There have been so many reports done over the years on traffic in Dublin, with so little to show for them, that the latest assessment of the city centre by the National Transport Authority might be dismissed as merely another wishlist. But the NTA’s offering, reported in this newspaper yesterday, is the most comprehensive analysis yet by a public authority of the situation on the ground and what might be done to improve the environment for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users. The measures it proposes – notably the exclusion of private vehicles from College Green, Westmoreland Street, Suffolk Street and Church Lane – are radical and challenge our preconceptions about the balance to be struck in allocating urban road space.
In the past, cars were given such priority that historic streets were levelled and turned into dual-carriageways to speed traffic from the suburbs to the city centre, and vice versa. But official thinking has changed so much in recent years that such “solutions” are no longer on the agenda – at least in part because planners could see that different ideas worked well elsewhere in Europe.
Now the emphasis is on improving the lot of pedestrians, cyclists, buses and other modes of public transport – and letting traffic find its own level on an “orbital route” around the city centre, with a series of 15 “gateways” allowing access to different parts of it. More computer modelling needs to be done to determine whether all of this will work.
If all the traffic passing through College Green on a daily basis was diverted to the proposed orbital route, there could be serious congestion along its length. The NTA’s draft City Centre Transport Assessment Study points out that “the needs of traffic will be given priority” and warns that “it may not be possible to provide equal priority for other modes” – a reference to pedestrians and cyclists, in particular. In other words, the environment on North Circular Road, South Circular Road and the other roads that would form the orbital route is likely to become more hostile and unforgiving for those not behind the steering wheel .
Yet the chaotic traffic in Dublin city centre contrasts poorly with other, more progressive European capitals. It is not normal, nor should it be regarded by anyone as normal. The new city manager, Owen Keegan, is a former director of traffic and in that position he showed himself to be a champion of more sensible solutions – such as the Stillorgan Road quality bus corridor. It will be up to him to quell any dissent among Dublin City Council’s road engineers and seize the opportunity presented by the Luas Cross City project to re-order the city’s core and as the NTA’s report puts it, “allow people to enjoy some of the best of Dublin’s architectural heritage in comfort and space”.