If Dublin wants a more livable city, it needs to accept reducing car use

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: From the Liffey Cycle Route to the South Dublin Quietway the opposition reaction is usually “but where do the cars go?”.

On twitter this morning the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said: “For our health, for our well-being, we reduce the place of the polluting car to @Paris. And it works! IThe decrease in car traffic is accelerating in the capital: -6% in the first half of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017. Keep going!” (Translated)

...IrishCycle.com's reader-funded journalism won't survive without your help. With over 762,000 views so-far this year, it's not just "avid cyclists" who read this website, but, if you want it to keep going, more support is needed from readers like you. Now, back to the article...

Paris has removed cars from sections of its central sections of its urban motorway along its main river, the Seine, and reduced other sections to one lane with a two-way cycle path beside it. These actions and related measures have resulted in a large year-on-year motor traffic reduction in the city of Paris.

Some people from outer Paris and beyond have screamed blue murder about limiting their access to their capital city.

Meanwhile, when Paris is used as an example to follow, people in Ireland will say ‘Paris has metro network and regional rail’ — it does, but services are as full or fuller than public transport in Dublin.

And if we’re talking about closing off a section of Dublin’s quays and diverting the remaining traffic for the Liffey Cycle Route, it’s a relatively small amount of people:

Above are the numbers of cars on Ellis Quay in rush hour in 2016 — it was just an average of just 377 cars and that was before new bus lanes opened on the quays and Luas Cross City started running. There’s highly likely already fewer cars now.

IMAGE: Capacity per mode along the quays and the Luas Red line before space for cars was reduced.

To put the number of cars in perspective — the longest Luas tram can hold 408 passengers, and the shorter trams have a capacity between 309 and 319 people. Buses carry between around 80 people, with some models holding over 100 people each.

Taking 300 odd people over an hour is not a big deal with the combination of walking, cycling, buses, trams, trains, and coaches.

An incremental reduction in motorised traffic is desirable and is good for all aspects of a growing Dublin — from cleaner air to providing transport for a higher density city centre to allowing retail and employment to grow, not just hold the status quo.

Rerouting cars to “residential areas” and “past schools”

One argument against the Liffey Cycle Route — including from Dublin’s current Lord Mayor, Nial Ring — is that one (of many) alternative options for motorists is a diversion passing two schools in a residential areas… this is said as if nobody already drives by these schools which is on the inner orbital route, as if the roads aren’t already busy, and the quays isn’t also a residential area (nearly everywhere in the city centre is).

Paris also has a solution to this.

Paris first built its equivalent of Dublin’s Liffey Cycle Route Option 7 and now Paris is also building a cycle path on a parallel street. See:

The nearest equivalent in Dublin would be to build the Liffey route and then build a cycle path on the inner orbital route in Smithfield, past the schools in question.

This would reduce the motor traffic levels in and around Smithfield and by the two schools to below current levels. Reducing the one-way street past the schools to one lane (with the new two-way cycle path in the other lane) would also have a traffic calming effect, slowing traffic off peak and making it safer for school children and residents.

If you’re truly concerned about the effects of motor traffic in schools and city centre residents, motor traffic reduction is a must. But people like Cllr Ring openly say they want to keep the status quo.

IMAGE: Grove Road along the Grand Canal is among an increasing number of streets where bicycles are already outnumbering cars at rush hour.

Modal change is often indirect

The people who really need (or really want) to drive will keep driving — in some cases they might switch to another route, if this route is nearly full, this will result in somebody else switching from driving to walking, cycling or public transport.

And if the argument is really about those who have no choice but to drive, there’s scope for many people live within walking and cycling distance to get out of their cars. Projects like like Liffey Cycle Route will make cycling safer and more attractive from a number of suburbs.

It’s not just Paris

The city of Amsterdam — a city no stranger to making itself people friendly — issued a statement last month about a number of road closures and making some roads one-way for cars.

The city said: “This will leave more space for residents, cyclists, pedestrians, playing children and green space in the neighbourhood. At the same time, although journey times may increase, the area will remain accessible to traffic with a genuine need to be there, such as residents and delivery vehicles.

“Amsterdam is growing, and will only continue to do so. The growing number of residents, visitors and tourists travelling around the city is increasing the pressure on the limited public space. This is particularly true in the city centre, which is simply not built for cars. In comparison with other Dutch cities such as The Hague and Rotterdam, there is considerably less room for traffic.”

This happened as Amsterdam’s long-awaited new North-South metro line opened but it had really nothing to do with that as most of the motor traffic route closures and detours relate to east-west flows.

Without any metro lines Utrecht is also moving ahead reallocating space from cars to cycling and green space. One of the more famous examples is Utrecht removing its central motorway and restoring an old canal-like city moat in its place there are many other examples in the city.

Below is the result of Utrecht’s on-going project to transform the city’s inner ring road, which mainly includes reducing the space for cars and adding greenery and larger cycle paths:

This isn’t just something that happens in other countries

As we reported back in May, the number of car users crossing Dublin’s canals in the morning rush hour, which includes an estimate of drivers and passengers combined, has decreased by 27,812 since 1997 — at the same time the number of commuters overall across has increased from 180,000 in 1997 to nearly 211,500 commuters last year.

Dublin is heading in the right right direction, it just needs to move faster.


  1. “But where do the cars go?” is the usual reaction of the opposition. Is this opposition not able to think? When you build more for bicycles more people will travel by bike instead of by car. Hence, the number of cars will reduce. Which will lead to less congestion. But there has to be a balance between the streets which will be turned into streets for cycling instead of for cars and the streets left over for cars. When there will be too much streets turned into streets for bicycle and there won’t be enough people changing their primary mode of transport from car to bicycle then the streets left over for cars will be too less. Hence, there will be congestion on those streets.

  2. This type of change needs a leap of faith, to get things moving. People are wary of change, and tend to focus on any negative impact to them rather than the positive ones. The effort involved in getting roads closed in Drumcondra is a good example of the effect of this. It’s ironic really that a community has to put up with bad infrastructure, while others delay improvements, yet also complain about how bad things are and that “something must be done about this”. When implemented, the majority say:”why didn’t we do this earlier?”

    As a society, we need to embrace change and try new configurations, to see what works for us. I firmly believe Dublin will be a great city for cycling, some day. The only real obstacle is safety (or the perception of safety). As far as I can see, people are interested in an active lifestyle. We don’t have the same obsession with cars that you see in the UK, France or Germany. We have the right weather and compact city. You only have to look at the Grand Canal route to see how people respond to quality infrastructure (it’s only about 2km long).

  3. I read another article comparing Dublin and Paris recently. This one was about building height and they were saying that Paris has a high population density without many very tall buildings because the average height is 5 or 6 floors across the entire centre of the city. Why can’t Dublin be like that without the need to build 40 floor buildings was the implication.

    The first thing that occurs is who is going to tell all those people with two floor suburb style housing that they have to go but the one that’s relevant here is that high density housing (or realistically medium density) requires better transport infrastructure. We can’t squeeze 2 million people in to the city if everyone insists on driving their private car everywhere and parking it when they get there.


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