An association of city-centre businesses is rallying its members to contact Dublin City Council and argue that the proposed Dublin City Centre Transport Study’s recommendations aren’t car-friendly enough. Many businesses overestimate the importance of car-borne customers when it comes to money spent in the city centre.
The Dublin Transport Study seeks to prioritise more efficient users of roads, like public transport, pedestrians and cyclists. Road space will be freed up by routing private vehicles not destined for the city centre, around that area instead of through it. The deadline for the study’s consultation period draws to a close this Friday.
The chairman of DublinTown, formerly known as Dublin City Business Improvement District, is worried about what would happen to city-centre businesses if the study’s recommendations are implemented. Ray Hernan, who is also chief executive of Arnotts, recently sent an email entitled “Urgent attention – Transport Study” to businesses associated with DublinTown.
In the email, Hernan tells the business community that the study’s recommendations, “if implemented as currently proposed, will have a very serious impact on access for private car users to the city centre, and thereby on all businesses in the city centre.”
Although Hernan commends the study’s “over-arching objective” of improving the city’s accessibility and permeability, he says, “their proposed plan to achieve this goal is, in my view, extremely blunt and has the potential to significantly impact your business.” Hernan urges businesses to weigh in on the study.
Not all city-centre businesses agreed with Hernan’s approach.
“First of all that’s not exactly why the Business Improvement District was implemented for,” says Anne Bedos, founder and director of Rothar, a bicycle shop. Bedos says there was no consultation of members before Hernan sent the email urging businesses to support DublinTown’s submission to Dublin City Council.
“It does not reflect the opinion of a lot of businesses in the city centre,” she says. Which is why, last Thursday, Rothar created a petition in favour of the measures outlined in the Transport Study.
The petition in support of “a pedestrian and cycling space in Dublin City Centre as outlined in the Transport Plan” has more than 1,500 signatories to date.
But DublinTown Chief Executive Richard Guiney says his organisation is not against the transport study’s recommendations, it just has concerns about them that Dublin City Council has yet to answer.
Three Main Concerns
“We gave the plan a guarded welcome,” says Guiney. But, he explains, there are three issues Dublin City Council will have to address to get DublinTown on board.
First, there’s parking: DublinTown wants to ensure that car-borne shoppers still will be able to reach city-centre car parks. Second, the organisation wants DCC to clarify how deliveries will work. The third thing DublinTown wants reassurance on is that people will still be able to reach hotels by taxi or coach.
“If we get comfort on the three main issues – which we haven’t got to date, I have to say – I think that would go a long way to allay the nervousness in the business community,” says Guiney.
Like DublinTown, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce also has concerns about the changes the study proposes, according to Chamber Press Office Manager Graeme McQueen. “I think businesses are just looking for a bit more clarity,” he said.
The Chamber is not against the study’s recommended changes, it is “just looking to understand the reasoning behind some of the suggestions,” McQueen said. The organisation would like to see the data behind the study, he said.
Do the Cars Bring All the Money to the City Centre?
Guiney is also concerned about the study’s impact on car access to the city centre. He points to a National Transport Authority (NTA) study on consumer travel behaviour to demonstrate the importance of private automobiles to the city centre’s economy.
The study, carried out by Millward Brown last October, asked 1,671 people on Grafton and Henry streets a series of questions about their visit to the city centre. The interviews were conducted at various times of day and days of the week.
The survey found that 19 percent of shoppers interviewed had come to the city-centre by car. On average, the car-borne shoppers spent €117. That was higher than the average spend (€70) and far higher than spend by bus-borne shoppers (€63) and cycling shoppers (€36).
“So when you work out the numbers,” says Guiney, “basically 31 percent of the spend in the city is accounted for by people who have come in by car.”
So if the number of people coming in by car were to decrease by 25 to 30 percent, Guiney says it would be a serious blow to retailers, who are only starting to recover from the recession.
But that 31 percent figure may be a bit inflated. The NTA study Guiney referenced also asks respondents how often they visit the city to shop. It turns out that people who walk, bike and take public transport visit the city more often than those who come in cars.
When you take the average spend of shoppers coming into the city by different modes, and multiply it by the number of times they visit in a four-week period, the impact of car-borne shoppers slips to about 20 percent of the total spend.
What About the Other 80 Percent?
Labour Dublin City Councillor Andrew Montague says he hopes that all three of the issues that DublinTown raised will be addressed, but also says, “I don’t know if that kind of detail has been worked through yet.”
Montague acknowledges the importance of the car to the city centre economy but suggests that the needs of shoppers coming by sustainable modes are extremely important as well, and should not be taken for granted.
Rothar’s Bedos thinks businesses that are against improving walking and cycling conditions focus too much on people coming in to the city. “They never focus on people who actually live in the city, who are confronted with the traffic – who actually cannot cross the road properly,” she says.
Facilitating easy car movement throughout the city centre comes at the expense of the quality of life of those living in the city centre, Bedos argues. “It would be nice to actually think about them and improve their living conditions,” she says.
The resistance to the recommendations of the transport study, Bedos argues, “Is basically what happened in the Netherlands about 40 years ago,” when the country was weaning itself off car dependence. Except now, she says, “we actually have studies that show that it is totally unjustified. In terms of the consequences on business it actually has a positive effect.”
For Montague, the transport study’s recommendations are key to ensuring that the city centre can keep moving as the city grows. “We can’t grow the number of car customers,” he says, “but we can grow the number of public-transport customers.”
Many in the business community try to advocate for both better car access and greater provision for sustainable transport. But when space is scarce, one usually comes at the expense of the other. “Once the Luas goes in,” says Montague, “you just cannot physically fit the cars.”
While there are still disagreements and concerns over the transport study, the Chamber’s McQueen believes an agreement between the business community and Dublin City Council will be reached. Communication between DCC and the Chamber has been good, he says.
“I think that’s the only way something like this is going to work,” he says, “you have to get everyone on board.”