Plans to restrict commuter traffic in Dublin's Phoenix Park are "flawed" and have "upset" locals and "alienated" older people, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has told the Office of Public Works (OPW).
The OPW last January published the Phoenix Park Transport and Mobility Options report, which aims to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists and reduce through-traffic. The plan would also see a bus service introduced to the park for the first time.
Mr Varadkar said his constituents in Castleknock and surrounding areas were "concerned and upset" by the proposed traffic changes, and he has told the OPW he cannot "fully endorse" the plan.
The OPW strategy proposes some internal road closures, vehicular entry restrictions and speed limits reductions to deter commuters from using the park as a “rat run” while maintaining access for motorists visiting the park’s amenities.
The study, which was available for public submissions up to last Friday, proposes closing one of the park's eight gates to cars; the Cabra gate will become a park exit for the new bus route that will run from Heuston Station and serve the Zoo and the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre, terminating at the Broombridge Luas Station.
The Ashtown gate will remain open to cars but will become entry only, with all the other entry and exit arrangements to remain unchanged.
Visitors will be able to reach the car parks – which provide 1,350 spaces – and full access to the residences and workplaces in the park will be maintained, but a system of cul-de-sacs and road closures will be introduced to prevent people from using the peripheral gates to drive through the park.
Chesterfield Avenue will remain open to through traffic, but speed limits here and throughout the park, will be reduced from 50km/h to 30 km/h. Pedestrian crossings will be introduced along the length of Chesterfield Avenue.
The cycle lanes created last year by removing parking along Chesterfield Avenue will be retained, and the amount of cycle lanes in the park would be increased from 17km to 31km.
In a submission to the OPW made with Fine Gael senator Emer Currie and local councillors Ted Leddy, Colm O'Rourke and Siobhan Shovlin, Mr Varadkar said although he was "very supportive of the proposals to develop walking and cycling routes in the Park", the strategy did not take into consideration "what happens on the other side of its walls".
Castleknock village would suffer particularly from congestion as it would become “the gateway for all vehicles leaving the Park heading west”, the submission said.
The other roads around the park – Navan Road, Blackhorse Avenue and Chapelizod "currently do not have additional capacity for displaced commuter traffic", the submission said.
Although the OPW proposes to maintain access to car parks, the submission points out “parking has been reduced by 650 cars along Chesterfield Ave” due to the introduction of cycle lanes.
While this “does help reduce commuter parking, but also creates a shortfall in spaces for general Park users and will create severe shortages when the Zoo fully opens and restrictions lift”.
Older people who use the park “feel especially upset that they are being alienated from the future use of the Park as they mainly depend on cars and this fear has been exacerbated by an exclusively online consultation process,” the submission said.
Families “with buggies, picnic baskets, scooters etc are an important cohort for the Park, including the Zoo”. In 2019, 88 per cent of visitors to the Zoo came by car it said. “Even with an increase in sustainable transport, Zoo visitors will put severe pressure on car parking in the Park.”
The introduction of a bus service was welcome, the submission said, but “we don’t understand why the Blanchardstown/Castleknock route to Heuston was not chosen for a pilot study”. The OPW’s proposed service from Broombridge to Heuston will largely serve Cabra.
"The feedback from the wider Dublin 15 area is that day-trippers are being prioritised over the people who live in the area but can't walk or cycle to the Park, when both groups are a priority," the submission said.
While funding was ringfenced “by the last government” to upgrade the Maynooth rail-line to Dart and to invest in Busconnects along the Navan Road “no sod has been turned on these projects” the submission states. “As it took 20 years to secure budget for these plans, the community is sceptical about signing up to major transport changes without proper planning.”
There had been a lack of engagement with the study, largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the submission claimed, adding “ the OPW should do the right thing, extend it and put additional PR behind it”.
The full strategy is expected to take up to seven years to implement and will progress in three phases.
However, the OPW said it intends to pilot some of the measures before the summer – including the cul-de-sac arrangements on Upper Glen Road, near Chapelizod, and North Road, which runs parallel to Blackhorse Avenue.