Dublin city planners taking cars out of the picture

A major redesign of city centre traffic aims to make it less hostile and more walkable

An illustration of proposed changes to Suffolk Street in Dublin. Cars would be banned from key streets in the city centre. Photograph: Dublin City Council/PA Wire.

An illustration of proposed changes to Suffolk Street in Dublin. Cars would be banned from key streets in the city centre. Photograph: Dublin City Council/PA Wire.

 

On Wednesday, Dublin City Council unveiled plans for a radical redesign of the city’s traffic management, banning private cars from the heart of the city around College Green and restricting most of the traffic on Westmoreland Street and D’Olier Street.

The reaction was predictably divided – some voiced concerns about the impact on shopping if drivers were dissuaded from entering the city centre, while Conor Faughnan of the AA sensibly warned against curtailing access to private cars without providing alternatives to commuters. Those of us who walk or cycle around the city, meanwhile, were enthusiastic at the prospect of not having to play a real-life game of Frogger when crossing the likes of Westmoreland Street. Compared to other cities of its size, Dublin is remarkably hostile to pedestrians and cyclists.

Monstrosity

Dublin is not the only city debating a major rethink of its traffic management. This week Toronto’s city council debated whether to demolish the Gardiner Expressway, a multilevel monstrosity that effectively separates the downtown from the waterfront of Lake Ontario. In the end the council narrowly went with a so-called “hybrid” plan, leaving most of the elevated highway in place – basically, it was exactly the sort of fudge city councils all over the world are wont to vote for when under pressure.

The Dublin and Toronto “de-vehicularisation” plans are just the latest in a flurry of cities aiming to foster more walkable urban cores. Over the past few years, notoriously congested Brussels and Madrid have also announced plans to increase pedestrianised areas and severely curtail private vehicles from the city centre, following the lead of cities such as Copenhagen and Lyon.

Last month the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, unveiled an €8 million project to turn a busy highway on the right bank of the Seine into a vehicle-free waterside park. As Hidalgo framed it, the move is more than just about limiting the numbers of cars driving along the Seine, but is “something almost philosophical, which involves envisaging the city in an alternative way than through the use of cars”.

Vision

In her seminal 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs articulated a vision of urban design that emphasised the importance of vibrant, mixed-use neighbourhoods, urban parks and walkable city centre streets. Creating liveable cities, essentially, is about more than just accommodating as much traffic as possible.

Jacobs also pointed to a central element of urban design, one that should be borne in mind considering this week’s proposals for Dublin: “Cities are an immense laboratory of trial and error, failure and success, in city building and city design.”

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