In a small lecture theatre in TU Dublin’s Bolton Street building, Kevin Baker of the Dublin Cycling Campaign is at the front of the room, talking about bus stops.
There are maybe 30 people in the room, a mixture of students, lecturers, and other interested people. A video pops up on the overhead projector, and Baker presses play. The video is from a GoPro mounted on a cyclist’s helmet.
The cyclist is travelling in a cycle lane alongside a main road. On two occasions, a bus pulls into the cycle lane to pick up or drop off passengers at a bus stop – the cycle and bus lanes converge at the stops. Both times, it is a close call for the cyclist.
Baker is here, at the inaugural event of TU Dublin’s new Environment and Planning Society, because for the past five months, he has been poring over the plans for BusConnects.
Like many people, he’s been trying to figure out how it’s going to affect the city – and him.
As a series of public consultations continues on aspects of the the National Transport Authority’s (NTA’s) proposal to overhaul the bus system, Dubliners have been mobilising to fight for what they want – or don’t want – BusConnects to do.
Central to the current debates about the proposed bus corridors radiating out from the city centre, which is just one part of the plan, is how to balance moving people through neighbourhoods, and maintaining a sense of place within them.
Some groups have popped up calling for the whole BusConnects project to be scrapped. Others have been more conciliatory – identifying problems, like the one Baker is talking about, but seeking design solutions.
A Sprawling Plan
BusConnects is a sprawling plan with many components – from re-designed bus stops and shelters, to transitioning to low-emission vehicles.
But the part that seems to be on people’s minds at the moment, that’s generating praise, confusion, and criticism, is the Core Bus Corridor Project. The project “aims to deliver” 230 kilometres of bus lanes along 16 of Dublin’s busiest commuter routes.
These routes go from the suburbs to city centre like the spokes of a wheel. The plan foresees these interconnecting with 11 orbital routes, which would let Dubliners move around the city without having to go all the way into the centre.
Along with the bus lanes running along the radial spokes would be 200 kilometres of cycle tracks. The co-existence of these two forms of transport on the spokes is the problem that Baker is focused on at his meeting at TU Dublin.
He stops the GoPro video. The solution to the problem, he says, is to put in a little island on a raised curb, and have the cycle track run behind it. That way whizzing cyclists and stopping-and-going buses won’t clash.
These island bus stops takes more space. “So you can’t do them everywhere,” Baker says. But they can work like a dream, as long as they are designed properly.
“If you don’t design them correctly, they can be really dangerous for pedestrians, particularly pedestrians who are mobility impaired or visually impaired,” he says.
One of the reasons for BusConnects is growing congestion in the city. According to an NTA reportfrom last year, “more people are now travelling into Dublin City Centre each day than ever before”.
A long commute is the reason Kevin Carter founded the Dublin Commuter Coalition, which had its inaugural meeting recently. About 20 people showed up to the meeting, but 300 have joined the Facebook group.
Carter lives in Finglas and works in Tallaght. He can spend up to an hour and 45 minutes on the bus each way.
“I’m coming at it from the perspective of a public-transport user who is fed up and wants better,” Carter says.
The Irish Pedestrian Network (IPN), like most other sustainable-transport groups, broadly welcomes the plan.
“One of the most important things we can do to make the city, or any place, better for pedestrians would be to take away cars, and to do that you need good public transport,” says Neasa Hourigan of the IPN.
One major criticism of the BusConnects core bus corridors, says Hourigan, is that it’s “very much street-making by engineers, and that’s a problem for pedestrians. Trying to retro-engineer pedestrians into those designs doesn’t work very well.”
At some points, the plans have pedestrians crossing over cycle lanes to get on and off of buses. “If you’re elderly or disabled or have kids, you don’t want to do that,” she says.
The loss of green space is another important issue for the IPN, says Hourigan, who is a Green Party candidate for Cabra-Glasnevin in the local election coming up on 24 May.
“It seems like pedestrians and the public realm are losing out because we don’t want to inconvenience cars,” Hourigan says. “I think they need to be braver really. The whole point of BusConnects is to have fewer cars. Be braver about it.”
The Dublin Commuter Coalition and the IPN are among a number of groups that have formed recently to advocate either for or against changing the transport infrastructure in the city.
Others, like the Dublin Cycling Campaign and I Bike Dublin, have been around for a while.
Kevin Baker, who’s been in charge of the Dublin Cycling Campaign’s submissions for the core bus corridors, says there are a lot of positives in the current plans.
Among them, the 200km of “mostly segregated” cycle tracks. “It’s the largest cycling infrastructure in the history of Ireland, and that’s fantastic news.”
There are some negatives, though, Baker says. In some places there are gaps in the cycle tracks, and in other spots there are detours, where the cycle tracks veer off from the main route.
Stephen McManus of cycling advocacy group I Bike Dublin, says that’s a big issue with the route going through Rathmines.
“The proposal for a bypass for cyclists makes the route almost 1 kilometre longer for cyclists than for cars. That’s ridiculous … ,” McManus says.
Still, McManus says I Bike Dublin “must support the [BusConnects] project because of its importance to the city”. He says he thinks there is “Nimbyism” going on, which is “unfortunate”.
“We need to realise we’re one of the most congested cities in Europe and the only way out of it is getting people to take the bus and cycle,” McManus says.
“There are loads of issues, but they all have solutions,” Baker says.
While commuters like Carter dream of smoother, swifter journeys through the city, though, communities along the proposed corridors worry about how the changes proposed to make that happen would affect their neighbourhoods.
There are vocal opponents of the Core Bus Corridors plan. There are groups on Facebook called Rathgar Against BusConnects, Shankhill Against BusConnects.
A group called Pride of Place Stoneybatter recently had a “Day of Action on BusConnects” and are running a Change.org petition.
“We call on the NTA to withdraw the current proposals and to consult with the local community in drawing up new proposals which will respect the integrity of our historic urban village and its environment and will support the wellbeing of our community,” the petition reads.
The proposed bus corridor in question, corridor 5, would originate in Blanchardstown and continue to city centre, passing through Stoneybatter.
Some residents of Rathgar have formed the “Rathgar is a Community Not a Corridor” campaign. They also have a Change.org petition, and 512 people have signed it.
The petition says that corridor 12, which would run from Rathfarnham to city centre, “will see the destruction of communities and heritage”.
“The key concern of the Rathgar Road Residents Group is the scale of the proposal which outlines the introduction of a 6 lane highway comprising 2 car lanes, 2 bus lanes, 2 cycle lanes and footpaths along the proposed corridor 12, running into pinch points at the urban villages of Terenure, Rathgar and Rathmines.
“The impact of the development will seriously cause devastating damage to local communities and businesses, compromise safety, while destroying the environment and heritage of the area,” the petition says.
“A Sense of Place”
A concept Baker brings up at his talk in Bolton Street is creating a “sense of place” in urban villages like Stoneybatter, Rathfarnham, Rathmines, and Phibsborough.
It’s a question of movement versus place, he says. Communities versus commuters. Baker is seeing tension develop across the city over this issue.
“At a certain point when you’ve got a lot of movement, you’ve built yourself a motorway,” Baker says.
In the urban villages above, residents’ groups and the cycle campaign are “natural allies”, Baker says. “We’re on the same page. They want an urban village. We want to see less traffic.”
The BusConnects Core Bus Corridors project is still out for public consultation, and the NTA have held a series of public meetings over the last while.
Public consultation for phase 1 was extended to 29 March. Phase 1 includes the following routes:
Route 1: Clongriffin to City Centre
Route 2: Swords to City Centre
Route 5: Blanchardstown to City Centre
Route 6: Lucan to City Centre
The closing date for submissions related to phase 2 is 30 April. The routes in phase two are:
Route 7: Liffey Valley to City Centre
Route 8: Clondalkin to Drimnagh
Route 9: Greenhills to City Centre
Route 10: Tallaght to Terenure
Route 11: Kimmage to City Centre
Route 12: Rathfarnham to City Centre
The public will have until 31 May to voice their concerns about phase 3 of the project. The phase 2 bus corridors are:
Route 3: Ballymun to City Centre
Route 4: Finglas to Phibsborough
Route 13: Bray to City Centre
Route 14: UCD Ballsbridge to City Centre
Route 15: Blackrock to Merrion
Route 16: Ringsend to City Centre
Here’s a list of public consultation events for phase 3 in the coming days.