Opponents of the planned Dublin city centre traffic changes, as outlined in the city’s Transport Study, range from car park owners to retailers to motoring groups. Here’s why we think their concerns should be addressed as much as possible without compromising the goals of the plan, but why ultimately they are overall wrong:
1. Most of the restrictions are required by Luas Cross City
Some of the people and groups fighting against the planned restrictions, fought against the original linking of the Luas tram lines. The result was a tram system with two lines which remained unlinked for years.
The decision not to link the Luas lines is now a joke which highlights how dysfunctional Irish planning is, although what it really highlights is a political failure. Politicians, not planners, refused to stand up to interest groups who were opposed to the route.
Today, most of the planned restrictions on College Green, St Stephen’s Green North, O’Connell Street, O’Connell Bridge, the quays, Westmoreland Street and Parnell Street are needed partly or fully because of Luas. We’re not sure if it’s total ignorance or if retailers and others such as the AA are fighting everything to get concessions on other sections of the plan, but many objectors to the changes need to realise that more than half of their battle is already lost.
The traffic restrictions are needed to keep Luas trams and the many buses which use the above mentioned streets moving.
Nobody seems to want to say it publicly, but privately transport sources tell us that the Railway Procurement Agency downplayed the level of disruption bringing Luas trams onto College Green and over O’Connell Bridge would have. Contracts have been signed to put down the tram tracks, there’s no going back now.
2. There’s no planned city centre traffic ban
The Irish Times reported recently that: “Retail Ireland wants the council, as well as the National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport, to give five separate commitments ‘as a matter of urgency’… Firstly, it wants the plan adjusted to allow cars some access to the city centre. It also wants an industry impact assessment into the economic consequences of banning cars.”
The problem is that The Irish Times and retailers seem to be unable to read the relevant Transport Study report: There is no planned city centre car ban. Access will still be maintained to most or all car parks, both those open to the public and ones at large offices. There’s planned restrictions on some very core streets — access can still be maintained around those and to most or all car parks. It’s true to say that there are plans for car bans on some streets, but the idea of a car ban across the city centre is pure fantasy created to fight against the changes.
3. Claims used against the plan are misleading or worse
Car park owners reported that the plans would result in a 24% fall in shopping and entertainment spend in the city centre, but — as we covered here and here — their conclusions are based on a flawed survey. Central to that is a misleading question — “How likely, if at all, would you have been to visit the city centre today if you had not been able to drive into or park in town?” — which presumes none of the drivers could drive in. As covered above, there’s no planned car ban which would stop car park access.
Separately, the spin doctors are pushing the idea of a need for improved public transport first. They do this while objecting to the exact measures which will allow for bus and tram priority, extra services and improvements in services. What about Dart Underground? Yes, progress is needed, but cities around the same scale as Dublin, such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, put in wider scale pedestrianisation and other restrictions first, their metro lines followed.
4. Retailers fought against Grafton Street pedestrianisation
Retailers are conservative. In the late 1970s they successfully fought against pedestrianisation of Grafton Street. It was not until three years later in 1982 when it was tried again, with a one-year trial between 11.00am and 6.30pm, that pedestrianisation was allowed and later became permanent.
Retailers also fought against the Luas — not just the linking up of lines, some were against any on-street tracks which displaced cars. The media reported widely on the predicted doom.
This isn’t something isolated to Dublin or Ireland. The same story is echoed around the world. Copenhagen’s pedestrianisation — which is more extensive than Dublin’s — also had retailers objecting. Objections included ‘We are not Italians, we are Danes. It will never work here’, ‘Shops will die off if there are no more cars,’ and ‘The climate over here is not suitable for mingling in the streets.’ Kind of sounds like a lot like the noise from objectors in Dublin today? Dublin has about the same yearly rainfall as Copenhagen and less of a chance of heavy snow.
5. Doing nothing is not an option
As we reported previously: If all things were logical, capacity would possibly be the number one reason for such changes. Both the working and residential population of Dublin City Centre is set to grow and there’s no space to expand capacity for private cars — the only viable solution is to make way for sustainable transport which can carry more people in the same space. This means giving space over to walking, cycling and public transport.
This has been illustrated in photos by a number of cities across the world:
This does not just apply to commuting: people in many European cities manage to shop, eat out and get to large events without cars. That does not mean everybody can or has to leave the car at home, but more than currently do will do so when conditions are improved.
6. Much of the noise is being made by car park owners
Within apparent retailer groups, including Dublin Town and the Dublin City Business Association, car park owners are over represented. Car park owners clearly have a conflict of interest over other businesses. Most others want footfall, shoppers, consumers or, simply put, people. Car park owners need the maximum amount of cars or they lose potential revenue.
The over representation comes in a few forms: there’s pure car park owners who do nothing else; there’s shopping centres which gain revenue from their car parks, and there’s large retailers who own car parks or, in the case of Brown Thomas, license their name for a car park businesses to use.
Overall, there are very limited car park and shop promotional discounts — most car parks are heavily focused on profit making from car parking. Even some car parks linked to retailers have the highest parking costs — hardly promoting shopping, is it?
7. Over 80% of Dublin City Centre retail spend is from non-car shoppers
Over half of retail spend in Dublin city centre comes from shoppers who arrived by public transport, a recent survey by Millward Brown for the National Transport Authority found. While a further 24% of the retail spends comes from people walking and cycling — which is higher than the spend by people arriving by car. Over a fifth (21%) comes from people who walk into town and 16% comes from people taking the Luas in.
Just under 20% comes from shoppers who arrive by car. And nothing in the planned changes will stop those who need their cars from using the city centre car parks.
8. Dublin city centre is a unique destination
City centres need to be unique and they are. They offer shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, parks, galleries, venues which cannot be found elsewhere.
Brown Thomas — the department store which has pushed against most sustainable transport measures in recent years — was at a Dail committee giving out about things such as expensive car parking when the car park which uses their name is one of the most expensive. The retailer claimed that their out-of-town stores were performing better than their landmark Grafton Street shop. However, when pushed by TDs they admitted that the city centre store was more high-end. You could not buy many of the items there elsewhere. The same is mirrored across small and large retailers.
9. Sustainable cities are popular with tourists
As far as we can see, no hotel has publicly objected to the plans to date, but retailers have strangely tried to speak for them. The problem is that Amsterdam and other cities which introduced far greater car restrictions in their city centres than Dublin currently has, remained and continue to remain popular with tourists.
10. You already can’t park a car on College Green
Emer O’Kelly recently wrote: “Roughly speaking, the inner quays and College Green will be out of bounds to anyone who can’t walk or cycle. That’s 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.”
She’s not alone overplaying the importance of being able to drive on every street. The fact is that you already can’t park your car on College Green and the quays near O’Connell Bridge have very little parking and few shops to park outside of.
11. Cars are not required for bulky shopping
O’Kelly again is by far not the only one to mention bulky shopping. However, a wide-screen TV and a large Dyson vacuum cleaner are among the things we have purchased without a car. Most department shops and those who sell large items offer delivery, often for free.
12. Dublin needs vision
RTE Radio One today had two items today which link in with this discussion: The first, let car park and shop owners give out about car restrictions in Dublin unchallenged by other voices or the presenter. The next was on climate change where listeners were told that they will have to adjust our behaviour. No correlation between the two, eh? It’s deeply unfair to blame the public when interest groups get a free ride when trying to stop moves to make alternatives attractive.
If we can’t have vision on stopping cars from using a few core city centre streets, it’s hard to see how interest groups won’t stop all attempts at sorting out climate change issues.
But even if we set aside transport capacity, climate change and other issues, we have to as what kind of capital city do we want?
Do we want a car-clogged Dublin city centre? Or would we prefer a city core which given choices in modes of travel? A city where there is car park access and more space for walking, cycling and public transport? A city where residents, workers and tourists can enjoy the city more?