exceeded the 50km/h limit on urban national roads in freespeed surveys, or the 90-97% of motorists who were at one point found to be breaking the 30km/h speed limit. Or the over 50% in AA surveys who freely admitted to using the phones while driving.
O’Kelly was however only too happy to jump on a point from the AA’s Conor Faughnan. She said that Faughnan highlighted how there’s no traffic jams in College Green at midnight, so it could only be ideology requiring cars to be banned there at that time. The question is: Who wants to drive down College Green at midnight? Are the shops open that late? For O’Kelly — mystery cyclists are conspiring against motorists.
Anybody who has done their research will know that, whatever about other sections of the city centre proposals, an extension of the College Green car restrictions is a requirement to keep buses and trams moving once the Luas Cross City route is in place. It’s also needed to widen footpaths on what is one of the most overcrowded pedestrian routes in the country.
Dublin isn’t following a radical new path which was never walked down before, it is following in the footsteps of cities which have vibrant, accessable, attractive and successful city centres.
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