Photo by Cónal Thomas

Most days, Janet Horner cycles down Dorset Street towards town and work, and along the way she will usually pass a few big trucks.

There’s no segregated cycle path, so cyclists like Horner use the bus lane – and when she has to overtake a bus, she swings out into the traffic of larger vehicles, including the big and thundering HGVs.

At the moment, big vehicles – those with five axles or more – are only allowed in the city centre between certain hours if they have a permit.

But after a collision between a cyclist and a four-axle truck last week on North Wall Quay, some councillors and cyclists’ groups are asking whether the current restrictions around HGVs entering the city centre need to be tightened further.

Into the City

HGVs enter the city to deliver bulky goods to shops, or construction materials for building sites. There are rules in place for when and where they can come.

Vehicles with five axles and above are banned from entering the city centre between the hours of 7am and 7pm, unless they have a €10-a-day permit from Dublin City Council.

Dublin City Council brought in the HGV cordon in 2007 after the Port Tunnel opened, to try to encourage HGVs to use the tunnel, and bypass the city.

A permit is valid for up to five deliveries or collections within the cordon zone – the zone in and around the city centre where HGVs are allowed – through one of the 21 designated entry or exit points.

Dorset Street is on one of Dublin City Council’s designated routes for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), which crisscross the city.

Those routes are “no bad idea”, says Horner, who is a member of Dublin Cycling Campaign. But there should be “no possibility” of bikes and HGVs mingling.

Some cyclists have horror stories of what happens when bikes and HGVs get too close to one another.

When he was 21, Eugene Dillon’s brother was almost pulled under an HGV in Monkstown, says Dillon. He was coming up behind it on his bike, when something sticking out of the truck hooked onto his trousers.

“The only reason he was alive was because traffic was just starting to move and a pedestrian ran in front of the truck to stop it,” he says. (They made a zine about it.)

More Permits

The council issues an average of 70 permits a day, Traffic Manager Brendan O’Brien said at a meeting of the council’s transport committee in April.

Council data for the last 10 years shows a peak in 2008 after which the numbers of permits fell steeply and only started to rise again in the last couple of years.

Green Party Councillor Patrick Costello says he is concerned that the ban isn’t really effective, given the number of permits issued and the fact that they only cover HGVs with five or more axles.

At the moment, “it’s not a ban, because you can simply apply for a permit”, says Mike McKillen, chairman of the Dublin Cycling Campaign, who in 2006 saw a cyclist crushed under a cement truck. He tried to resuscitate him, but the man died in his arms.

Policing Permits

Costello wants vehicles with permits to have them clearly displayed, which he says isn’t happening right now. So it’s hard to police who has a permit and who doesn’t.

Costello has brought enforcement up with the council a number of times he says, and officials told him that the Garda are responsible for enforcement.

The council didn’t respond to queries about concerns about permit numbers, or the effectiveness of current restrictions.

A spokesperson from the Garda Press Office said gardaí can demand to see a permit for any vehicle driving around the restricted area.

There is no fixed-charge penalty notice for violating the permit system though, they said. Instead, vehicles that break the rules can be removed from the restricted area.

The Garda don’t have data available for how many vehicles have violated the permit system from 2007 to date, or in the past two years, said a spokesperson.

The HGV ban should be extended to four-axle vehicles, and the hours should be extended in the evening to 8pm or 9pm, says Costello, the councillor.

Horner, the cyclist, wants the ban to start earlier in the morning, before rush hour. “If you want construction work done, get the materials to the destination before 7am,” she says.

McKillen, of the Dublin Cycling Campaign, says he would back a ban on four-axle trucks, typically cement trucks.

The permit system at the moment covers the five-axle vehicles because they are the ones that bend after the cab, says McKillen.

They’re generally thought to be the dangerous ones, he says. “Once the driver turns they can’t see what’s happening behind them.”

Changes to Trucks

Joe Crann, managing director at Westward Scania – part of Scania Group, a commercial-vehicles manufacturer – says that, from their perspective, a five-axle truck isn’t necessarily more dangerous than a four-axle one.

“Of course it is longer, but if the driver doesn’t have any issues manoeuvring it, his visibility out of the cab will be no different from the four-axle truck,” he said.

Four-axle trucks are often used to bring material into cities for construction, so banning them would make no sense, Crann said. Camera systems in truck cabs should be brought in to help with visibility, he said.

Kevin Baker, who volunteers with the group I Bike Dublin, which promotes cycling in the city, says as well as cycling infrastructure, better truck design could also help reduce collisions.

Like Costello and McKillen, Baker thinks a second person in the passenger seat could help, too.

Safety is a high priority for the Freight Transport Association Ireland (FTAI), says its general manager, Aidan Flynn. But different bodies need to work together, including the council and clients using HGVs, he says.

Retailers could open earlier, or use central distribution centres where vehicles drop goods off for them to be ferried to their final destination in smaller vans, Flynn said.

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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