Philip Austin strides out into the middle of the road Tuesday, leans slightly to one side and takes a picture of the little white lorry. “So this is my usual course of action,” he says.
The man behind the wheel is on his phone and has nosed the driver’s cabin over the pedestrian crossing, breaking the red light. “You’ll see him react. They don’t like it,” says Austin.
He and his wife spent five minutes one day counting the cyclists and drivers who jumped the red lights at this crossroads where Kilmainham Lane meets South Circular Road, he says. There were 27.
Earlier Tuesday morning, Austin had had to leap and push a young woman out of the way of a car as it jumped a red light, he said.
He has reported the regular infractions already to the council and to local TDs, he says. His neighbour Mary Gleeson has also flagged the dangerous traffic there.
“My frustration now comes from the fact that loads of people have now highlighted this,” says Austin. “Nothing has been done about it.”
The frustrations of walking in the city range from being squished onto narrow streets clogged with sandwich boards to motorists breaking red lights, from dodging cyclists who are barrelling down pavements to squeezing by cars parked up on footpaths.
And yet, there’s no pedestrian lobby or advocacy group in Dublin working to make city walkers’ lives better. There’s no PA, no Dublin Pedestrian Campaign, no iPedestrian. Why not?
In The Past
Dubliners have come together at least twice in the past to set up groups to lobby for pedestrians.
Twenty years ago, there was the Pedestrian Association, which got Dublin City Council to take on board the European Charter of Pedestrians’ Rights, says Donna Cooney. But the group died for lack of resources and time.
“There was membership, but we didn’t really have any funding. It was run by a voluntary group,” says Cooney, a local representative in Clontarf for the Green Party.
More recently, the Just Walk Now campaign “to make urban walking easier, safer and fun” started three years ago. Again, though, it petered out.
They had a few meetings, said Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe, who set up that one with several other people, including his partner Jackie Bourke and DIT transport planning lecturer David O’Connor. “But we never really got it going.”
A few objectives were sketched out: more green-man time at pedestrian crossings, more zebra crossings, and wider footpaths. “It was to be a voice for the pedestrian,” said Cuffe.
Since then, there have been pockets of what might be called pedestrian-friendly initiatives, such as Dublin PARK(ing) Day, or Playful City, or the Make Way campaign run by the Disability Federation. But no general loud-speaker group for pedestrians.
“I would like to see a stronger voice for pedestrians in the planning for the city,” says Cuffe. “There’s a lot of talk about the public realm in recent years and these are issues that are very close to the heart of those who use their feet to get around.”
“There are a lot of people who neither cycle nor drive and I suspect they are not heard as often as they should be in transport planning,” he said.
On the corner of the crossroads in Kilmainham, Austin says he’s unsure if a pedestrian lobby group would solve his problems, or if if would just encourage spats and division between different road users.
As he sees it, making the roads safe wouldn’t just be an issue for pedestrians. After all, car drivers and cyclists – both of which he is at times, too – would benefit from it, he says.
It’s not so much pedestrians not having a voice, he says. “I don’t think the public in general has enough of a voice.”
John Dolan, the head of the Disability Federation, sees it a bit differently. Cyclists have their groups and drivers have their groups. So, perhaps pedestrians do need their voices too, he says.
“It’s not as if there should only be one voice; there’s the car lobby, the cycle lobby as you say. They’re legitimate. They have to be heard. But so too do the most vulnerable people on the road, they’re people who are pedestrians,” says Dolan.
Are You a Pedestrian?
In general in many countries, there don’t seem to be as many pedestrian-oriented advocacy groups as others, says Eva Heinen, a transport researcher at the University of Leeds. But “I’m not sure whether people don’t identify as a pedestrian, that’s a slightly different question in a way”.
Data from the Netherlands shows “a stronger identity for cycling, but pedestrians is still higher than public transport or even driving”, she says.
It can sometimes seem, though, as if people don’t identify as deeply as pedestrians as they do as car drivers or cyclists, says Cuffe, the chair of the council’s transport committee.
Why? Perhaps, people have to get kit to drive or cycle, so it’s more of an effort, says Tanya Braun, head of communications at Living Streets in the UK.
Or, perhaps it’s because most people walk or use the pavements so it’s a large diffuse group, she says. “I think that’s because we all do it, and we all are one, rather than anything else.”
Also, there’s little money to be made from lobbying for pedestrians, says Peter Miller, who set up a pedestrian group, Pedestrian Liberation in Ipswich in England. “There is no economic case for campaigning for pedestrians. Obvious ones, the way there is campaigning for cars.”
Arran Henderson, who runs the Dublin Decoded walking tours, said he wouldn’t really define himself as a pedestrian. “It’s almost defining yourself in a negative way,” he says. It makes everyday walking sounds as if it’s a strange action.
In a way, pedestrians have what some cyclists want when they press for people to talk about people not as cyclists, but as bankers and candlestick-makers, and just normal bods on a bicycle, says Miller of Pedestrian Liberation.
“But actually, cyclists clearly do very much self-identify and for their own safety have formed cycle campaigns,” he says.
A Hostile Space
Over in the UK, different organisations for pedestrians seem to have been spurred by a sense of hostility in public space.
Miller of Pedestrian Liberation, who has a background in transport research, saw red with cars parked up on the pavement.
“Ironically, I was walking to pick up my wife’s car from having some mending done around the corner, and I noticed I couldn’t walk on the pavement,” he said. Then “I started noticing the fact that you couldn’t walk down a lot of pavements”.
Braun at Living Streets said that her organisation, born in 1929 – and at the time called the Pedestrian Association – was set up by two people worried about the growth in “motor cars”, and the safety of pedestrians. It led to the first Highway Code.
Nowadays, those who get involved are drawn from different groups: many of them parents worried about safety at the school gates, and older people or people with disabilities who feel the impact of bad streets, she said.
How people identify when it comes to transport can affect their behaviour as transport users, says Heinen, the researcher at University of Leeds.
“Having a certain identity is particularly important if you want to change behaviour, for example,” she said. “Because changing behaviour can be a threat to somebody’s identity.”
So if somebody identifies as a car driver and all of a sudden there are massive car restrictions, they might fight against that.
But “with walking, I’ve never heard anybody saying walking is bad, or we should reduce the number of walking trips”, she says. Maybe, she speculates, that’s one reason why there seem to be fewer of these groups sprouting up.
Her research has shown other patterns too.
Those who walk more do tend to identify more strongly as pedestrians than those who don’t walk that often, she says. (While, of course, “there is always the question, obviously, does identity drive behaviour or does behaviour drive identity, right? It goes both ways”.)
Whether or not a person says they identify as a pedestrian can also affect how they think about if they’ll change their number of walking trips in the future, she said.
“You can see that those with stronger identities as a pedestrian are less likely to indicate that they will decrease how much they will walk, and are much more likely to identify that they will increase walking,” she said, based on research she has done in the Netherlands.
Dublin City Council has plans to improve the city for pedestrians.
Its public-realm masterplan looked at wider pavements, and more seating, and more short-cut routes around the city. There’s also, of course, the much-debated planned pedestrian plaza at College Green.
But public debate around these projects will often hear from cyclists, or car-park owners, or city-centre businesses. But less often from pedestrians, some say.
Cooney says that the Pedestrian Association was set up here in part because it seemed there was a lot of speeding. There had been a rise in pedestrian deaths, too.
Gentle corners on roads meant cars sped around them and zebra crossings were being taken out, said Cooney. Talk of underground walkways and bridges across bigger roads all meant that pedestrians risked being neglected, she says.
While making things easier for motorists, these flyovers or unders make travel tougher and more time-consuming for pedestrians. Take, for example, the pedestrian overpass in Fairview, she says.
Some don’t want an ground-level pedestrian crossing there, even though it would help elderly people who struggle with the bridge and so have to cross six lanes of traffic.
Twenty years ago, Cooney and others lobbied for an on-street crossing there. “That still hasn’t happened,” she says.
Henderson has a wish list of changes he would like to see. He is eager to see Foster Place near College Green pedestrianised, which would enhance its “almost theatrical” architecture. The boardwalk along the river could be extended, he says.
He would double the width of footpaths. “If not both sides of the road, then the sunny side,” he says. He was on Drury Street several years ago and he saw an elderly couple sit down to rest on a bench in the sunshine. He still remembers what happened next.
“A dirty delivery van parked right in front of them, and blocked out the sun,” he says. “They just looked so sad, I felt angry on their behalf.”
He waves his hand in front of his face. “You should have seen their faces fall.”