LONG READ: COMMENT & ANALYSIS: There’s some very genuine concern for traffic changes in Dublin city centre, but mixed up with that real concern is a campaign of fear and misinformation. The main measures at issue are proposals to ban private traffic from Ellis Quay and from Eden Quay.
Some of the people involved in objecting to the sustainable transport measures are playing up and unnecessarily stoking fears towards projects which aim to give priority to walking, cycling, buses and trams. These measures are linked to Luas Cross City, and the Liffey Cycle Route.
Here’s why the misinformation is wrong:
“Where does all the traffic go?”
The simple answer to the above question is that it gets reduced. But, while it’s not really that straight forward, history shows that is what happens.
I say it’s not straight forward because more than one thing happens. Some people directly switch from cars to trains, Luas, buses or coaches. Some people keep driving on the diverted route. Some find other routes then some of the people currently driving on the other routes get fed up with the extra congestion from people switching routes and then they switch to walking/cycling/bus etc.
Some people take up cycling or walking (yes, there’s tons of people driving within walking and cycling distance in Dublin). Some people drive to park and ride stations or others park up outside the city centre and cycle the rest of the way. The traffic reduction does not always happen overnight but it happens.
This isn’t just theory. Traffic reduction is already taking place in Dublin — the number of cars entering the canals at peak times is down from 90,000 in 1997 to 65,000 in 2016. In the same time frame, cars have gone from nearly 50% modal share to 32.1% modal share.
This is a success story as the total number of commuters entering the city centre has increased from nearly 180,000 to over 200,000. More and more people are using sustainable transport. The number of trucks on city streets is also radically down since the Port Tunnel was opened.
Ellis Quay is one example where there was a stark traffic reduction in recent years:
The Ellis Quay reduction is partly due to the Luas construction, but the opening of Luas Cross City and the related tram and bus priority measures planned for later this year will speed the process up and further reduce car use across the city centre, defined as the area within the Grand Canal and the North Circular Road.
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As per the article published yesterday: Luas Cross City will be transformative for Dublin city — that’s required reading for this article to fully make sense.
Scaremongering that single routes will be used by all of the diverted traffic
The problem is not just the newspaper — a number of councillors have described streets like North Brunswick Street as being “car park-like” or having “bumper to bumper” congestion. But then — with a straight face — they somehow claim that all of the 374 motorists per hour using Ellis Quay at peak times will fit on North Brunswick Street. That’s physically impossible to fit all of those extra cars — people will change their ways in the ways described above.
That’s not fully true — some councillors are using now out-of-date traffic figures for Ellis Quay from before reductions in the last two years.
Air quality in Dublin and London is not comparable
Some of the opponents of the traffic changes are comparing air pollution in London to that of Dublin. London has an on-going issues going between red and yellow alert for months. Dublin isn’t in the same boat — it has air quality issues, but not nearly as bad or as frequent as London, which is in crisis.
Looking at the EPA air quality alerts for the last few months, large towns in Ireland seem to have a larger or at least more regular problems than Dublin. But Dublin still needs to act.
The EPA has recommended traffic reducing measures and Dublin is continuing to plan such. But Dublin should not sit on its hands in other respects, the World Health Organisation recommends stricter limits and more can be done to restrict traffic.
Further improvements are needed to make walking, cycling and public transport more attractive and reduce car traffic across the city.
Other measure are needed too — diesel needs to be made less attractive in terms of tax, a city diesel car ban need to be looked at for the future with a date set soon like other cities have done, and, while newer buses are already clearer than old ones, we need to go further and new buses need to run on fully electric, hybrid, CNG or other cleaner engine types.
“What about people who need to drive?”
Over 65% of commuters traveling into the city centre live under 10km from their place of employment (that means most live within cycling distance). And many of the people commuting further live along Dublin Bus routes or Luas, Dart and Commuter lines.
As per the above image, those from the outer Greater Dublin Area are only a small percentage of commuters in the region who commute into the city centre and people who live outside the M50 are more likely to work closer to the M50 than the city centre.
Getting back to focusing on the quays…
The amount of people carried by modes of transport on the quays at O’Connell Bridge and the parallel Luas red line) is shown above — it’s a relatively small number of people. Bicycles are not much lower than cars but the latter takes up a huge amount of space.
The number of cars per hour is relatively small but they currently take up limited space which is needed to give priority to sustainable transport — if they parked up at the Red Cow, Heuston Station, Navan Road Parkway or further out, just two trams or a few buses or an extra train per hour could carry all the people in cars.
But what about those who really need to drive for whatever reason? Access will contuine to be provided to all public car parks and current workplace car parking spaces. The best thing for the people who need to drive is would be that those who don’t really need to drive would switch to other modes for at least for part of their trips.
“There’s no new public transport”
This one is a favourite of those who say motorists would leave their cars if there were other options — the fact is, each year many motorists traveling into the city centre are leaving their cars and public transport capacity is being added to.
Luas Cross City will increase the connectivity between the north and south side — linking the red and green lines and providing a high-quality services into areas of the north city which are under served. And it’s not just the Luas green line getting an extension — trams on the green line will also be extended. Luas will also interchange with Maynooth line commuter rail services offering new or better connections than before.
Rail services have improved from the west with recently added new services on the Kildare line using the Phoenix Park to bypass Heuston Station and get straight to Connelly and the southside business district stations.
If you look at Dublin Bus’s news page on their website you’ll see more buses are being added to across their network — recently capacity improvements included new departures on the 38b, 41x and an extended route 40 bus. Late last year Dublin Bus also added new (minor) bus routes to DCU and capacity upgrades on routes towards Ballymun, Finglas, Lucan, Templeogue, Malahide and Harold’s Cross.
More capacity can be added to buses and possibly also rail relatively quickly. Not a huge amount but as a percentage of the total city centre traffic, there’s not a huge amount of people to accommodate.
We must go underground
Most observers agree that Dart Underground and the related Dart expansion will be vital to the city and the region (not just the city centre), but the city and city centre can’t wait years or decades for a currently unfunded project which has lost its planning permission because of inaction.
In the meanwhile, Luas Cross City, segregated cycle routes, BRT-lite routes, and extra trains (which are ordered or due to be ordered) will have to make better use of the current space on our roads and tracks.
We have talked to people who have real concerns about the impact the changes will have on streets such as North Brunswick Street, including the principal of one of the schools on that street.
One councillor described the principal and others as being outraged, which does not fit with the letter sent to them or demeanour of the school’s principal — councillors would be better served at this point arranging a meeting between the school and council officials.
Even if traffic levels were to drop once the changes bed down, there are already issues on North Brunswick Street which need to be addressed including safe routes to the schools for walking and cycling — this could include new crossings, traffic calming to help enforce the street’s approved 30km/h speed limit, cycle lanes, a formal cycle route up via Smithfield square linking the nearby streets to the school.
A vital element needed to keep the area safe and attractive for walking and cycling is that the Grangegorman traffic study (which a draft of is due soon) is focused on promoting a liveable community and sustainable transport and does not design for increased volumes of car use.
Enforcing the 30km/h speed limit will also help with air and noise pollution — lowering the amount which cars speeding up and slowing down lowers the pollution because it’s more efficient driving and there’s less engine and tire/rolling noise. Opponents of 30km/h claim otherwise but the key is to limit faster speeds and aggressive acceleration.
Rat running must also be avoided and the could should make commitments that they will tackle such if it occurs after any changes.
Context is important
Any amount of extra motorised traffic will be a worry and even a deep concern to city centre residents — even those who suppose sustainable transport — but fears are already being used and stoked by some of the strangest people, including Cllr Nial Ring (who has objected to cycle routes on mental health grounds) and the Irish Parking Association (who a clear conflict of interest).
The bigger picture that there will be motor traffic reduction is not being made clear to people. This is likely largely because council officials don’t want to scare retailers who are famous for overestimating the amount of shoppers who travel by car, and they don’t want to spook car park owners (including large retailers and central shopping centre owners) who rely on cars as their businesses.
The Eden Quay changes are in the hands of council officials. While the Part 8 process would be more democratic, the act of planning to give priority walking, cycling, trams and buses is supported by a truck load of policy approved by councillors or national governments. What’s the alternative, having the trams at a rate of one every 90 seconds stuck in traffic and stuck blocking all other traffic?
Amsterdam and other cities around Europe are far more liveable than Dublin today because those cities tackled car dominance and offered residents and commuters alternatives. Dublin needs to address concerns but it can’t allow fearmongers to derail or water down plans and it can’t keep waiting for the next big project which is just around the corner…
MORE: Impact of Luas Cross City will be transformative for Dublin city