Pressure builds on Dublin City Council over College Green plan

Traders’ lobby group opposes proposed changes to city-centre traffic flows

 

Opposition to plans for the transformation of College Green into a European-style pedestrian plaza has now built up such a head of steam that Dublin City Council can no longer avoid commissioning an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the entire scheme.

Last month, an ad hoc “single-issue” lobby group called the Dublin City Traders’ Alliance – mainly comprising retail interests with multistorey car parks – was set up to campaign against the proposals. Those involved include Brown Thomas and Arnotts as well as the Jervis and Ilac shopping centres.

Headed by solicitor and developer Noel Smyth, the group has been lobbying officials and councillors against proposed changes in traffic flows in the city centre on foot of construction of the €360 million Luas cross-city line – in particular the virtual exclusion of cars from College Green.

The council, together with the National Transport Authority (NTA), is aiming to “improve the safety for pedestrians and cyclists in the College Green area, assisting in the efficient operation of the Luas cross city and provide a high-quality bus and tram north-south transport corridor”.

Transport corridor

Effectively, College Green would be closed to east-west traffic, including cars, buses and taxis so that it could be transformed into a pedestrian plaza, traversed by a two-way cycle route and flanked by the “high-quality . . . transport corridor” running in front of Trinity College, on the eastern side of the plaza.

This would involve diverting east-west bus routes away from College Green by turning Parliament Street – at present a one-way traffic route running south – into a two-way bus corridor that would carry at least 1,600, and possibly as many as 1,700 buses per day, dramatically altering its attractive environment.

Solicitor Tony Hanahoe, who owns the Sunlight Chambers building on the corner of Parliament Street and Essex Quay, believes this proposal would have a “disastrous impact” on the street. “The diesel emissions alone would close every restaurant on Parliament Street,” he warned recently.

Speaking at a meeting organised by Temple Bar Company, which represents business interests in the “cultural quarter”, the former Dublin GAA football captain said he had engaged experts on traffic, architecture and engineering to “estimate what the damage would be in this ancient part of the city”.

He warned that the proposed two-way bus corridor would also “carve Temple Bar in half”, physically separating its east and west ends. “This scheme will do irreparable damage and I want to obstruct it as much as I can,” he told the meeting. “They can, and should, put these buses elsewhere.”

If buses in Dublin were hybrid or electric vehicles, rather than diesel-powered, there wouldn’t be a problem with emissions. But the NTA vetoed plans by Dublin Bus to lease three hybrid vehicles for trial runs on the basis that this would be too costly, compared with standard diesel double-deck buses.

London Transport, by contrast, introduced hybrid buses in 2007 and now has some 1,500 of them, amounting to 20 per cent of the city’s bus fleet. In 2013, it began trials of electric-only buses with zero exhaust emissions, and it also has a eight hydrogen-fuelled buses emitting only water vapour.

A petition opposing the Parliament Street bus corridor, with 235 signatures, was among 2,756 submissions made on the College Green plan during public consultations last May. These included 315 letters or emails, a petition from 931 cyclists supporting the plan and a rival petition opposing it signed by 1,275 taxi drivers.

Pollution

The Parliament Street petition strongly objected to the proposal to turn it into a bus corridor and demanded that Dublin City Council undertake an EIA before proceeding with the scheme. “Buses will increase pollution, noise and vibrations on a normally serene street,” it said, adding that Winetavern Street should share the burden.

Other submissions objected to the banning of cars through College Green and the “knock-on impact” on commercial activities as a result, while a number of multistorey car park operators called for “mitigation measures” to safeguard “high-quality routes” to their facilities, warning that failure to do so would deter shoppers from coming into town.

Temple Bar Company expressed concern about potential adverse traffic and environmental impacts on Temple Bar and complained that the council seemed to be determined to proceed with the College Green plan without a comprehensive EIA documenting the likely significant effects of implementing both the urban design and traffic management measures.

The council is currently undertaking an “appropriate assessment” of the impact of the scheme and is in the process of engaging a specialist environmental consultant to undertake “screening” for an EIA, although it has not made any firm commitment that such a comprehensive study would actually be undertaken.

In the meantime, tenders were invited from architects and urban planners to design the proposed College Green plaza in detail, since all we have seen so far are computer-generated images showing a rather bleak image of the concept. Indeed, it is only when a detailed design is done that an EIA can then be carried out on the overall plan.