Dublin fails to see the point of European Car Free Day

Dublin Cycling Campaign used to organise events, but ‘gave up’ as momentum petered out

 

European Car-Free Day took place on Friday and Dublin’s streets were a haven for walkers, cyclists and public transport users.

Only joking - traffic in the capital was pretty much the same as on any other Friday. Namely, grim.

Next year will mark 10 years since Dublin observed the day in any form, closing one side of Merrion Square for a “fun day”, an event described at the time as a “meaningless joke” by cycling campaigners

Car-Free Day originated in France in 1998, to allow people see what a city would be like without cars, and quickly expanded to other European countries, becoming part of European Mobility Week with more than 30 countries taking part in some years over the last two decades.

To qualify a city must close at least one street to traffic, and open it to pedestrians and cyclists. If appropriate public transport can still use the street, or area.

Traffic on Bachelor’s Walk in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Traffic on Bachelor’s Walk in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dublin first participated in the event in 2000, and continued to observe the day on most years up to 2008 closing one or two streets in the city. However the event met with limited success, with reports of more motorists taking to the streets some years in the belief there would be fewer cars on the roads.

“I think there was more momentum around it across Europe 10 or 15 years ago, and that seems to have petered off a bit, but in Dublin it was always a bit of a damp squib,” Green Party councillor Ciarán Cuffe said.

“There is a view that a one day event, is less effective than implementing change 365 days, but I think there is value in both initiatives.”

The day could also be useful for allowing “ideas to come forward” on creating a more pedestrian friendly city he said.

Dr Mike McKillen of Dublin Cycling Campaign said it used to organise events to coincide with the day, but gave up.

“We used to do stunts to highlight the day like having a person in a car, on a bus and on a bike departing form the same place and finishing at the spike [SPIRE]on O’Connell Street – the cyclists always won.

“But we gave up, because there was no seriousness of intent to deal with the ‘motordom’ – the motorised domination of the city.”

Director of consumer affairs with the AA Conor Faughnan said Dublin City Council had “accepted the reality” that there was no point in Car Free Day.

“When there is such a public transport deficit you may as well call it ‘take the day off work day’,” he said.

Dublin City Council said it was promoting a range of sustainable transport initiatives instead of holding a car free day.

“The aim of the Mobility Week Car Free Day has moved emphasis onto the testing by Cities of initiatives during the week that they might intend to implement long term.”

Three counties did close some streets as part of Car Free day this year. Streets were closed in Westport, Co Mayo, Tralee Co Kerry and in Galway city.