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It’s incoherent to claim MetroLink “won’t integrate”, and will “lay waste to chunks” of Dublin City Centre

Comment & Analysis / Beyond Cycling: This website is no strange criticising the action of the National Transport Authority where warranted, but the claim they have taken an incoherent approach to MetroLink can only be made in an article devoid of any context of the politics and realities of the project.

Once of politics and realities of the project are accounted for, the management of the project by the National Transport Authority and Transport Infrastructure Ireland is only logical, and the current proposals integrate with other modes of transport better than the previous Metro North plans.

It’s no surprise to see Frank McDonald, a former Environment Editor of The Irish Times, penning an article in the newspaper at the weekend against MetroLink in an article titled: “MetroLink will lay waste to chunks of the city centre but won’t integrate city transportation“. It’s just disappointing to see him get facts so wrong about the project and disappointing to see his hang-up about metro projects blur his thinking.

The claim that the project isn’t integrated, which was boldly made in the headline, in the article and also on his Twitter account afterwards, does not stand up to any scrutiny. Rather than the NTA’s actions being incoherent, his claims are incoherent.

MetroLink’s connections include:

  • Charlemont: Directly connecting with Luas Green Line. Also with the Grand Canal Cycleway.
  • St Stephen’s Green: Within 400m of Luas Green Line, straight along the north side of the park, and closer to many bus routes.
  • Tara: Directly connecting with Dart and Commuter services. The metro station will be nearly under the train station. It will also be within around 300-400m of Luas stops and loads of bus services.
  • O’Connell Street: Directly as possible with loads of buses, and just across from the northbound Luas stop and 270m from the Southbound Luas stop. This location will make the most sense to switch at if someone needs to get to an intermediate southbound Luas stop.
  • Mater: beside local bus routes to Cabra, and within 300m of the orbital O route, and around 400m from F, A and E Spines on BusConnects routes.
  • Glasnevin: Planned Dart services serving the Maynooth and Kildare lines, likely also Sligo intercity trains, in the same station, and the E and F bus Spines outside the door. Also directly with the Royal Canal Greenway.
  • Griffith Park: Directly with the E Spine and the Tolka River Greenway
  • Collins Avenue: Directly with the E Spine, 200m from the N4 orbital bus route and a little further to the A3 spine branch.
  • Ballymun: Directly with the E Spine and N6 orbital route.
  • Northwood: E1 branch (And good potential for extended Luas Finglas extension).
  • Dublin Airport: A2, N8 orbital, local bus routes and intercity coaches to a wide range of the country.
  • Fostertown: A4 and local bus routes.
  • Swords Central: Local bus routes.
  • Seatown: Local bus routes.
  • Estuary: New station Park and Ride station off existing road with potential to link to local routes / have dedicated shuttle buses.

Given the above, it really is incoherent that McDonald can even try to claim the project is “a stand-alone project that doesn’t make coherent sense on its own”.

Even without those transport connections, the project serves some of the most high-density areas of Dublin, and its route includes well-populated suburbs, trip generators including DCU, and lands inside and outside the M50 with potential for densification.

The project also has a high potential to increase its catchment area by providing higher-quality bicycle storage in key locations — the kind of issue that gets lost when mainstream media coverage is so focused on opposing a project.

Writing about the political decision to cut the line short and not integrate the project with an upgrade of the Luas Green line as previously planned, McDonald writes that the project “…would need to be extended southwards in order to do so. Thus, An Bord Pleanála is faced with making a decision on part of a much larger project without having any idea of where the rest of it would go.”

This makes no sense. It is the reality of many metro rail projects across the world which are built with plans to expand lines in the future and those plans sometimes change and sometimes doesn’t. When politicians are ready to fund such an extension, it will be up to the planning system to look at what route is chosen.

It’s good that An Bord Pleanála inspectors are questioning different aspects of the project, but that doesn’t mean they won’t side with the NTA and TII or that the planning board won’t make reasonable suggestions to fixing issues they find.

The harsh reality which The Irish Times — and others in the media — need to face up to is that they are largely to blame for amplifying misinformation from objectors to the Green line upgrades and then soundbite-led-planning from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that the route should be diverted to UCD, That shaped the current political reality of the upgrade not going ahead at the same time as MetroLink.

McDonald writes: “The costly diversion of MetroLink’s alignment to link up with Tara Street station when such an interchange would ultimately be provided by Dart Underground is also questionable.”

On the one hand, I agree with McDonald that the destruction of the College Gate apartment block on Townsend Street and Markievicz Leisure Centre is a high price to pay. But that the Tara Street station is being built for central integration with Dart given the political reality transport authorities were faced when planning the route — that includes Dart Underground still unfortunately not being a priority.

So, we have McDonald calling for integration, but also complaining about one of the best-integrated stations. The planning board could just order the transport agencies to replace apartments and Markievicz Leisure Centre on the site or another nearby.

The impacts on St Stephen’s Green will be “will be very significant” according to planning documents. But the fact is, the impacts will also be temporary. There is a question of why the MetroLink plans changed from mostly planning the station in the roadway to now planning it inside the park, that might have been worth exploring if the whole slant of McDonald’s article was not basically anti-metro rail — while being strangely fine with Dart Underground which would cause as about much disruption relative to its length.

The contradictions are stark in McDonald‘s writings, both at the weekend and previously, he complains about the destruction of St Stephen’s Green, yet, he calls for both Metro and Dart Underground to be built on the Grafton Street side of the Green which would likely require more destruction — at least if the Dart Underground station box is built on the east side of the green, there’s potential to do so part or fully in the roadway. There’s far less scope for that on the Grafton Street side.

He also complains that the former Carlton cinema, dating from 1938, will be demolished. But even if you agree that all of these locations should be preserved and alternative station locations should be looked at, none of this amounts to “laying waste to chunks of the city centre”. Not even close.

And, in the case of the Carlton cinema, McDonald‘s claim that MetroLink is the cause of the planned demolition is from a vague idea that the latest developer of the ill-fated O’Connell Street site might have — at one stage — been open to preserving the former and long decaying cinema.

“Nevertheless, there is an almost universal view in and around Swords that MetroLink must proceed, irrespective of its negative impacts further down the line” McDonald writes as if current and future residents of Ballymun, Glasnevin, the inner city and the city as a whole will not benefit from MetroLink. They clearly will.

And also as if there are not now entire generations of younger people in the city who know metro lines are just normal parts of the transport network in most cities the size of Dublin and see the Irish media obsession against normal public transport and active travel projects as odd.

Next in his article, we get treated to the usual “as well as its estimated cost, which ranges from €9.5 billion to as much as €23 billion due to ‘unknown unknowns’” — the same “the costs is too vague” or “it will double in price” etc arguments are used against Dart Underground and were used against the original Dart and Luas projects.

And the same cost arguments were used against large rail projects internationally, such as Crossrail in London which is already proving highly popular and successful under its Elizabeth line branding since it was opened less than a year ago. 1 million trips were made in its first five days and by 6 months it had a ridership of 600,000 journeys per day. Only anti-public-transport-minded people are still complaining.

Then the article takes another twist and turn — McDonald suggests instead of linking in with the Luas Green Line upgrade that “there is an overwhelming case to extend [MetroLink] to serve Rathmines – including Cathal Brugha Barracks” and “onwards via Harold’s Cross, Terenure and Templeogue to Tallaght.”

When suggesting that transport authorities are “making it up as they go along” (keep reading), McDonald’s route selection sounds less like “an overwhelming case” and closer to what’s called “Crayoning” (to make up your own route). The route would have a far higher cost due to the need for more tunnelling, while also having a lower density, a lower potential for densification and few trip generators inside the M50 compared to the Green Line upgrade policy.

McDonald writes: “In November 2021, the NTA announced that it planned to develop new Luas lines serving UCD Belfield and Knocklyon/Rathfarnham to take pressure off the existing Green Line – but only after 2042 – with the aim of removing the need for it to be upgraded to metro standard south of Charlemont. What all of this indicates is that the NTA is making it up as it goes along.”

This is even more incoherent. Without naming it, he’s referring to the NTA’s Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy. It is a policy document which is so wide in scope that most people are likely to disagree with some of it, but if you read much of the strategy and even glance at its supporting documents (all published online), it would be very hard to make the claim the NTA are “making it up as it goes along.”

Again, the strategy deals with the political reality of when it was drawn up. And, again, this is a reality which is partly caused by The Irish Times’ receptiveness to NIMBYs objecting to projects, especially when on the southside of the city.

On Twitter, in reply to criticism of his article, McDonald said: “An extensive Luas network would be more economical & less damaging”… Wait a second… Luas lines, like those suggested in the Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy which McDonald criticised in his article?

A suggestion of a wider network of Luas lines — which is a good idea — is not a solid reason to reject a metro line. Trams, metros, suburban rail, and intercity rail all play their parts in a rail network and a wider public transport network. The most successful, sustainable and liveable cities embrace a mix of public transport as well as walking and cycling.

Like too much of the Irish media’s coverage of public transport, McDonald‘s article is based on a mishmash of ideas put forward against large public transport projects all over the world. But, he’s also contradictory on how he supports Dart Underground but not MetroLink, just plain wrong on the idea that MetroLink doesn’t integrate with other modes of transport, and hyperbolic about the destruction of “chunks of the city centre” when the reality is that a hand full of buildings are at risk and most impacts are temporary.

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1 comment

  1. Very good article.

    The point he makes about Luas lines is, as you suggest, valid. But it must be remembered, the Luas from Dundrum or Windy Arbour to town is vastly quicker than the bus – say an 11 – at peak times. The same couldn’t be said of the Luas from Cherrywood to town versus the 145 or 84 at peak times. Shorter journeys can be well served by trams, in a speedy manner, but as these journeys stretch out further, heavy rail (faster rail), with a greater capacity, is clearly the solution.

    DART or Metro on the old Harcourt Street Line alignment needs to be advanced much quicker than is currently envisaged, fine. But it’s certainly not an argument to prevent a metro serving the north side of the county in the meantime.

    Similarly, the whole point about a metro is to take the potential for interaction with motor traffic away. It’s as quick to cycle from Heuston to Abbey Street because the Luas has to cross so many roads along the way. The Metro won’t have to deal with the roads, like the Luas does, or level crossings, like the DART does.

    Perfection can’t be the enemy of good.

    Reply

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