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As he rounds onto Wicklow Street, Eamon O’Hara points to a blue van parked on the path to the left. “See there,” he says. A clamper hotspot.
In the back of his van are cold meats and cheese, ready for delivery. On the front seat, there are dockets, receipts and boxes of biros.
At Grafton Street around 7:30am, other Friday-morning delivery vehicles cluster along shopfronts, and inch along looking for drop-off space.
This daily struggle by delivery drivers like O’Hara to find spots to pull in and unload goods is frustrating. It can sometimes lead them to park in cycle lanes, frustrating – even endangering – cyclists.
Some think there must be a better way to handle deliveries, and they’re working on solutions.
O’Hara is on the road from about 3:30am Monday to Friday, and as the morning rolls on and more delivery vehicles approach the city centre, the daily battle for drop-off and parking space begins.
Along Nassau Street, O’Hara points to the right at the long line of parked cars stretching down towards Clare Street. That’s one issue, he says: the ratio of parking spaces to loading bays in the city.
In other places, though, it’s less of an issue. “Nobody uses that one,” he says, pointing out a loading bay in an otherwise quiet stretch with few businesses or shops.
As he rounds onto the quays from Tara Street – O’Hara has a quick drop-off at the corner café there – it’s clear what will happen next. The delivery van pulls into the left, up on the curb, halfway across a cycling lane.
One of the many flash-points in the battle for street space is the clash between cyclists travelling down cycle lanes and delivery drivers parked in them.
If a delivery van blocks a cycle lane, cyclists are forced either onto the footpath or into big-vehicle traffic.
“It’s a big problem for everyone,” says O’Hara. He’s just finished his drop-off at the corner of Tara Street, three minutes in total.
Along the quays, in particular though, he asks, where else is he to go? With the fight for parking spaces and a lack of loading bays, O’Hara can’t see any immediate solution.
Some cyclists have started to take direct action to free up the city’s cycle lanes.
Stephen McManus, founder of I BIKE Dublin, which organises for people to go out and protect cycle lanes in the city, says he thinks delivery-vehicle drivers should try harder to find alternative drop-off spots.
“We all have some sort of restrictions,” he says. “You can’t just turn around and say, ‘Well this is too hard for me so I’m going to make somebody else live with the inconvenience.’”
McManus has noticed, though, how loading bays can be clogged up for hours with private vehicles or commercial vehicles.
Both cyclists and delivery vehicle drivers “share a similar challenge” at the moment in terms of space, he says.
More enforcement of the rules by both Gardaí and Dublin City Council could help too, but people just don’t fear that, he says. “It has to become more relevant, something in people’s minds when they make a decision.”
An Garda Síochána could not provide figures for enforcement or fines issued to delivery vehicles in 2016 and so far in 2017.
“We would ask that drivers obey the regulations, and if people observe breeches, they should contact their local Garda Station,” said a Garda press officer in an email response.
As O’Hara pulls up on Bachelors Walk, he says that in his 15 years of delivery driving, he’s always found that the Gardaí “aren’t too bad”.
They might take a soft policing approach, he says. “It’s the clampers I’m more watching out for.”
There may be other ways too, though, to smooth the conflict between cyclists and delivery drivers – and make their lives a bit easier.
In a move supported by the council – who provided the space – parcel-delivery company UPS have used, since May this year, a large container at Wolfe Tone Square as their central pickup point.
In the city centre, the company’s deliveries are done on cargo bike, reducing congestion, and perhaps helping to free up cycle lanes a bit from parked delivery vans.
On Monday morning at Wolfe Tone Square, cargo bikes came and went, delivering within a kilometre-and-half radius of the central drop-off hub.
Other companies have made similar moves. Offbeat Donuts use delivery bikes because it makes more sense for them, says spokesperson Jessica Pritzel.
“You can get around town a lot easier on them,” she says. “If you’re in a van, you’re sitting in traffic and trying to get from A to B.”
In heavy traffic, to get down to the IFSC from George’s Quay for a delivery takes 25 minutes in a delivery van; on a bike it’s a five-minute trip, she says.
These are commendable moves, says Fine Gael Councillor Paddy Smyth. As he sees it, the city needs to balance cyclist safety and well-being, with the ability to trade in the city centre.
There could be ways to try to accelerate that move away from bigger vans and try other options. “You either take less money off them or you give them more money to behave in a socially responsible way,” says Smyth.
One option would be for the central government to reduce rates if companies opted to deliver goods via cargo bikes, he says. Or there could be some kind of grants scheme.
Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe, head of the council’s Transportation Strategic Policy Committee, agrees. There is progress of a kind being made on this front, he says.
A Working Group
Cuffe sits on the council’s recently established Goods and Services Deliveries in Dublin City Centre Working Group.
Their aim is “to progress an initiative identified in the 2016 Dublin City Centre Transport Study to improve goods-and-services delivery practices”, said Cuffe, via email.
They’re looking at possible pilot projects to run with logistics companies that might test different ways to deliver around the city.
Another possible solution is to use rail and tram to distribute freight, says Cuffe. That might mean pinning down a place for a freight-consolidation centre for distribution within the city centre and beyond.
But in the short-term, there’s one thing that could be done right away to help ease Dublin’s delivery pains, says Cuffe. There could be more more loading bays in Dublin city centre and “an extension in their use until later in the evening”, he says.
O’Hara agrees. It’s about 8:30am as he writes up a receipt for his last delivery drop-off in the city centre.
He gestures towards the circular “7:00am to 7:00pm” loading-bay sign to our left. “Extend those hours,” he says, matter-of-factly. Before anything else, “extend those hours”.
It seems that there is significant abuse of the loading and unloading rules and the blind eye turned by the guards to illegal parking. Large deliveries requiring trolleys to bring things in obviously need to be able to unload as close as possible but quite often I see a van driver pull up, block the footpath and cycle path and then run in with a bundle smaller than a lot of people would happily carry on the bus or train. There is no real need for them to park right outside the retailer and I don’t see why their convenience should trump everyone elses.
Dwell time seems excessive as well. Why do I often see vans parked on the footpath with no sign of anyone loading or unloading? I don’t think their use of the loading/unloading facility should cover checking stock levels, shelving product or whatever else they are doing during this time.
I’ve seen a typical footpath/cycle lane blocking van where apparently what the driver was loading was a breakfast roll in to his mouth. When I told that story to someone who does deliveries they thought that was a legitimate thing to do, their attitude was basically that while they are working, regardless of what they are actually doing at the time, they should be able to park wherever they like.
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