COMMENT & ANALYSIS: When projects which disrupt car use are discussed, often “traffic evaporation” is mentioned and that’s followed by disbelief from many people.
Traffic evaporation isn’t just a theory, there’s loads of international evidence which backs it up. But if you point to this evidence you might be told that those places are different they are not here.
It will start with something like: ‘that city/country is different, it’s not here’. And when cycle paths, car-free streets or other measures are proven to be a success is getting people out of cars in another part of your city then it turns to: ‘that street/part of the city is different’.
According to the rush hour Canal Corden traffic counts, the number of cars entering Dublin City Centre has declined from 89,500 in 1997 to under 46,400 in 2019.
It has taken 22 years for that level of change. Change is possible faster, but I still think the decrease in the number of cars is noteworthy and not reflected on enough.
Dublin City Centre has seem some changes in the last two decades, but while Luas has been built and some rail upgrades, a lot of credit also needs to also be given to gradual bus upgrades. The move towards cycling has also helped keep the progress going in recent years.
This has not just happened at a time of increased commuting. but also a huge return to city centre living, which has included densification. None of this would have been possible without the shift away from cars.
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Even in the 10 years from 2009 to 2019, the decrease in cars entering at peak times has been stark — from 71,000 to 46,400 (a 35% decrease).
The increase in commuters — over 28,600 — means the share of car commuters has declined too from 37.8% to 26.7% in that decade.
The people who are living in the suburbs or beyond who say things such as ‘nobody will visit the city centre anymore, but since the restricting on cars, there’s more people visiting and more people living in the city centre. The same can be seen for suburban locations such as Blackrock in Dublin, so, it’s not just a city centre thing.
But we’re told that most of somebody’s friends don’t visit the city centre now because it’s harder to drive in. Moving on is a part of life, cities are not a static thing. Car focused people in the suburbs and commuter towns are more likely to visit car-focused places. Meanwhile, many people from Kerry or Mayo manage just fine to get the train or use park and ride at the Red Cow etc rather than driving into Dublin.
Something that the people who want to maintain the status quo often cannot accept — a shift to sustainable transport is required if you support the volume of housing needed in Ireland.
Even if you are, for whatever reason, blindly against the environmental or health benefits of sustainable transport, it’s just a matter of basic maths — cars are by far the least space efficient mode of transport, so, the amount of people traveling by car cannot be maintained if you want to increase the number of people traveling. It’s highly unlikely that there will be a massive demolition of houses for road widening. And there’s only so much urban expansion that can happen before the problems catch up with you and become worse than before.
Of course you can build a load of metros lines underground and push rail efficiencies, but surface transport still makes up far more trips even in most cities, even in those with a fairly extensive network of metro lines. That’s not to undermine the case for such rail investment but rather to say focusing just on off-road changes misses a significant part of the change needed to support not just for sustainably in an environment sense, but also — again — just to support the basics of development of housing.
Some people will rant about poor planning, which there is loads of, but often they will mean that they don’t want extra traffic which is caused by extra housing development. It’s actually amazing that traffic concerns are still — in a housing crisis —mentioned in so many housing objections.
But, but, but our roads are full. If you restrict cars on one road, some or all will just move to the next road. Right? Wrong. Did you just dismiss out-of-hand the data provided already in this article?
The movement of people from one mode of transport to another is called modal shift. The messy practice of modal shift includes that some people will continue to drive. In some cases motorists will just switch to a different route, but in an area where there’s already congestion, that will push some other motorists into changing.
In such debates like this, it’s then asked ‘what about people who need to drive? Such as disabled people?’ The strong reasons for change means the status quo is no longer viable, so, we need to start talking more about providing for people who really need to drive. That will include upsetting some people who feel that have to drive when they already or soon will have other options.
Of course, change, like life, is messy and complicated. Nobody is denying that. But we we need to stop denying it has happened and that it can continue to happen. Denying these things is a distraction for the best possible planning around the changes ahead, especially areas beyond city centres start to see more changes.