Long-read: A planned bus gate in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines was the subject of some contention earlier this year as the National Transport Authority submitted its application for the Templeogue-Rathmines Core Bus Corridor to An Bord Pleanala. But how do bus gates work? How will one work in Rathmines? And what’s the experience in other countries?
The bus gate planned in Rathmines is one of a number planned in Dublin, Cork, and Galway as part of BusConnects. In Rathmines, the bus gate would be opposite St Mary’s College, between the entrances to Lissenfield apartments and Military Road.
What will the Rathmines bus gate be like?
Towards the city, starting opposite Charleville Road, there would be local access only between 6am and 8pm every day. In the opposite direction, beginning at Lissenfield Road, the same applies.
The purpose of the bus gate is to make sure that buses coming in and out of town aren’t getting caught in congestion around Rathmines. Therefore, the cars are routed around part of the Rathmines Road while buses, bikes and pedestrians are permitted to go through. There would be wider footpaths and new segregated cycle paths.
“There is a space cost to bus lanes that often in urban areas people aren’t willing to talk about,” says Dermot Hanney, who is a Dubliner working as a transport planner based in London.
As it is currently, there isn’t enough space on Rathmines Road Lower for a two-way bus lane plus footpaths, bike lanes and a two-way car lane, and no possibility for other nice things, like greenery, seating and wider footpaths, says Hanney.
In Rathmines, the purpose of preventing vehicle access will be to make sure buses can travel on time along Rathmines Road Lower, which is not wide enough to give buses, cars, bikes and pedestrians all their own space.
Right now, bus lanes are available for just 30 per cent of the Templeogue/Rathfarnham to City Centre route, and only 15% of the route has segregated cycle tracks. Key sections do not have 24-hour bus lanes, according to the impact assessment report. Private car dependence has led to too much congestion in the city, it says, so that needs to be reduced.
Ciarán Ferrie — who is an architect, local resident and campaigner with IBikeDubin — says a bus gate would “transform” the road and that safe bike lanes are especially needed in order to encourage students, parents and teachers in the four primary schools and one secondary school in Rathmines to cycle rather than drive.
Ferrie says he imagines the quality of the environment of Rathmines village will improve dramatically — “We will look back in 10 years and say, ‘why didn’t we do this earlier?’”
If you value our journalism, please subscribe today.
“Especially since Rathmines isn’t that far from the city centre, so travelling in and out by bike is realistic for most people,” he says. “It’s about trusting in the system tag you’re going to make bus cycling and walking, make those so much more attractive.”
London’s bus gate experience
Bus gates have been installed in many places, including larger cities like Paris, London, and New York; smaller towns and cities like Amsterdam, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Utrecht, Ghent, Manchester, Birmingham, Sunderland, Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton, Woking, and many more.
Stoke Newington, London, got a bus gate in September 2021. 40% of cars that drove through Stoke Newington were commuters passing through, says the local government website.
Only buses, cyclists, emergency and waste vehicles could pass through the bus gate between
7am-7pm. In Stoke Newington, the bus gate was part of a larger Low Traffic Neighborhood scheme where there were also six 24-hour traffic filters on streets in the surrounding area, which only cyclists, and emergency and waste vehicles can pass through.
On Church Street, where the bus gate was installed, walking increased by 16% and cycling increased by 38%. 6 in 10 survey respondents in the borough to their survey in the area wanted to retain the Low-Traffic Neighbourhood. It was made permanent.
On adjacent roads, road traffic was reduced by 77.9%, 8.3%, 3.9% and 48.1%, respectively, while it increased by 7.5% on one road.
Hanney says that bus gates are easy to take out if they are really not working. “It doesn’t cost a lot, there’s no lead in time, it’s flexible.”
Hanney says he remembers both support and opposition for the Stoke Newington bus gate was installed in Hackney in September 2021.
“People at the time felt it could be a big problem, businesses could go out of business, it could kill the vibe in the street,” he says. However, he’s hearing less from people asking him how they are going to drive through Rathmines, and more from locals wondering how they will get in and out of their homes.
Copenhagen’s strøggade concept
Malene Freudendal-Pedersen, a professor of urban planning at Aalborg University, outlines the concept used in Copenhagen — strøggade — which is just like the bus gate planned in Rathmines, but branded differently.
Nørrebrogade and the Rathmines Road are very similar in a number of ways — both are suburbs close to their city centres, just beyond a canal bridge, and in areas which are mostly residential with shops along the main street.
“Basically it was based on the challenge Copehagain had in terms of mobility and city space… and car ownership was still increasing,” she says when giving the keynote address at the Cycling & Society Symposium at Trinity College Dublin earlier this month.
The strøggade concept was based on talking about the goals rather than the idea of restricting cars, she says. These goals were: “The urban space must be beautified and urban life strengthened, cyclist’s conditions must be improved on stressed routes, and public transportation needs to be strengthened by allowing for shorter travel times and increased regularity of the bus.”
“What they did was [say] we’re not going to close the road, we’re just going to make an experiment and see how it works… and it worked pretty well,” she says. It was trialled in 2008 before being made permanent.
Freudendal-Pedersen says that traders were upset about the plan for Nørrebrogade, but the results showed faster buses, 10% more people cycling and an increase in the popularity of the area. But fewer cars — 15,000 vehicles per day before the bus gate, dropping to 6,000 per day afterwards.
When the plans were announced in Rathmines, there was some local opposition. In May, Fr Andrew O’Sullivan, a priest at the Church of Mary Immaculate Refuge of Sinners, urged parishioners to object to the planning proposal.
He told the Irish Independent that the bus gate would be a “disaster” for the local community. A video posted on Independent.ie includes him saying that “hearses will not be able to come into our church” and people “who need to use a car won’t have access” to the Rathmines church — this seems to be based on a misunderstanding of the plans as it does not correspond to the BusConnects planning documents.
Fr Andrew O’Sullivan did not respond to queries asking whether his views had changed.
In Rathmines, fears expressed by locals that access to the church would be affected are unfounded, said Ferrie. “I felt it was an unwarranted simplification of the issue,” he says, as the bus gate offers a safer route for those who wish to walk, and less traffic.
Ferrie says engineering documents can often be needlessly complicated, and require a huge volume of documentation. “Even I found it difficult to read.”
Cllr James Geoghegan, a Fine Gael councillor for the area, says: “A lot of people will accept it if it improves public transport.”
But Cllr Geoghegan says he thinks that more work should be done by the council, as they understand the local area better. It’s one of the disadvantages of the BusConnects proposal, he says. “A lot of this stuff is gradual and minor,” and it’s unlikely that locals will pay to An Bord Pleanala in order to make a contribution.
“But in typical traffic change, Dublin City Council would write to residents, give them the application to come back with views, concerns, and then implement a version of what was originally proposed,” he says.
Ferrie says, from holding a public meeting with Rathmines Initiative to inform people about the bus gate, that locals don’t have a good understanding of how the bus gate is going to work.
“People don’t feel they have a good understanding of what’s proposed,” he says, but they were interested to learn. “There is a significant number of people who feel the consultation process hasn’t been inclusive, and there hasn’t been a sense that the community is involved in the design process.”
“Problems with designers, going too far ahead and making assumptions, is that they can be wrong,” says Ferrie, but if designers engage earlier, it might run more smoothly later.
Dermot O’Gara, a spokesperson for the NTA, said that the authority is engaged with a large number of representative groups, including residents’ associations and the people who raised vehicular access to the church a concern, he said
Communities and members of the public were given the opportunity to be involved in the process at an early stage. Many took up that opportunity by attending the public information events, or community forum events we organised from early 2019, or by meeting directly with the BusConnects infrastructure team.
In-person community forums, where people could ask questions and give were held in February and March 2019, according to chapter one of the scheme’s Environmental Impact Assessment Report. Letters were delivered to impacted properties and resident groups held meetings too, it says.
A planning application for the scheme was sent to An Bord Pleanala in April. Since the submission was made, the NTA hasn’t held any further information sessions, said O’Gara.
Cameras and enforcement
The Stoke Newington bus gate, although welcomed by locals and having increased cycling and walking numbers, vandalisation is an issue for camera enforcement. Its camera had to be re-installed seven times in two years, the Evening Standard reported. London’s Ultra-Low Emissions Zone cameras have also suffered from attacks, with 171 cameras vandalised in two weeks, the BBC reported.
Cllr Geoghegan says some form of enforcement will be necessary. “No point introducing it until you have enforcement.”
Hanney, the transport planner, says that locals and others might try to get around camera enforcement as best they can. “People who don’t like them have ways and means to decommission them. They’ll come along and wreck them and do what they can,” he said.
A solution is to install them very high up, where they can’t be easily reached, he said. Or, to install multiple cameras along the bus gate. Drivers could turn back before they got fined before reaching the second camera, he said, rather than getting fined the minute they cross a single line.
People also often cover their registration plates so that they can’t be fined, he says — this has been a growing problem in some London and is also a problem for speed and red light
Automatic bollards tend to get stuck or break or make buses wait too long. “Invariably those systems break, vehicles run into them,” says Hanney, and they’re pricey to fix.
“Nothing is foolproof, you always have some issues,” he says. “But if you do nothing you’re relying on people’s goodwill to not use the bus gate.”
O’Gara, the NTA spokesperson, said that enforcement is vital for the success of BusConnects, so the NTA has established a working group to examine bringing in cameras. Camera enforcement will be needed alongside on-street enforcement from Gardaí, he said, which is outlined in the Road Safety Authority’s 2021-2024 national strategy.
The NTA expects its camera enforcement working group will publish a report later this year.
With additional reporting from the Cycling & Society Symposium by Cian Ginty.