Photo by Caroline McNally

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A new group has been formed whose campaign, if successful, will hold Dublin back and make the city centre a less successful place. It will be bad for the city economy and will make it less attractive for Dubliners and visitors alike.

Bizarrely, the group is comprised of some of the city’s biggest retailers.

The group calling themselves the “Dublin City Traders’ Alliance” (DCTA) has been set up, apparently as a single-issue lobby group, to oppose plans by Dublin City Council to pedestrianize College Green.

The group is not representative of the Dublin business community. Far from it.

Shortly after the College Green Plaza proposals were unveiled, both Dublin Chambers, the largest commercial representative group in the city, and DublinTown, the city-centre business-improvement group representing more than 2,000 retailers, immediately indicated broad support for the plans.

In opposition to Chambers, DublinTown and many other heritage and urban advocacy groups, the DCTA believes that pedestrianizing College Green and creating a civic plaza to compete with the best of Europe’s capital cities is the wrong thing to do.

So determined are they in their conviction that they have committed to taking “all steps necessary” to prevent it happening and have already lobbied the city council and councillors.

It is unclear what their case could possibly be based on.

A volume of evidence, not to speak of common sense and a myriad of precedents from comparator cities, exists to strongly assert that the city council’s plan to make College Green into a public plaza for the city to be proud of is not only commendable but long overdue.

By now three extensive surveys have been conducted: by DIT Environment & Planning (anindependent academic study in which this author was involved), Millward Brown, and Red C. Each study surveyed more than 1,000 shoppers and the results are emphatic.

By far the most retail business and revenue is brought into the city by public transport. On aggregate, in second place are pedestrians. The fastest growing mode is cycling, something we can see clearly from annual canal cordon counts coordinated by the National Transport Authority.

The Red C study, commissioned by another car-parking lobby group, infamously tried to skew the results by focussing on “high value shoppers”. Yet even among this select group, 54 percent of total spend was from public-transport users.

The bizarre and badly conducted study excluded students, café users, tourists, and workers. What city would not want tourists, café dwellers, students, and working people who work to frequent their streets?

The city council really needs to be careful who it listens to.

Cian Ginty of has adroitly identified a link connecting the members of the group: they all own, operate, or are linked to city-centre multi-storey car parks. So their motives are questionable – are they more interested in promoting city-centre retail and commerce, or in keeping their car parks full?

If it’s the latter, then their logic is counter-intuitive and self-defeating.

Cars bring people to the city centre too, yes, and it is clear that car shoppers have a higher per-trip spend. Yet the problem is that if you promote car access, the overall number of people who can access the shopping areas goes down.

Would the retailers not be better off if they spent their time thinking about how to increase spend from other modes? Make the city a nicer place, where people will want to stay longer? Too radical a suggestion for some perhaps.

But not too radical at all. It’s called traffic management and has been done successfully in many other cities. Dublin’s city-centre transport strategy is not to eliminate car access, but to eliminate through-trips.

Through-trips have no business in a city centre. Hell, they don’t even stop off in multi-storey car parks.

Most of Dublin’s peer cities in continental Europe eliminated through-trips via effective traffic-management strategies back in the ’70s and ’80s. We are only 40-odd years behind in implementing such a plan really.

One of the earliest cities to implement the “quadrant strategy” envisaged for Dublin City was Groningen, in the Netherlands, a tale elegantly illustrated in a popular video from

Anyone who isn’t convinced needs to read Janette Sadik-Khan’s brilliant book Streetfight – Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Sadik-Khan was no less than Transport Commissioner of New York (and some would say the greatest commissioner the city has ever seen).

She worked under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the get-up-and-go, business-focussed mayor, credited with restoring the city’s previously ailing economic fortunes. Bloomberg’s catch-cry was, “In God we trust, everyone else bring data.”

Times Square Reconstruction © Snøhetta

Sadik-Khan used the facts to show that making streets accessible and friendly for people was good for cities and good for business. Again and again she transformed streets and spaces, often in the eye-teeth of opposition from vested interests, by reaching out to communities and showing the evidence (some of which she even gleaned from Dublin and other European cities).

Sadik-Khan’s crowning achievement was the transformation of Times Square and Broadway. So traffic-choked were these world-renowned spaces it seemed offensive to logic to even suggest they could be any other way. With imagination, design, use of bare facts, and some wacky-coloured beach chairs, Times Square was transformed into a creative public place for everybody to enjoy.

Sadik-Khan was able to show that traffic – even car traffic – worked better in the environs, business went up and the area had massively more footfall. “If you can change the street, you can change the world,” advocates Sadik-Khan.

Dublin needs a real public transport network and the city centre has to become a more pedestrian- and cycle-friendly place. Dublin City needs to listen to its people, be brave and invest in good planning and design.

David O'Connor

David O’Connor lectures at DIT and co-runs the MSc in Transport and Mobility, a new multi-disciplinary programme in transport planning. Follow him on:

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  1. The problem with the city plaza for me is that it’s just shifting traffic elsewhere.

    Our city centre is very small, the traffic currently going through Dame Street/Parliament street will have to move elsewhere. It will result in clogging up Capel st, Church st and the North side quays.

    The north side quays are over congested already. If there’s one accident or delay it will clog traffic all the way to Hueston station to inchicore. Traffic on the quays has no where else to go… They don’t need Dame streets current traffic diverted onto them.

    And if Cape streets traffic no longer goes up Parliament street (due to buses using it as a hub) where will it go? This new traffic will likely block up the south side quays.

    I know it might be nice having no traffic on Dame st but the consequence is the rest of the city getting an increase of traffic and I don’t think the trade off is worth it.

    1. I’m sorry John, but all I hear in your response is “cars, cars, cars” – which is exactly what I hear from the DCTA.

      College green significantly predates motor vehicles and was originally designed as a public space – what right does ‘traffic’ have to continue to drive through it? At best, it’s a disastrous mess for cars, public transport and pedestrians. Why would you want to keep it like that?

      The aim of putting the plaza here is not simply to remove traffic from the area, it’s also to encourage people NOT to take their cars into town in the first place. By doing this, your worst nightmare of clogged up Quays won’t happen. And even if it did, we would be forced to come up with a solution for that also – but surely that’d be better than just leaving everything as it is?

    2. Hi John: there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that more road space means more congestion, and the inverse is also the same: by reducing the space allocated for cars, you can reduce congestion because people choose other means to get there. Car traffic is not a fixed variable — even though for decades our road engineers have been building to that assumption. Once we start designing Dublin’s transport system around the movement of people, rather than cars, the city will become cleaner, quieter, more prosperous, and a much nicer place where people will want to go (and retailers should be pushing madly for this because many of those people will shop there).

  2. I broadly agree with a college green and city centre pedestrianisation plan. However, the study linked to (yours) as well as the studies cited in it are guilty of less than optimal research, mis-use of statistics (e.g. discarding of inconvenient ‘outliers’, or simple multiplication of data with assumptions of linear scaling & relationships) and rampant changes in phraseology that turn attitudes and surveys of potential behaviour into actual behaviour.

    1. Kevin, could you please elaborate on your issues with the study you mention. It’s hard for anyone who can’t spot these faults to agree with your counter-argument if the accusations remain vague. I’m interested in hearing all sides to get as big a picture as possible, so please do so.

  3. Dublin is one of the least attractive cities in Europe to be a pedestrian or cyclist thanks to the ridiculously narrow and often seriously damaged footpaths, potholed cycle lanes and traffic lights that usually favour motorists – why have we no zebra/ pelican crossings like in the UK? If I were mayor of Dublin, I would:
    A) pedestrianise as much of the city as possible
    B) introduce a congestion charge within the canals
    C) create more park & ride facilities at key public transport hubs for suburban commuters coming into the city
    D) install speed cameras along the quays (I’ve never seen the Guards enforce the 30km/h limit anywhere in the city)
    E) Mandate suburban shopping centres to introduce parking charges to create a more level playing field for car-based shopping.

  4. If Fingal Co Co stopped blocking the proposal, we could have a dedicated, publicly voted, executive Mayor with all these powers. Instead, we have a capital city with no leader, no plan and no hope.

    Dublin keeps stumbling from one patch-up to another, and anything genuinely exciting or positive for the city seems to happen in spite of the powers that be. Oh, It frustrates me to see a great city being used and abused this way.

  5. How many people are currently transported through college green by bus?
    What’s the expected increase in their transit time by re-routing all these bus routes?
    Unless they going to shortcut through the extensive grounds of Trinity College, this is going to be a new hell for bus users.
    If New York is one of the “comparator cities”, should we assume that plans to pedestrianize College Green also involve building a subway? Or a CPO on Trinity’s cricket pitches?

  6. Great article by David and cogently outlined arguments! What’s not to like about a pedestrianised College Green Plaza!? The sooner it happens the better. The citizens’ choice and not the car-park owners’ choice needs to win out!

    Lets work to have a City Centre fit for people!

  7. While I think the pedestrian plaza is a great idea for the public realm, I share Brian from D3’s concerns about the impact on bus journeys.
    David’s article highlights that through trips have no place in a city centre. While I support this in terms of cars, Dublin Bus have significantly increased the amount of north-south bus routes through the city centre in recent years and I can only see the College Green proposal as being detrimental to these bus through trips. I simply can’t see how the significantly reduced road space available will be able to accommodated the number of buses that travel through the city centre and what alternative routes are available. The proposed use of Parliament Street for such a high level of two-way bus traffic does not seem workable to me.
    Appreciate your views.

  8. Surely a sprawling city such as Dublin, with its suburbs long surpassing the limits of either London or Los Angeles, has most of its car bound shoppers going to suburban shopping centres, such as Dundrum.

    Dublin City Centre has been losing its footfall to these suburban shopping centres, it is time to pedestrianise it.

    But equally importantly, traffic, be it via cycle or motor, needs to be better politicised in order for hapless pedestrians not be run over by either light jumping cars (particularly taxis) and cyclists.

  9. Dublin desperately needs a bit of breathing space. IMHO it would help the retailers in the long term as more people would hang around the city than get in and out without stopping, which is what will happen with the Luas. It’s why there should be more public seating back in Dublin as well. They need to slow the city down – which is where culture and events in the center would help retailers in the long run. Currently the “city” is more like a giant roundabout than a living city. Cars everywhere, thundering double decker buses and terrible footpaths.

    Regardless of the Luas works, Dublin’s footpath are in rag order – it’s a truly terrible experience walking around Dublin.

    As a counter measure a group should be set-up to protest at the stupidly located entrance to the Arnotts car park by the GPO. High time stupidly located car parks were kicked out of the dead center of the city.

  10. The pedestrianisation of Dún Laoighre was a disaster. Buses were redirected, deliveries were disrupted. The high street retail suffered as people moved further afield (e.g. Dundrum). The county council was successfully sued several times by pedestrians who sued due to tripping over the cobbels. Eventually buses, then deliveries were allowed down the main street again. Finally cars were allowed (one way), and even later the cobbels were pulled up. Much of the damage had already been done though, and the road network has never properly recovered, nor the businesses.

    So the guy responsible for this farce has now produced a plan to cut down all the trees on college green and block traffic, and you think this is a good idea. *mind boggles*

  11. As a business owner in the city centre who recently closed down, I believe what we need is a clean, safe city with plenty of Garda presence before planning any further pedestrianisation or open spaces. My experience is that the more we ban vehicular traffic from the city, and the less Gardaí, there is a greater influx of anti social behaviour. The city is a disaster, and the basic needs must be met before any more vanity projects by Eoghan Keegan and Éamonn Ryan.

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