Photo of Cathedral Street by Zuzia Whelan

Since the Luas arrived on it at the end of last year, there seems to be more footfall on the once-quiet Marlborough Street.

Now Dublin City Council is looking to give two small streets connecting it to nearby O’Connell Street, just a quick walk west, a bit of an upgrade.

The plan is to spruce up Sackville Place and Cathedral Street by removing and replacing the “existing asphalt and concrete road surfaces with a new paved granite carriageway”, and adding “loading bays, disabled parking and taxi ranks”.

But groups representing people with visual impairments have said that the proposed changes would make these streets less safe for people with diabetic neuropathy – nerve damage that can occur alongside diabetes, usually in hands and feet – and those who use guide dogs.

The main issue is the lack of kerbs separating the footpaths and the roadways in the plans. The council is proposing “a level surface along the two streets to ensure consistency with surface treatments in the central retail core, including the O’Connell Street, Henry Street/Mary Street and Grafton Street areas”.

A number of councillors are now unhappy with the plans, and are calling on the planning department and area manager to make changes.

But, as the public consultation process has ended, a meeting this Monday on whether to finally approve the plan could be the last time it’s discussed for several years.

The Safety Question 

At Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Central Area Committee, independent Councillor Nial Ring asked that his fellow councillors reject the council’s report – giving notice of their intention to carry out the works – if it’s re-submitted to the committee, or the full council.

It doesn’t take into account objections made by groups advocating for people with disabilities and visual impairments, his motion says.

Ring was asked by the vice-chair of the committee, and Fine Gael Councilllor Ray McAdam, to withdraw his motion until this coming Monday’s meeting of the full council, as the planning department is said to be meeting with disability group to discuss the plans.

Dublin City Council Press Office didn’t respond to queries about what could be done to improve safety for visually impaired people in the absence of a kerb.

It also didn’t respond to queries as to whether the current plan will be altered, or whether it would make the area less safe for people using guide dogs.

Guide dogs need a minimum of 60mm of kerb, says Robbie Sinnott, of the Blind Legal Alliance. “Otherwise they’ll walk their owners into traffic. They’re trained to lead their owners to the kerb, stop, and await instructions.”

Sinnott has been lobbying councillors in the area to reject the planning application until it’s been altered to consider the needs of the visually impaired community.

Many blind people have diabetic neuropathy, says Sinnott, which means that even if there’s tactile pavement – the bumps on the end of the path, at a crossing – it’s of no use to them, as they can’t feel it.

“I’m blind. I would not be able to judge where I am based on tactile paving,” says Sinnott.

He says the council is breaking its own best practice. A 2012 report by TrinityHaus – a Trinity College research centre – commissioned by the National Disability Authority, states that all “shared spaces” should have kerbs.

(A “shared space” in this sense is street or place “designed to improve pedestrian movement and comfort by reducing the dominance of motor vehicles”, according to the report.)

At Brannigan’s pub on Cathedral Street on Monday, Pádraig McCormack said they originally objected to the plans because it meant moving the loading bay to the south side of the street from the north. That would “completely obstruct business”, he says.

“We want the works to go ahead, all the businesses want the changes. We just have a few small reservations,” says McCormack. Issues facing people with visual impairments in the area also need to be considered, he said.

A spokesperson for the National Council for the Blind of Ireland said that it “appreciates the very good intention” of the council in making the area more pleasant and accessible.

But pedestrianisation “must be done in a way which does not put anyone at risk”, the spokesperson said, by email. People with a visual impairments need a kerb between where they will walk and where there are trams, cyclists or buses scooting by.

Removing a kerb in some places for wheelchairs or buggies is acceptable, they said. “But to have no kerb edge between a pedestrian area and traffic, for a very long distance, is neither necessary nor safe.”

This is an ongoing issue. In early December, the NCBI submitted an objection to the council on a plan to replace kerbs with tactile paving on College Green.

“Everybody Loses”

After the plan was passed by Central Area councillors in April, Sinnott contacted councillors to explain the issue with tactile paving, which the council’s report suggests as a safety measure.

Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan says she and others asked the planning department to come up with a way to make the plans safer, in light of Sinnott’s objections. “But the manager said they can’t put in kerb because it’s material change,” she says.

On Monday, the full council is due to make a decision on whether or not to press ahead. “If it doesn’t pass, it won’t be revisited. Everybody loses. I don’t see it coming back in our term, or even the next term,” says Boylan, referring to the five-year council terms, the current one of which ends next year.

Once a scheme like this goes through what is known as the “Part 8” process, material alterations cannot be made to it, or it has to go through public consultation again, and that’s not going to happen, she says. “There’s no funds to put back into another process.”

Ring says councillors need to take some responsibility. They didn’t spot in the original report the line “that the absence of a height delineation can result in confusion and disorientation”, he says.

Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon says councillors “are not approving the plan as it currently is. The planning department are in talks with the disability network at the moment”.

“In all good conscience, I couldn’t vote for this,” Gannon said.

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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