Current crisis needs to be wake up call for radical change to tackle other crisis

— How we use public space can help combat climate change, pollution, inactivity, mental health, and transport capacity.

This was going to be an April fool’s article. With a straight face, it was going to report that we had obtained a report outlining a new radical circulation plan for Dublin City. But it’s now something better and about more than just about our capital.

The article was were going to quote a spokesperson for the AA using his quote about not wanting to turn Dublin into a place where you can picnic on O’Connell Street, because that would be dreadful. It should be shocking we’re not fully making that up — it’s a twist on a real quote used by the AA on and off in the last decade, in written media and more often on the radio.

But we’re not doing an April fool’s article.

IMAGE: Version of there’s always a bigger fish meme (unknown author).

We need some jokes in the current crisis, but now is not the time to joke about radial change. The apparent source of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) had been flagged as “a ticking time bomb”. After the current crisis is under control, we have loads of other crisis to deal with of difference sizes and impact. This includes climate change, pollution, inactivity (of which obesity is only one part of), mental health, and transport capacity.

I’m not saying fixing transport fixes all of those things, but transport is interlinked with land use and how we use our public spaces can play a big part in most of those things outside of our houses. The excessive car use in Ireland harms not just the environment but also physical and mental health — anybody still in denial of the evidence of this cannot be allowed to block positive change or continue down the path of making things worse (as planned in Galway).

Day by day it should be clearer and clear that we need radical change more and more.

Incrementalism has its place within this by rolling out changes one by one. But incrementalism in its current vain and speed is too slow in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and our towns.

Our county, town and city council have for years also focused on very nice street improvements when the cost of these can be the equivalent of much wider changes. That isn’t just the fault of council officials — there needs to be leadership and people like you need to keep demanding for more.

The Government will also have less money in the aftermath of this crisis and that will have to be spent more wisely.

Here’s a video from Streetfilms about what Ghent did — note that no Irish city is just like any other city, but it shows what places can do when they are brave and push for hard changes:

Our starting point cannot be “where do the cars go” — as per the ‘Healthy Streets’ approach. As transport planner Lucy Saunders told this website last year: “It’s about changing priorities when you’re making choices about what you’re going to do and saying ‘in this space, what’s going to make it good for people?’ and then second you think how do you move all the traffic through. But you’re always doing it in the framework first about what will be good for people,”

A radical circulation planning for Irish towns and cities would allow us to fit more people on the city’s streets (including more customers), more space for active travel and public transport, increased greenery, a reduction in climate change emissions, reduce air and noise pollution, and make the city a more attractive place to work and live.

Traffic circulation planning also does not have to mean one big bang of a plan you need to work on for years before you put it in place. Here’s the before and after NOX emissions (both images are modelling) for the Waltham Forest Mini-Holland scheme:

But what would it include? Some of these apply more to cities than towns and, while we’re mainly talking urban solutions here, others apply to rural roads as much as they do to urban areas:

  • Relocation of existing street / road space first.
  • But also extra land take (CPO etc) where needed.
  • Fewer through routes for car traffic.
  • More walking and cycling access (greenways, openings in walls etc).
  • Make more use of bus / access only streets over bus lanes.
  • Removing the opportunity to rat run in residential areas.
  • More not fewer one-way streets for cars.*
  • Some people having longer car trips, but fewer car trips.
  • Maintaining car access, but lowering car capacity.

* while some people still think one-way streets are bad for livability, best practice is to use more of them and design them right. That gives more space for walking, cycling, public transport, street life, greenery etc. 

Regarding implementation, it can include:

  • Engaging with people, but not to the point of continuous delay.
  • Being upfront that it will be a bit messy, but try to fix issues.
  • Implement section by section of the city centre if needed.
  • Putting parts of the plan into action before everything is agreed.
  • Trying out things even if you have to change them later.
  • Leaving expensive stone paving etc to be done years later.
  • Taking plans like BusConnects into account but not waiting for them (note: this article is not an argument against the likes of infrastructure part of BusConnects, we just need quicker action first).

Do you have any suggestions? How hard are you willing to fight for a better future?

BONUS CONTENT: If anybody is wondering how you make space for more healthy, sustainable, and livable places, here’s some clues:

Before and after: Painted cycle lanes vs intern light segregation on Tavistock Place in central London (photos thanks to Paul Gannon):

Waltham Forest in more car-dominated outer London:


If you want a smaller city, here’s Utrecht:

Amsterdam (although the first photo is later than the 1970s):

Time Square, New York:

New York is a good example of quick changes and done cheaply at first:

Amsterdam again:

Utrecht again and this time showing it’s not always directly space from cars — this is made possable via a wider project which includes closing another road through motor traffic.:

New York:

Another from NYC:

Pontevedra, Spain:

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