It’s perverse to try to link Dublin riot and car-free areas to water down traffic plan

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.'s reader-funded journalism won't survive without your help. With over 762,000 views so-far this year, it's not just "avid cyclists" who read this website, but, if you want it to keep going, more support is needed from readers like you. Now, back to the article...

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.

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, 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:

(article continues below)

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.


  1. The vision of a taxi driver providing passive surveillance is beyond a joke. Does the Council really think that Joe the taxi driver will ride in like a knight in shining armour to disperse anti-social or illegal behaviours?

    I don’t think so, and in my experience, motorists just drive by incidents while it is more likely walkers and people on bikes that jump in – as we saw on Parnell Square. I didn’t see a stream of taxi drivers (a fair chunk of the traffic on the street each time I have passed it in the last month – I was with my wife at that exact spot at same time the previous day – stop to aid the kids getting attacked.

    I smell a opportunistic taxi industry lobbyist at work…

  2. Exactly cian none of the rioters were on traffic free streets and in fact under the new plan public transport would have escaped easier as there would have been no cars in the way

  3. DCC has always aimed for eliminating seating and open spaces from Dublin and instead favoured Dublin as purely more like a big shopping centre with people constantly moving. They have always been against any notions of a ‘living city’ where people might be there other than to shop or as a tourist.
    Open spaces are actually far easier to police as we can see internationally, and tend not to attract anti social behaviour at all, rather it is the side streets and retail areas that attract trouble, be it looting or open drug taking.
    There are countless big city examples of where open spaces are safe- from Washington Mall to London Trafalgar, Red Square, Alexanderplatz in Berlin, etc.

  4. Great to see the roll-back! I think Una Mullally’s brilliant suggestion that open spaces be more than vast areas of poured concrete/cobble-lock plaza is worth considering too.
    She mentions pocket playgrounds and planting trees. Looking at the artist’s mock up of the College green plaza it looks very grey and austere. We’re a hoor for the stone culture, must be to do with our Neolithic ancestors. What about some mini-forests – green spaces? Also imo Dublin City Council should grant-aid people to build only permeable parking spaces in residential areas. With climate crisis floods will be one of the biggest challenges to this island….

  5. Its not a realistic plan because we’ve LUAS on all these streets so you have to considerably reduce traffic.
    But at the same time, this is Dublin, not Florence, and unfortunately public spaces tend to be misused here.
    As for the “illegal motorbikes” these are not motorbikes but “frankenbike” e-bikes – either manually modified with thumb throttles that are illegal everywhere in Europe and with the restriction on speed removed, which unfortunately is routine here, or they’ve bought them from one of a proliferation of bricks and mortar retailers here who turn a blind eye to the law and openly sell speed pedelecs with no effective speed limits, thumb throttles and heavy frames. A retailer near me is currently selling a model with a 1130W motor, 55kmph maximum speed & weighs 36kg.


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