Air pollution doubled on car-free day in parts of Dublin

Minutes of council meeting suggest further traffic-free days will not be held

Air pollution levels in some parts of Dublin city centre doubled on a car-free day earlier this year, according to a city council debriefing.

The debrief meeting heard a large number of buses being diverted away from College Green caused pollution levels on Lord Edward Street to double on September 22nd.

Pollution levels at Trinity College were 50 per cent higher on the day of the event compared to the following Sunday – which came as a surprise, minutes of the meeting said.

The minutes, released under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, suggest Dublin City Council will not stage further car-free days at College Green: “DCC has no immediate plans to deliver more events in the area.”


The council pedestrianised College Green on several Sundays over the summer on a trial basis after An Bord Pleanála rejected plans for a traffic-free civic plaza in the area. More than 20 bus routes were diverted from the area to facilitate a range of family activities while cars and taxis were banned from the junction of George’s Street to College Green.

The car-free day on September 22nd tied in with European Mobility Week, which aimed to promote cycling and walking across Europe. Car-free day originated in France in 1998. To qualify, a city must close at least one street to traffic, and open it to pedestrians and cyclists.

Dublin first participated in car-free day in 2000, continuing to observe the day on most years up to 2008, closing one or two streets.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) measured air quality at Trinity while Dublin City Council measured air quality on Lord Edward Street for 11 days around the September 22nd event. A third testing site installed in the centre of College Green malfunctioned on the day.

‘Surprising result’

Organisers did not expect to record an increase in air pollution at Trinity. “The fact that it was wet on the day should have resulted in reduced pollution,” the minutes said. “This was a surprising result and perhaps attributable to wind direction and speed. It was noted that there were not high winds on the day.”

The EPA said its air quality measurement tool in Trinity was at ground-level and at risk of vandalism. The city council’s device was mounted on traffic lights.

Other issues flagged in feedback concerned the quantity of safety barriers used. “The number of barriers installed at the start of the event deterred people from entering the event zone. Removal of these resulted in greater participation and did not cause a safety concern for the event management company.”

The minutes also highlighted problems with the positioning of bicycle stands. “DCC staff installed [bicycle stands] where they had previously been placed for summer Sundays. Due to the additional activation area, this was changed for car-free day resulting in staff having to move the stands on request of the event manager. Clearer communication required for future events.”

Dublin Bus said passengers experienced slightly longer journey times, particularly on northbound routes, as they had done on car-free days over the summer.

An estimated 21,000 people attended September’s event.

Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin is an Irish Times journalist