Road congestion and the commuter belt
Sir, – Bad congestion on the M50 in recent days has led some commentators to argue for new construction to increase the capacity on commuter routes.
Unfortunately the number of cars using these routes is ultimately proportional to the capacity of the network. Building more roads simply makes it possible for more cars to use the route, which encourages more people to live in cheaper locations where a commute is required. Eventually, when capacity is reached, people will just start clamouring again for more roads.
This is what has already happened. The populations of counties within an hour’s drive of Dublin have increased far more rapidly over the past two decades than any others. The population of Meath increased by 78 per cent between 1996 and 2016, Kildare by 65 per cent, Laois by 60 per cent and Wicklow and Louth by 39 per cent. Dublin’s 27 per cent increase is small by comparison.
The only sustainable long-term solution to congestion is for people to be close enough to their place of work that they can walk, cycle or avail of high-frequency public transport. In large areas where housing is highly dispersed, it is simply not possible to effectively locate employment to facilitate this. Hence the only viable solution is to concentrate new housing nearer to business centres.
There is still plenty of vacant land available within Dublin, but for various reasons it has never been made available for construction. Land-owners and developers frequently argue, with reasonable justification, that high costs mean it is not possible to service land, build according to strict conditions and still provide affordable homes of the type that families want. In the meantime, it has remained viable to service land and construct homes in more distant locations – but only as long as the State foots the bill for the enhanced road network that makes living there feasible.
The current congestion problems are what comes of leaving the development of homes to the private market while the state takes care of roads. The costs to the State have just been shifted from the left pocket to the right, while the long-term problems of scattered development have been multiplied.
The State should intervene to allow people to live within Dublin instead of forcing them to commute from surrounding counties. The funding for subsidies to construct housing, to improve public transport or to provide the necessary services to activate potential building land could easily be provided from the vast sums of money that would otherwise be spent on building and maintaining additional road-space.
This is the most sustainable solution and one that in the long term will mean the best quality of life for the largest number of people. – Yours, etc,
Phibsboro, Dublin 7.