Is Dublin Showing Pedestrians Enough Love?

It’s a few chimes past five o’clock on a recent Thursday, and O’Connell Street is filling up. An old man with a pipe slaloms through a crowd of people waiting for the bus. Three girls reorder into a wedge formation and push through the oncoming pavement traffic.

Dublin City Council seems to pay heaps of attention to making the city welcoming for drivers and cyclists, but some councillors say it hasn’t done enough to make sure the city is pedestrian-friendly too. And they’re trying to change that.

“Over the last 18 months, I’m paying more attention to the needs of pedestrians,” said Labour councillor Andrew Montague.

One gloomy Saturday in mid-May, Dublin Inquirer set out to check crowding on Dublin’s footpaths in four spots around the city, stealing the method used in London. There, transport planners rate footpaths from comfortable to very uncomfortable based on the number of pedestrians per metre of usable width.

For several hours, we stood awkwardly in doorways and gauged pedestrian flows on Dame Street and Wexford Street in the South Inner City and measured Northside flows on Capel Street and O’Connell Street.

These spots feel crowded, but the goal was to determine whether they were dangerously congested – forcing people to step off of footpaths and into traffic. Here’s a map of what we found:

On Dame Street, crowding is a big issue. Peak hour pedestrian flows ranged from 18 to 23 people per minute per metre (ppmm) of footpath width. According to Transport for London, the figure probably shouldn’t top 17ppmm.

O’Connell Street was packed, too, approaching what Transport for London’s scale would judge as ‘discomfort’, despite a 2003 revamp that saw footpath widths nearly doubled from 6 metres to 11 metres. Pedestrian flows ranged from 6 ppmm to 23 ppmm.

Levels of crowding at the time of the experiment were within reasonable levels on Wexford Street and Capel Street, although several patches on Capel Street are narrower than Transport for London says they’re supposed to be in a city-centre area.

There are a bunch of reasons why pedestrian comfort should not be seen as a luxury. Not least, less sidewalk space means more conflicts between road users. Reports suggest growing instances of conflict between cyclists and pedestrians in Dublin City. Footpath congestion causes notoriously impatient pedestrians to wander into cycle lanes so they don’t have to walk slower.

It is no secret that Dublin faces a serious congestion problem. Most of the city’s jobs are located within the canals; the majority of employees live outside them. The 2014 canal cordon count found that journeys into Dublin during peak hours are still below what they were in the Celtic Tiger years, but are recovering fast. And more people are walking.

The same count found that the share of pedestrians entering Dublin during the morning rush hour was 12.7 percent higher than in 2013. For the first time since the count began, pedestrians made up more than 10 percent of all journeys into Dublin.

The city council faces a difficult task in providing for growing numbers of commuters in a city whose medieval road network hit peak car-capacity years ago, and under current policy, is not going to grow radically.

“I want an actual plan,” Montague said at a lengthy city council meeting on 5 May. “Like, pick out the worst 10 or 20 percent of our footpaths, the ones that are in the worst condition, and then over the five or six years of the plan that we improve those rather than just kind of do bits and pieces here and there.”

Montague was annoyed with what he felt was a vague recommendation from Dublin City Council’s assistant chief executive, Jim Keogan, to his motion asking for improvements to the city’s worst footpaths. The meeting was city councillors’ chance to shape the 2016 to 2022 Dublin City Development Plan, and few were absent.

The development plan is kind of like the city council executive’s bible. It sets the agenda for the city’s planners, bureaucrats and engineers, who are tasked with enacting the strategies outlined in its pages. Any request for planning permission is weighed against the book, like a law to the constitution.

One of the most important aspects of the plan is the future of transportation in the city. At the 5 May meeting, more than 50 motions were dedicated to that issue alone.

But while the current council advocates strongly for more sustainable and less space-hungry modes of travel, there appears to be a focus on cycling as the green travel choice for the future. Motions targeting the needs of cyclists outnumber those that address walking by nearly two to one.

City councillors, by and large, agree that sustainable modes of transport must be encouraged. Depending on who’s holding forth, reasons range from the noble (to reduce emissions and improve the urban experience) to the practical (to shift road users to more space-efficient modes and get traffic moving).

Ciaran Cuffe, a Green Party councillor from the North Inner City, is a veteran proselytiser of the benefits of sustainable transport. He, like Montague, has lobbied fiercely on behalf of Dublin’s pedestrians.

Cuffe and his Green Party colleagues want the development plan to include a hierarchy of road-users based on whose needs should be prioritised. At the top, should be pedestrians, he thinks.

“Those traveling by foot can beautifully combine socializing, economic activity and travel,” Cuffe said. “Very few other modes can match that, and cities are all about the connections between different activities.”

Montague said councillors were starting to wake up to the kind of footpath congestion documented by Dublin Inquirer. “But now that we are aware of it,” he said, “I think we need to come up with a plan to start addressing shortcomings in our footpaths.”

Councillors are seeking to make it easier to move on footpaths, and also to stand still on them. Several motions addressed the need for footpaths that encourage social interaction and other activities.

“Not only do we want to use our footpaths for people to walk down the street, we also want people to stop and linger and chat and enjoy the city,” Montague said.

If the goal is to get people to spend time in the city centre, it has to feel less crowded, more comfortable, he said, “so that it isn’t somewhere that’s crowded, where you feel harassed, where you kind of feel stressed — that’s not what we want.”

Reader responses

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Grace
3 June at 15:40

Footpath use in the city centre would be greatly enhanced for pedestrians if cyclists would get off them! I always have to be on guard walking around town, as I have had a few near misses with people cycling toward or around me. Guards dont seem bothered though, so I suppose the council won’t be either?

James H
3 June at 16:01

I personally think Liffey St is terrible for pedestrians. The footpath is much too narrow for the amount of footfall going from Henry St direction towards the halfpenny bridge. I understand there’s nowhere else for cars to turn back onto the quays from O’Connell St but on a Saturday afternoon there is literally nowhere to walk but onto the road in front of traffic.

Carol Ballantine
3 June at 20:11

Overcrowding in the commercial hotspots is the tip of the iceberg: this city is deeply pedestrian-unfriendly. Remember that some pedestrians have buggies, wheelchairs, crutches; some are visually-impaired… so enhancing space so you can fit twenty able-bodied people per square metre (or whatever it is) doesn’t come close. What about the interminable waits at traffic lights, the negligible time you get to cross three lanes of traffic? In general, cyclists on pavements are there because they’ve been driven off the road. Living in the inner city with two small children (as I do) is unnecessarily hazardous.

Ken
3 June at 23:31

I’ve always found Dublin’s footpaths too narrow and congested, the only exception being O’Connell Street. I’ve now left the city after living there for 8 years and every time I return it seems more and more crowded and uncomfortable to walk around. The footpaths are – this being Dublin – dirty and uneven, with a homeless person trying to catch your eye every 50 yards or so. It won’t be rectified any time soon.

anon
4 June at 07:54

Grafton Street and most other footpaths covered with cyclists. Guards on the beat do nothing.

Outside Trinity College, at College Green, cars routinely parked on the pedestrian crossing. In fact, most pedestrians crossings in the city centre have cars blocking them when the man is green. Again, guards do nothing.

Exchequer St/ St Great George’s Street pedestrian crossing is lethal. Cars have flashing orange while pedestrians have flashing green — cars never stop, even when pedestrians in the middle of the crossing. After many, many complaints there is now a camera here, which has helped but it is still a fatal accident waiting to happen.

Much of the problem is that the guards do nothing about it. Several times I’ve pointed out cyclists on Grafton Street to guards walking Grafton Street and they actually told me that they couldn’t see tham or just shrugged.

During rush hour pedestrian crossing at Merrion Square/Clare Street cannot be crossed due to cars blocking it, having broken their own red light.

On the Quays, and everywhere else, cars, especially taxis and Dublin Buses routinely drive through red lights and over crossings with green men.

Easily solved with red light cameras and automatic fine in post, but DCC can’t be bothered.

Willy Simon
4 June at 10:43

Thanks for all the comments!

Conflict between cyclists and pedestrians on footpaths does seem to be a growing issue; councillors raised that a lot at the recent drafting meeting for the DCC Development Plan. To be fair to cyclists, it’s likely fewer would use footpaths if their needs for safe and comfortable infrastructure were being met.

Good point: there are loads of factors that play into pedestrian comfort, such as crossing times and distances! We looked at crowding this time around because it seemed the most pressing issue and we knew we could measure it ourselves.

It’s great to hear your accounts of crowding in other parts of the city. We would have loved to survey other streets, but we’ve got limited resources at the moment! Hope, once we’ve got regular readers, that we can do some cool crowd-sourcing projects and get everybody involved.

S Boles
5 June at 13:44

“Dublin City Council seems to pay heaps of attention to making the city welcoming for drivers and cyclists”. Dublin clearly needs to do a lot better for pedestrians – and fair play for highlighting this – but the cycle facilities are patchy and vary hugely in quality.

Most cycle “infrastructure” consists of a faint line of paint on potholed roads that are optimised for maximum motor traffic throughput. The only mode that is consistently catered for at every junction throughout the city is motorised transport. The focus on developing cycle infrastructure in the development plan is a start at rectifying this.

Remember, inadequate as they may be, there are still footpaths on nearly every street in the city. Cycling has huge potential to capture a lot of the shorter motor journeys (of a few kilometres), so it needs to be developed too in order to reduce the car-dependency of the city.

Regarding illegal pavement cycling, the council have some responsibility here. They have recently been building shared pedestrian/cyclist arrangements (with more planned) which encourage cyclists to use the footpath rather than grade separating all modes as per best practice.

Katherine
13 August at 08:35

Really interesting. Some walking blackspots I tend to avoid if possible are College Green and Nassau Street which are terrible to get around on foot, and were even before the Luas works started.

Richie
13 August at 16:09

Having come back recently from living abroad for a few years, one thing I’ve noticed is that the red lights for pedestrians seem inordinately long at some intersections in Dublin, which contributes towards a frustrating walking experience. I’m not sure if this is real or just a perception thing but it might be worth comparing the stop light times in Dublin against the standards elsewhere.

James H
14 August at 09:01

@Richie: All of the above is true. The reason pedestrian lights are red for such a long time (I personally notice this worst on the quays) is to stop traffic building up around the city centre, which in turn is systematic of a policy of prioritising motor vehicles over cyclists and pedestrians in the first instance.

Cian Ginty
29 June at 18:18

“The 2014 canal cordon count found that journeys into Dublin during peak hours are still below what they were in the Celtic Tiger years, but are recovering fast. And more people are walking”

The Canal Cordon Count and its count of modal share are almost irrelevant to pedestrian activity within the city centre — everybody is a pedestrian once they reach the city centre. The modal share for pedestrians on some of the streets mentioned is likely very high.

Author:

Willy Simon: Willy Simon is Dublin Inquirer's planning and transport reporter. Want to share a comment or a tip with him? Send an email to him at wsimon@dubinq.com.

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