Dubliners: Do you want to side with a pack of liars or have a better city? It’s your choice

Comment & Analysis: The Dublin City Centre Traffic Plan doesn’t “ban” through traffic across the whole of the city centre and it certainly doesn’t ban cars from the city centre. l cannot blame the average person for thinking overwise after the last 48 hours or so of misleading misinformation in headlines, articles, news programmes, talk shows and elsewhere — basically, a pack of lies.

First, let’s be clear here: The actual plan is fairly radical for Dublin, but what’s included — which this website covered in detail last year — hardly amounts to a “car ban” for all but a very small number of streets, and, even in those cases, there is a focus on maintaining car access, including to large car parks.

If you’re not going to follow the link in the last paragraph: The key to the plan is bus priority measures to help the bus system run more effectively in the context of the BusConnects rollout, with a growing higher frequency spines and 24-hour routes. It also includes more public space, pedestrian priority, safer space for cycling, and also laying the foundations for higher frequency of trams on the Green Line. None of this can work without lowering the priority for cars around the core city centre.

People complain about the dysfunction of public transport but some also complain when the solution is to reduce the priority for cars.

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It’s a ‘Pathfinder’ project which is aimed at more quickly implementing climate action in terms of transport but its benefits are wide-ranging including better accessibility, more choice, and safe and more attractive streets. And none of that changes the fact that change is hard.

This article goes into some detail with examples of how wrong some of our main media outlets are about the plan. So, I’m asking Dublin residents and people who regularly work in or visit the capital: Do you want to side with a pack of liars or have a better city?


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Because it is your choice. The people against the plan — fired up by misleading media coverage — are contacting city councillors and trying to make it an election issue. That includes far rights figures who are sharing an all-councillor email address, an assorted group of others who fight against anything that affects cars and some others who have been misled by the media coverage.

For the avoidance of doubt: I’m not calling everybody against the plan far-right, but it is noteworthy that they are sharing the all-councillor email address on social media.

The coverage from The Irish Times, RTE and other media outlets has been quite shameless.

The view of The Irish Times on Tuesday was that the Dublin City Centre Transport Plan is “a strategy worth supporting”, but their next article the very next day ran with the headline “Trips by private cars and commercial vehicles ‘through’ central Dublin to be banned by August”. The first paragraph said: “Bans on private cars and commercial vehicles travelling through Dublin city centre will be in place by August, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has said.”

What’s the problem here? The city centre is defined as being within the canals, the plan clearly won’t ban all through traffic in the vague term of central Dublin, and definitely not in Dublin City Centre.

It also seems doubtful that Minister Ryan used any phrase including the word ban and mentioning on cars and commercial vehicles and also Dublin City Centre. But, if he did, he’d also be wrong. And the journalist involved is already aware of the transport plan and that it does not amount to such, so, was somebody in the newsroom at The Irish Times going overboard with their editorialising or what went wrong here?

This has been pointed out to The Irish Times by more than a few readers at this stage how wrong the article is. So, given that it’s more than 24 hours later and it’s still online without any changes, it’s not misinformation, it’s more clearly disinformation which the newspaper is engaged in. In plain English, it’s lies.

No amount of text or images that counteracts or clarifies misleading headlines and opening paragraphs with more details later in the article makes up for that.

Then a large number of media outlines also shamelessly spread misinformation along the same lines in the hours and day after The Irish Times’ article — it seems from the headlines that mindlessly cogging from a newspaper to be first with a story or otherwise mindlessly making stuff up is fairly common.

Examples which are still online just before the publication of this article include: “No congestion charges but ban on through-traffic in Dublin by August, Eamon Ryan says as €290m active travel funds” (Independent.ie), “Ban on cars driving through Dublin city centre by August – Eamon Ryan” (Newstalk), “Dublin City Car Ban To Take Effect By August, Minister Ryan Says” (Extra.ie), and “Thousands of drivers face new Dublin roads ban in months after major ‘switch'” (The Sun).

One RTE.ie article had a misleading headline, but it was corrected — one of or the only one which has been corrected.

The media frenzy in the last 48 hours has gotten so out of control that RTE’s flagship current offers programme Prime Time went another step in the wrong direction last night — the programme did a right hatchet job on the plan.

Presenter Miriam O’Callaghan opened the coverage of the plan with the question: “What do you think of the Government’s plan to effectively ban most private cars from travelling through Dublin City from this coming August?” This is a simple fabrication.

It’s also not a Government plan and unlike what’s implied by much of the media coverage, it wasn’t announced by transport Minister Eamon Ryan, it’s a Dublin City Council project which they released last year and which they followed up on this week.

But I think some in the media enjoy having Ryan as the ‘cycling guy’ in this story to focus on. As one source said when speaking about all of this: The idea that Ryan is dictating car bans in the city centre is a joy for so many people. It confirms their pre-existing perceptions.

I’ve listened to it a few times — O’Callaghan says Dublin City, not Dublin City Centre or even central Dublin etc. Motorists now cannot get through the whole of Dublin City if you’re to take O’Callaghan on her word. This mindset can maybe be explained by thinking of southside motorists who see the city council area as an obstacle to get around while going to the airport or one of the northside ‘colonies’ along the Dart line.

Then, while showing footage of Ormond Quay, reporter Conor Wilson is driving in a car and saying “Under the new proposal, this entire section of the quays will be closed — we won’t be able to drive onto this, or beyond it”. He then refers to driving beyond it to a further east part of the city, but it’s highly misleading to say motorists won’t be able to drive onto Ormond Quay. There’s nothing in the plan to support that contention.

I double-checked. Nothing in the current proposals has anything like that — in fact, it’s very focused on maintaining access for motorists.

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We’re then treated to a number of clips, including from Senator Michael McDowell (who is a bit of an old hand at misinformation on transport issues), Senator Rebecca Moynihan (Labour) defending the plan, a crass shot of wet street furniture on Capel Street, and a clip from a trader on Capel Street who has a gripe about the street.

Then we get told about the 80% of submissions to the public consultation which were in favour of the plan, and then quickly back to McDowell saying who were these 80%? “Was it the cycling lobby?” And questions about the format too when the process was clear and transparent.

There’s a consultation report published online (also covered here) and it details respondents’ main mode of transport, including that the largest group was bus users and that a clear majority of people who identified as motorists were also in favour of the plan.

Are you really telling me that both McDowell and Prime Time are unable to glance through the report?

And then we’re back in the studio with O’Callaghan interviewing transport Minister Eamon Ryan. And O’Callaghan kicks off by asking: “What you’re basically saying to the people of Ireland is if they want to come to their capital city from August, they need to ditch their car and either be on a bicycle or a bus basically?”

This is just plain wrong. Even if there was a car ban planned for the full city or even the city centre — which there’s clearly not in both cases — there would still be Dart, Luas, and Intercity trains. It’s a funny focus. The bicycle bit is like pub talk. But the disregard for buses is something else.

Minister Ryan starts explaining what he thinks is happening. But, maybe in a far too indirect of a way, so, O’Callaghan interrupts him thinking he’s not answering her question.

He then manages to explain the idea behind the plan is to reduce through traffic from just a part of the city centre. But it’s “not a holiday destination”, O’Callaghan replies as if through traffic is helpful to most city centre businesses besides the filling stations.

Minister Ryan tries to say how BusConnects is an investment in public transport and how there’s no point having all of the buses all caught up in city centre traffic — again a key part of the plan is to avoid this.

O’Callaghan doesn’t want to hear about buses and wants to focus on larger projects such as a metro. For me, the words supporting a Metro and the words Prime Time go together like oil and water. The programme’s hatchet jobs on the metro are only topped by the hatchet job on the transport plan last night.

“It’s a radical plan but it’s for a city which has a proper public transport network, we don’t have that in Dublin,” said O’Callaghan when talking about a plan which is centrally focused on improving public transport in one of the areas it gets caught up in the most because of a relatively small number of cars.

All of this from O’Callaghan goes far beyond devil’s advocate, she then starts to talk about just pushing all the traffic out. O’Callaghan claims there will be horrendous traffic, but the reality is that there isn’t capacity in many places around the city for traffic to get worse than it is at peak times. People however change.

Basically, a mix of things happens when there’s a city centre car restriction implemented in an already busy city centre — some motorists move to bike/bus/tram/etc, some motorists will forgo some trips (not travel or make fewer trips) and some drivers will switch to using a different route. The capacity on those different routes/modes of transport can then change because, for example, a motorist on another route will switch to using a bus/tram/train or a bus passenger will switch to cycling.

This is how, in the last two decades, 48% of cars evaporated from Dublin City Centre’s streets at peak times. The new plan will accelerate this process. And remember: There will still be access to car parks and loads of on-street car parking. And, in the wider city centre, there will still be through traffic. Motorists aren’t being banned.

Following this, O’Callaghan actually says “You’re basically saying to somebody on the northside that they cannot get to the southside”.

And now we get to the icing on the cake: O’Callaghan — while repeatedly tapping her fingernails on the table — attacks the public consultation saying 3,500 submissions represent 0.29% of the population of the city and asks if that’s democracy at work.

O’Callaghan also tried to dismiss the consultation as just being online with two press releases issued when the plan had quite extensive media coverage including in print, online, and on both the radio and TV.

Dublin City Council estimate that coverage gained 1.6 million views. It was covered on the 9 O’Clock News and was also promoted on social media. Meetings were held with businesses. The project was also on display in the council’s Wood Quay offices and they put a video of presentations.

This is in addition to councillors questioning officials over it at a council committee meeting just ahead of the consultation. Maybe that’s democracy at work?

On the number of respondents, thankfully we have something to compare it to: The Dublin City Development Plan 2022‐2028 — the legal planning framework for planning in the city including for housing, parks, transport etc — received ‘just’ 4,500 submissions. Where was the outrage from RTE presenters?

The City Centre Transport Plan is also a result of the objectives and targets laid down by the Development Plan which is voted on by democratically elected councillors. To avoid confusion, let’s be clear on this: Councillors voted on the target for car use reduction in the city centre. That’s democracy at work.

O’Callaghan throughout this interview and this whole Prime Time segment shows something that’s broken in our democracy. It’s not just tech companies being irresponsible, but also the media being loose with the facts and pumping out misinformation and disinformation (this time they are doing so with far-right figures who are against sustainable transport… and, nobody is saying all misinformation is far right).

This lack of caring for facts or context or evidence or past experience doesn’t help with all the issues we have, clearly not with providing for sustainable transport or more liveable cities or climate action. That’s the media failing democracy.

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2 comments

  1. Very hard to understand the media tone on this. It’s so one sided. It’s fair enough to ask questions and probe the thinking behind the plans but Miriam saying definitively that “it won’t work” and then gasping sarcastically when Ryan says they are going to start the metro is really not good enough.

    Pat Kenny has been similarly dismissive on Newstalk. Eamon Ryan and Dublin City Council need to start pushing back and respond to the misleading questions and ask the interviewers where in the plan does it say no cars will be allow through Dublin centre?

    And as for Michael ‘I like trains but lets build roads’ McDowell don’t get me started.

    Reply

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