The Irish Times and air pollution: A dirty old newspaper protecting car use in Dublin City Centre

— Newspaper previous attacked cycling and bus priority projects, effectively car-reduction measures, on the quays.

Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday gave a stark warning on nitrogen dioxide air pollution, clearly making the link between excessive car use and human health — in reaction, The Irish Times told us to wear cycling face masks and not to walk on busy roads and, this morning, used its influential editorial column to call for urgent action to… wait for it… have more monitoring.

More monitoring is needed, but using such an influential column to just calling for monitoring is a disservice to the residents of the city centre, and visitors of all types, be they workers, shoppers or tourists.

The bull in the China shop — the car — is hardly touched on in the article.

The Irish Times says the “capital needs a real-time map to highlight how bad the air has become in certain parts of the city” but what the capital needs is action — mainly focused on traffic reductions measures.

Motor traffic reduction is needed for air quality reasons, but also to make space for a growing city, make the city safer, to allow its population to be healthier by being more active, and a reduction in carbon emissions. These are interlinked issues which could be called seeking sustainable or liveable cities.

Some opponents of motor traffic reduction measures, such as the AA’s Conor Faughnan, are masters at their work. They have well-crafted arguments that make great sound bites but don’t stand up to much scrutiny.

Opponents will even use the interlinked issues to cry or imply ‘conspiracy’ — as if people and groups looking for a better city should only have one justification for anything.

Cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht (see first video below article) prove that car reduction in city centres does not kill city centre businesses. Paris is one of a growing number of cities which have found traffic does not just jump to other roads and streets, and this is backed by evidence on traffic evaporation (explained better in the second video below).

A good starting place for car reduction in Dublin is the quays along the River Liffey — remove cars from at least a good chunk of the quays (aka #GreenTheQuays).

#GreenTheQuays would benefit commuting by adding people-carrying capacity, it would benefit the human and natural environment by the removal of cars and by adding trees, and it would benefit both tourism and ability of residents to engage in activity. It would benefit business by having a more attractive city for employees and a better retail experience.

Where will all the cars go? The number of cars on the quays — mostly with around one person in them — is relatively small. This day-long data released in 2018 shows how few:

The largest amount there is under 6,500 cars for the day, to a low of under 4,300 at Bachelor’s Walk / O’Connell Bridge. It differs so much because of motorists joining and leaving the quays at different locations.

The 4,300 figure divided by 7 hours is just 614 per hour — that’s a of cars in the core city centre but relatively few people — it’s about one and a half longer Luas trams or 6-7 buses.

The longer Luas green line trams hold 408 passengers. The shorter trams have a capacity varying between 309 and 319 people, depending on the particular model.

Buses can carry around 80-100 passengers. Dublin should have cleaner buses by now — but even the newest diesel buses are far more regulated than the average car on the road and carrying far more people. Even a lightly loaded bus takes up way less space than cars.

The Luas tram extension and expansion programme is on-going and new buses are added every year or so.

The below graph with rush hour data from Bachelor’s Walk, taken before the bus priority traffic light was installed (car flow as since decreased), shows just how stark the different is in people carrying capacity. The Luas here is the red line route and the buses and cars represents those on the north quays:

This is before we even touch on the Kildare railway line and the relatively new services via the Phoenix Park or more people walking and cycling.

Unlike traffic removal in other parts of the city, doing it on the quays is supported the the huge amount of public transport already provided for and enabling cycling on the quays would not make a cycling network, but it would be a hell of a start and instantly tackle the worst part of cycling commuting to a number of inner and outer suburbs.

Not everybody has long distances to go and, with those who do, there’s a mix of buses, trains, car share, and park and ride. Sometimes hard choices will need to be looked at, but the status quo of polluting and blocking up the most densely populated area of the country isn’t on.

For some people the time will never be right and some people located in the rural commuter belt far from towns will never have a direct service. Health, safety and climate are at stake — there’s no better time than now.

The Irish Times says that “anybody who walks down heavily-trafficked Pearse Street, for example, would be aware that the air they’re breathing is contaminated by the tail-pipe emissions from cars, vans and buses belching out diesel soot particles and nitrogen dioxide” — removing a traffic lane from this street and other locations will reduce the amount of cars and provide for alternatives like cycling.

Government ministers have pointed to the launch later this year of the first national Clean Air Strategy and to electric cars. But we should not wait for more and more policy documents before acting.

There’s also mounting evidence that electric cars, while remove tail pipe emissions, still produce toxic plastic pollution into the air, and continue to produce break dust pollution. Because electric cars are heavier, they also have a worst effect on dust emissions from road surfaces. Collectively these are called particulate matter (PM) emissions, which the World Health Organisation says on its website: “There is no evidence of a safe level of exposure or a threshold below which no adverse health effects occur. The exposure is ubiquitous and involuntary, increasing the significance of this determinant of health.”

The Irish Times also mentions how “strong measures are now being planned in London to curtail traffic in the worst affected areas, aided by a public awareness campaign that includes an interactive Real-time Air Quality Index Visual Map, which allows people to check on air pollution levels throughout London.”

It adds: “The same technology has been deployed in Paris, which holds the dubious honour of having the most polluted air of any city in Europe – something that its, is determined to reverse.”

Rather than advocate for — or even list — the strong measures being used in London or Paris, the newspaper only advocates for better data.

No mention, for example, of school streets in London and elsewhere in the UK where motorists idling their cars get fined or even where school drop off and pick up by car are not allowed directly outside a growing number of schools. Also no mention of London or Paris handing over space to cycle paths or Paris closing a riverside motorway and having massive car-free days.

Car use really is the elephant in the room that the editorial writer can’t discuss.

The editorial writer, speaking for The Irish Times, states: “Dublin needs a similar real-time map to highlight how bad the air has become in certain parts of the city. Urgently.”

This is dangerous nonsense. People’s health has been effected due to decades of inaction and relatively little interest from the news or comment desks of too many Irish media outlets.

Dublin and other Irish cities need action on car reduction. Urgently.

Related videos:

Traffic reduction measures and the approach to transport and public space in Utrecht:

“Where will all the traffic go?” Explaining Traffic Reduction

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

6 Comments

  1. The inefficiency of cars at moving people in urban spaces:
    https://twitter.com/CitizenW0lf/status/1129311647435317248

  2. I fail to see how any type of facemask can protect you from nitrogen dioxide which unlike pm’s is a gas.

  3. Came up at a Green Party meetup in Cork last night. Papers are starting to actually wrote about this (they didn’t prior to the IPCC report in 2018) but it appears the decade-old biases are still at play.

    There is a growing feeling that the gentle approach is not going to get us anywhere. It’s too late for that. Radical changes are the only way that we can hope to hit the targets we need to.

    Unfortunately we have neither the political leadership or the mechanisms to make it happen. And Ireland will fail if we don’t have everyone on board with the changes and sacrifices that are needed.

  4. Road space and air space in Dublin city centre must be looked upon and managed as a scarce resource. The current for-for-all arrangement is outdated. Yes the street environment is so much better now than the 70’s and 80’s but the authorities have not been moving fast enough compared for more enlightened parts of the world. Instead there has been too much pussy-footing around – afraid to make big policy changes thus placating uneducated local politicians, the motoring lobby and car-park owners. Termination of free civil service parking in the city centre in one way that the government could at a pen-stroke make a significant reduction in private car use for commuting.

    Buses are part of the solution but they are also part of the problem: large square footage of city streets are given over to buses idling at bus-stops: Parnell Square springs to mind. Hopefully Bus Connects will address this.

    Double-decker tourist buses: highly polluting old buses, carrying a very small number of people; a true waste of road space and adding to the already hostile street environment for vulnerable road users. Licenses for tourist vehicles could be granted only to smaller electric vehicles… this would probably kill off this type of business altogether but so what.

  5. This is like ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ Answer: one small bite at a time.
    Here is my ‘small bite’ suggestion: On every street, at every public building, in every car park, at every school, church, hospital, large office, group of shops etc., replace two car-parking spaces with bicycle parking for ten bikes per space (ten bike hoops = 20 bike spaces). Make it a planning regulation and set a deadline, say end of 2020. This will create visible action of commitment to reduction of pollution, and greater visibility of cyclists’ response.

  6. I do Triathlons and do my running all over the place including around Pearse st (The worst spot for pollution according to the report). So the nasty effects of this pollution are beyond just cyclists. Its everyone inc walkers , our elderly loved-ones and children etc. In 1980’s we had deadly “SMOG” in Dublin. The usual dismissive ‘head in sand’ cynics said nothing could be done so we should just “ignore it and enjoy life” etc etc but govt intervened and then – hey presto – the Smog went. So govt action will work if they are prepared to ignore cynics or any vested interests.

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