In June, only four months from now, street trams should pass the GPO for the first time since July 1949, when the last tram left “the Pillar”.
Luas Cross City has announced that the date for testing the new service is being brought forward. No doubt this is to allow the maximum time for testing, especially over the quieter summer periods, when traffic levels are generally lower.
But it also marks a significant achievement for the planning and engineering teams, to deliver the sensitive project early, with city-centre footfall largely being protected.
The first passenger services are now scheduled, slightly later than originally planned, in early December. In the intervening period, if all continues to go to plan, “ghost” trams will run up and down testing the line, a sight not seen in Dublin since 2005 when the Luas first started (and 2009 in the case of the Docklands extension).
Between this and then, Dublin’s city centre will be transformed like never before.
Already, silently, the tweaking of traffic signals has begun. There are no official updates on this, but junctions like Leonard’s Corner on the South Circular Road have had pedestrian times increased. The objective is to hold general traffic levels back and promote public transport, walking and cycling.
This type of traffic management is normal and practised in many cities around the world. It is the reason, for example, that Zurich supports the world’s most effective public transport service, without any underground metro lines, just supremely good traffic management.
The most celebrated and talked about transformation seems to be at the epicentre of the street network, College Green, from where a huge number of bus movements will be removed.
Dublin City Council has announced that a joint team of Dixon Jones and Paul Keogh Architects will have the honour of redesigning Dublin’s most iconic of spaces.
Construction of the College Green Plaza is scheduled to commence in January 2018, to coincide with the start of operations on the Luas Cross City line in December 2017.
It certainly seems like good news that a team with a record of openness and form in public space design has been appointed.
Paul Keogh Architects were involved in the community consultation for the original Phibsorough–Mountjoy Local Area Plan, a plan that alas never saw the light of day and should have, but never did, become a template for public participation in place-making across the city.
The council itself has also, in this instance, engaged in a good degree of openness, going as far as to host an “Imagine College Green” public workshop at the Mansion House last November.
This was both well-attended and well-planned according to participants. An “Imagine College Green” workshop report has even been published on the council website, to be furnished to the newly appointed design team. All in danger of becoming a good example for the future.
Three things really occur, when thinking about the new College Green.
One: College Green is a relatively small space. Its main axes are approximately 100m by 40m. It is no Piazza Navona or Trafalgar Square.
As place-making projects go, this is a good thing though. The great pioneers of urban design, from Jane Jacobs to Jan Gehl, loved small spaces the most.
The classic Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William H. Whyte, demonstrated why this is so. Small places create atmosphere, contain activities better and promote more interaction between people.
With the stunning array of architecture overlooking the space, simplicity may win the day. So long as people are given a reason to stop, take in their surrounds and simply get to watch other people largely doing the same thing as them, things might well work out fine.
Two: Around the corner is about to be one of Dublin’s largest, grandest and most impressive of public spaces, yet nobody is talking about it and nobody appears to be making any plans for it.
The closure of College Green to east-west traffic movements will also remove a vast amount of traffic from Westmoreland Street, which is twice as long and has a particularly impressive orientation.
Laid out by the Wide Streets Commissioners of 1758–1802, it became part of a new axis of the city. Until recently compounded by a colossal 400 bus movements an hour, it is in danger of becoming a genuinely attractive and pleasant pedestrian boulevard, accommodating a far lower number of buses and some northbound trams.
In time there may be call for another consultation, open to the people of Dublin, who by now must be getting tired of having to break into an open sprint to get from one side to the other.
Three: A good public space, according to Jane Jacobs, needs “enclosure”. And what encloses it is all important. College Green is bounded by the serene Trinity College on one side. The south side of the green is emerging as a successful, well-appointed retail and commercial strip, which introduces the Grafton Street retail quarter and seems to have a good rhythm about it. Traffic, for now, obscures some of the finest backdrops the city has to offer.
On the north side there is a bank. And it is housed in one of the greatest buildings in the city: the Irish Houses of Parliament, a.k.a. the world’s first purpose-built two-chamber parliament house. How many people know that the upper house, the Irish House of Lords from the pre-Act of Union era, is open daily to the public?
While outside the confines of any plaza design brief, this is surely something for the council to ponder. The council have already done a creative deed swap with the OPW to secure tenure of buildings to the north of Parnell Square for the future Dublin City Library (the OPW are getting the Chassis Factory, a brilliant Michael Scott-designed industrial building from the high modern era, in Inchicore no less).
It is sadly too late to offer the Bank of Ireland the keys to the Central Bank building (a golden opportunity lost, perchance), now that it is destined to become commercial offices in any case. Imagine a consultation to see how the Irish Houses of Parliament building could be reused. And think of the impact on College Green and the city around it, if people flowed out from a public building serving a genuinely public and cultural use.
The College Green Plaza has a very good chance of succeeding. Adjacent Westmoreland Street may feel oddly deserted by comparison. Both will be largely protected from any impending traffic chaos by the vehicular exclusions being placed around it.
But it will be George’s Street/Dame Street/Parliament Street, along with the city quays, to which the council will need to quickly turn.