Comment & Analysis: It’s despicable but sadly entirely predictable that the recent riot in Dublin is now being used to try to water down the Dublin City Centre Transport Plan.
There were some social media comments trying to make the fictional link between the riot and car-free or pedestrianised streets but the Dublin Chamber, a business lobby group, doing the same thing is quite ridiculous.
The Irish Times reported this morning that: “Aebhric Mc Gibney, director of public and international affairs at Dublin Chamber, said there were questions of ‘safety of the city’ when cars have been removed” and that the debate around public space once “it is been pedestrian enhanced or fully pedestrianised is an important one in the context of the riots.”
The fear of car-free spaces is unfortunately not new, a mix of somewhat understandable fears by people generally, and opportunism by those who want to object to or water down progress. But linking such fear with the riot is extremely ridiculous.
To do so as Dublin seems to be recovering from the aftermath of the riot which shook people’s confidence seems like businesses hurting their own interests for the sake of chipping away at the transport plan.
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Be it the issues of fear for safety or fear of businesses having enough customers, it feels like some businesses and those in the media who want to maintain a higher level of car access are happy to come together with drivers who rarely enter the city — together they have this imagined vision of the people inside cars being not just the good customers but also the good citizens who are the only ones who will come to the rescue if something is wrong on a street.
That the apparent solution to fears around personal safety is for taxis to be allowed onto a future College Green Plaza or other public space late at night when it’s more likely there will be pedestrians who are intoxicated is an even more surreal part of the story as reported by The Irish Times. However, IrishCycle.com understands that the comments from a senior Dublin City Council official might have been more about access to taxis late at night than anything else.
Generally, some of the most problematic streets in terms of social safety are not car-free and most definitely not taxi-free — such as O’Connell Street which is seen as one of the worst streets in the capital for personal safety.
The riot on November 23 started around the north end of O’Connell Street where motorists have access in at least two different directions and taxis have access in more ways. Maybe more importantly, it started after the far right opportunistically used the shocking and atrocious stabbing of children and a creche worker on Parnell Square East– pedestrians and a delivery motorcyclist were among the first to come to their aid.
RTE’s Prime Time meticulously covers the events leading up to the riot, so, I won’t repeat them here:
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Yet, if anybody were to suggest moped riders or other light motorcyclists were to be allowed on car-free spaces, they would be derided for being careless about the safety of pedestrians. For example, a large chunk of the issues with delivery “cyclists” speeding on Capel Street is actually on non-legal bikes which are motorcycles with just bicycle-like pedals.
The riot started on a street with not just cars but Garda cars and notable Gardaí present. For the avoidance of douth for anybody who missed the news about the riot, or is reading this from abroad or from some time in the future: The Garda cars were set alight by the rioters and so were a tram and buses.
A large part of the problem seems to be the light-touch policing of the far right in recent years, with them even getting Garda escorts to intimidate library workers, and problematic “intelligence-led” policing which, on the day of the riot, was unable to spot or fully react to messaging on social media which journalists and anti-fascist activists have access to.
The idea of the presence of cars on streets as some sort of comfort blanket for people who are weary of car-free streets has no basis in evidence.
The opposite is true at both ends of the spectrum of daily problems — ie the madness of a few cars exiting a car park and pushing through crowds of people on South William Street, and, at the other and extreme end, potential fatal collisions or terrorist attacks using vehicles. We shouldn’t need our own example before we know that motor vehicles are more of a danger than any possible benefit in public spaces such as plazas, squares and streets with higher numbers of pedestrians.
The solutions to fears around personal safety are similar for streets with and without cars — policing, vibrant all-day uses on streets including people living on streets, and, yes, tackling wider social issues from deprivation to areas being taken over by gangs selling drugs. And, in terms of the riot, tackling the issues behind why people see the far right as their only hope because of the situation with the cost of living and housing is so dire and people who are different are being blamed — historically, fertile grounds for fascists to get a foothold.
I’m not an expert in most of the above-mentioned areas, and I’m sure some readers will have different views on the different solutions. But what I can confidently say is that the riots had nothing to do with car-free areas and it’s disingenuous and disgusting to use the events of November 23 to water down a plan which has the potential to transform the city centre for the better, making it a more attractive place to live, work and visit.