Photo by Caroline Brady

You may have heard about the new transport plan meant to discourage drivers who want to pass through the city from using city-centre streets, and you may have heard that Dublin City Council wants to know what you think about it.

But here’s the thing: if we want public transport – and more specifically, the under-construction Luas Cross City – to work, we may not really have a choice in the matter. These changes might be on the way whether we want them or not.

When one of city council’s transportation chiefs, Brendan O’Brien, laid out the new plans for councillors last Wednesday, what was the first objective he highlighted? Protecting the investment that has been, and continues to be made in public transport across the city.

It’s not entirely clear what he meant by this. But an educated guess is that he was referring, in large part, to the €386 million that’s being invested in the construction of the Luas Cross City from 2013 to 2017.

You see, the Luas Cross City may not work with the current traffic patterns in the city centre. The study makes this clear.

“As a result of the construction and future operation of Luas Cross City, the current transport arrangements in the core city centre will no longer have the road space or junction capacity to function in an efficient manner, and will require significant reconfiguration,” it says.

There are two issues. First is traffic jams, which would make the Luas trams just more vehicles stuck in traffic. Second is that O’Connell Bridge is too short – or the Luas trams are too long, depending on how you look at it.

The Luas Cross City will not have the kind of segregated right of way through the city centre that its Red Line cousin does (for most of its route). The Cross City trams will be sharing the road with other traffic, and will be subject to the same delays.

A picture of Westmoreland Street, whose four lanes were jam-packed full of traffic, was the next slide in O’Brien’s presentation. There clearly was no room for the Luas to glide through, which is why the plan proposes restrictions to reduce the number of cars there.

And it’s not just Westmoreland Street that needs to be decongested to make room for the Luas Cross City if it’s going to move any faster than a car stuck in traffic.

About 70,000 motorists cross the quays either side of O’Connell Street every day. That’s a massive figure for a city-centre location, which becomes even more boggling when you consider that 100,000 pedestrians traverse the same intersections daily. And the quays also have to put up with stopping buses, taxis and delivery trucks.

Two of the study’s six site-specific proposals have to do with limiting traffic on the quays. (The other four limit traffic in other locations, including the widely covered College Green area.)

The proposed restrictions would limit Bachelors Walk and George’s Quay to public transport, pedestrians and cyclists only. Such measures would mean many of the 70,000 vehicles passing through the intersection with O’Connell Street every day would be re-routed to orbital routes outside the city centre.

And that would make room for the Luas (and buses, for that matter) to slip right into the city centre and leave their passengers off with little hassle.

The second issue that needs to be addressed to preserve the €386 million committed to the Luas Cross City project, is O’Connell Bridge. The length of it.

The Luas trams going north or south over O’Connell Street might have to be signalled straight through, across both the north quays and the south quays. Because the bridge is probably too short for the tram to stop on top of it.

The trams currently being used on the Green Line are 43 metres long, and the bridge only has about 40 metres of road between its pedestrian crossings.

The plan is for 20 trams to cross O’Connell Bridge every hour. Signalling them all straight across would likely slow traffic on the quays from a crawl to a creep.

So if the Luas Cross City is going to work, some of the traffic on the quays basically has to be rerouted.

If the result of the public consultation is an overwhelming rejection of the proposals outlined in the transport study, DCC and the NTA could be in a quandary. To weigh in now, take the councils online survey here.

Anti-Car Discrimination?

O’Brien, who is the head of technical services in the city council’s Environment and Transportation Department, says that, despite the coming changes, private cars will still be able to reach city centre car parks. They’ll just have to learn and abide by the new traffic restrictions. Routes to parking areas need to be planned out before approaching the city centre.

“What we really want to do,” he says, “is to have cars rerouted from well outside the M50 – along the M50, and as they approach the city. So they don’t arrive at Bachelors Walk and try to make a diversion . . . if everybody ends up at Bachelors Walk and tries to turn away from Bachelors Walk, then we will have failed.

For car owners, this all looks like discrimination rather than transport planning.

“Much of it is universally welcome,” says Conor Faugnan, director of consumer affairs at the Automobile Association Ireland, citing initiatives like the Luas Cross City and the Dublin Bike scheme as important improvements to movement in the city.

“The overarching concern we would have,” says Faugnan, “is that shot through this document appears to be an assumption that every time you prevent a private car from moving, you’re doing the city a favour.”

Faugnan does not see the rationale behind many of the restrictions in the proposed transport plan, particularly the weekend traffic bans.

“The imperative for doing that does not come from transport, insofar that it exists at all, it comes from somewhere else. It comes from somebody’s vision of what would be nice in the city,” he says.

The study “strays well beyond what could reasonably be considered transport and becomes instead some form of quasi social engineering, which may be legitimate but at least let’s call it what it is – let’s not present it in the guise of a transport strategy when it’s clearly something more,” says Faugnan.

Let’s say that the transport plan’s changes are put into effect, and tens of thousands of drivers are rerouted around the city centre instead of through it. They have to take alternate “orbital” routes.

Kieran Binchy, Fine Gael group leader in City Council, is worried about what will happen on those orbital routes.

“It’s all very well to say we’re going to take the cars out of certain areas in the city centre but we have to talk about where those cars are going to go instead, and what the effects on traffic are going to be,” he said.

That issue isn’t addressed in the new transport plan, and when Binchy asked about it at the unveiling of the plan, O’Brien didn’t give a clear answer.

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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