Phibsborough residents feel overrun by cars. They hope, through collective action, to wrest some tarmac away for human use, but haven’t been helped by a slow-moving Dublin City Council.
Back in March, Phizzfest spokesperson Ciara Considine stood before a packed All Saints Hall just off the Phibsborough Road, and declared:“There’s no good reason why Phibsborough Village cannot be dramatically improved.”
Considine had declared the night’s meeting the inaugural event of “Reimagining Phibsborough”, an offshoot of Phizzfest, which is lobbying for a more people-friendly neighbourhood.
Phizzfest, a community arts and recreation festival held annually in May, has been bringing the Phibsborough community together since 2009. But it is starting to grow into more than an annual festival.
In 2014, as part of the festival, local artist Dorothy Smith challenged residents to take pictures of themselves in front of something they did not like in the community and wanted to change.
Picture Yourself Being Able to Cross the Street
The campaign, dubbed “Put Yourself in the Picture”, revealed that many residents had a hard time simply getting across the street.
“We did a survey to get a better grasp of the problems raised by residents,” said Considine in a recent interview. “We basically saw what we already knew, which is that cars break the traffic lights a lot and it’s quite dangerous for pedestrians.”
The group also surveyed pedestrian crossing times. They found that during peak times, it can take three minutes and 40 seconds for the pedestrian signal to appear at Phibsborough Road’s junction with Connaught Street.
“We want it changed into a people-centred urban space. At the moment, it is utterly dominated by motorised traffic,” said Smith, who is a member of the “Reimagining Phibsborough” campaign, in a speech she gave to the National Landscape Forum earlier this summer.
The needs of local residents have taken a back seat, as the campaigners see it, to traffic pouring into the capital.
“These two big main routes that bring all the traffic into Dublin City from the north of the country cross at Doyle’s Corner,” said Smith. “It’s an incredibly hostile environment for cyclists and pedestrians and it’s a very densely populated area.”
Considine agrees. “It’s a very congested place,” she says. “There aren’t proper measures in place to change driver behaviour as they come into the village of Phibsborough. So they tend to treat it like it’s not a people place.”
“We Don’t Even Drive”
The people in that place have good reason to complain. Phibsborough residents drive few of the cars passing through the congested crossroads of the N2 and N3 at Doyle’s Corner.
According to the recent Draft Phibsborough Local Area Plan, only about 20 percent of the area’s residents drive to work, school or college.
The residents, determined to redress this unfair situation, sought out solutions. They wanted the design of the area’s streets to be more geared to the needs of the area’s residents rather than those of passing cars.
The “Reimagining Phibsborough” campaigners were surprised to find the kind of positive changes they wanted to see in their community outlined in the Irish government’s own Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (DMURS).
“Basically we are asking them to implement their own manual,” says Smith. “It is really a superb document. If it was implemented we could disband tomorrow.”
A Slow Response?
The campaigners have twice met with Dublin City Council, Gardaí and Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe, to present the findings of their studies. They highlighted the key issues and their solutions, as outlined in DMURS.
So far, they have been disappointed by the response.
“We’re finding it very slow,” says Considine. “After two meetings, we’ve gotten the tiniest little bit of movement on one or two things. In terms of the substantive issues that we want to see changed, there’s really been no sign.”
(Dublin City Council didn’t respond to questions about the issues raised by Phizzfest.)
The small forward movement Considine refers to is last week’s debut of a contra-flow cycle route on Leinster Street. Although the campaigners are pleased with its introduction, Considine describes it as more of a legitimation of an existing practice than the reprioritisation of road users they are looking for.
“We certainly would feel that at the DCC level there is quite a lot of resistance to the substantive changes that we’re pushing for,” says Considine. “We really hope that that changes.”
In Considine’s opinion, the main focus of DCC traffic planners and engineers “is on keeping traffic moving at all costs”. It’s an approach that she says “is not good enough anymore. It’s a model that’s completely outmoded, it’s been proven not to work and we have to start changing.”
“I’d say it’s going to be a long road,” she says. “But we hope that in time we will see some major changes in the area.”
A New Area Plan
A new Phibsborough Local Area Plan is in the works and it’s a chance for the community to get the changes they’re fighting for on the agenda.
Considine calls the Draft Phibsborough LAP “quite an unspecific document” at the moment, but they are working on their submission to the public consultation and hope to shape it to their vision.
“People should be at the centre of these decisions,” says Considine. “The people who live in an area should come first, because they’re what make an area.”