New trams face traffic challenges in Dublin city centre

Shared running with other vehicles on city streets may cause delays and safety problems

Before opening to the public in December 2017, Luas Cross City have filmed the journey on their new lines. Video: Luas Cross City

 

With large stretches of the new Luas tracks available to public transport and private cars, a significant number of locations along the route will provide challenges for the new service, both in achieving its journey times and in ensuring road safety.

While the existing Red and Green Luas lines are segregated from traffic along almost all of their routes, trams on the new line, which will run through the heart of city, will meet traffic at a large number of junctions, and will also have shared road space with other vehicles along half of the streets it uses in the city until it reaches the old railway cutting at Broadstone.

Trams had initially been scheduled to run from St Stephen’s Green to Broombridge in 21 minutes, but following test runs in traffic in recent months, the timetable has been revised to 27 minutes. Maintaining travel times on the line will be challenging “right through the heart of the city”, National Transport Authority chief executive Anne Graham says.

“The busiest section is from College Street up to Lower Grafton street into Nassau Street and Dawson Street. This was always a busy point for all traffic, even before the Luas was in place. One of the reasons the College Green plaza proposal was brought forward was to try to alleviate what could be a congested area of the city,” she says.

“From a traffic-management point of view, Dublin City Council is going to try and keep things moving because we don’t want to have a very congested city centre,” she says.

Same road space

After leaving St Stephen’s Green, Luas, taxis and buses will all share the same road space heading north on Dawson Street, turning left on Nassau Street and into College Green. Private cars heading north will have to leave Dawson Street at Molesworth Street, turning right across the tracks, but will also be permitted to travel south on the tracks for a short distance from Duke Street into Molesworth Street, a measure put in place to preserve car park access.

At College Green – ahead of the construction of the pedestrian and cycle-only plaza, the plans for which are currently under consideration by An Bord Pleanála – buses and taxis are free to cross the line to and from Dame Street at any time, as well as driving along the tram line, in the direction of Westmoreland Street, where the tram gets its own roadspace back.

But even private cars and vans, while banned from College Green from 7am-7pm on weekdays, will still have access to College Green in the evenings and all-day Saturday and Sunday.

Brendan O’Brien of the Dublin City Council’s traffic department said the council has undertaken not to implement additional traffic changes before Christmas, but that College Green may have to be re-examined in the new year.

“College Green is a concern to us because we still have a lot of conflicting movements there, as well as a lot of pedestrians and a lot of cycling.”

The planned plaza would have addressed this problem, stopping all traffic travelling to and from Dame Street, but it will be next April before An Bord Pleanála makes a decision on this project.

“We’re not proposing any more changes before Christmas. There are more buses to be reintroduced to College Green in the new year, and at that stage we may have to look at the issue of taxis in College Green in the peak traffic hours in particular.”

Reassessed

The issue of allowing cars to use College Green in the evenings and at the weekend, would also be reassessed in the new year, he said.

Buses and cars can again cross the line on Westmoreland Street to turn right on to Fleet Street, but the next major challenge for the tram will come at O’Connell Bridge. When services begin the existing 43m length trams will run on the cross city line, but from early next year new 55m trams will run on the line.

The significance of this is that O’Connell Bridge is just 45m long, meaning that if a tram doesn’t clear the bridge and make it straight through to O’Connell Street, but is stopped by traffic at Bachelor’s Walk, its back end will block the south quays.

The Luas will have traffic light priority to get it over the bridge, but this relies on no other vehicles blocking the O’Connell Bridge/Bachelor’s Walk junction.

In June 2015 the council and the NTA produced a plan to tackle the issue by eliminating the private car from the equation, forcing them to turn left on the quays into Jervis Street. In February of last year, following public consultation, cars were to be allowed to creep up as far as O’Connell Bridge where they would have to turn left into O’Connell Street, banning them from going straight ahead on to Eden Quay.

Earlier this year, following yet more consultation, the council folded and decided to allow cars run all the way though to Eden Quay, banning only the right turn heading south on O’Connell Bridge, thus allowing cars to drive across the Luas line at this critical junction.

“When we went out to public consultation on it we certainly did get quite a lot of feedback that the Jervis Street option was a step too far and that was the same in relation to Eden Quay,” Mr O’Brien says.

“If we go out to public consultation and don’t pay any attention to anything we get back in it’s not really consultation.”

Monitor the junction

The council will monitor the junction and would ban cars from Eden Quay, if trams were being blocked, he says.

The tram again has shared running heading north on O’Connell Street, but has its own dedicated space after the Spire. It is at the junction of Parnell Street that it meets its next significant challenge.

“Up at the Parnell Monument we have three different directions the trams can appear from either going left out to Broombridge, going right to loop back to Marlborough Street, or coming back from Broombridge at the back of the monument. So that is very complicated, it’s got a lot of different movements in it, that one is very very complex.”

Dublin Bus said it has been working closely with Luas operator Transdev over several months to ensure its drivers are equipped to deal with the challenge of the new traffic environment.

“One of the things we were conscious of is the amount of shared running that’s going to happen with Luas cross city,” Dublin Bus head of operations Donal Keating says.

“Effectively you have shared running all the way down Dawson Street all the way around Nassau Street and Lower Grafton Street and then quite a bit of shared running both on the northside heading back towards Rosie Hackett Bridge and then on to Hawkins Street and back around on College street.”

Challenging prospect

Parallel running with trams is just as challenging a prospect, he said. When buses are passing trams they have to take extreme care not to cross the white line in the middle of the road to avoid either blocking or colliding with passing trams. During testing there was a minor collision or, as Mr Keating describes it, “a small interaction” at Lower Grafton Street between a tram and a bus which had crossed the white line.

However, the biggest challenge will come not from the trams themselves, but from tram users, Mr Keating said.

“When the tram stops people will be getting off and then walking on both sides of the tram. As they cross the road sometimes they might go before the tram leaves the stop, sometimes they might wait until afterwards. All of that interaction is going to create a slightly different environment to what the drivers are used to.”

However, he says drivers have been trained to deal with these eventualities.

“Even though there isn’t full service operation yet, trams have been operating since September and so effectively we’ve had almost three months of a test system. That’s been very useful because it effectively means every driver in the city has experienced it.

“It’s not a case that we’re all waiting until the September 9th and we’re wondering how it’s going to go.”

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