“We have traffic throughout the day, but in the morning, it’s a disaster. In the evening time, it’s really bad,” says Paul Graham, a community development worker in East Wall.

Now there are plans for a “build-to-rent” development of 554 apartments on the East Road. Residents worry that it’ll worsen existing problems with traffic and parking in the area.

“[T]he exit and entry point for the new residents is already a really bad black spot for traffic congestion, especially in the mornings and evenings,” says Graham, who also lives in East Wall.

It’s not just traffic that residents are worried about, though – it’s parking too.

When a block of apartments was built a few years ago, with limited parking spaces that tenants had to pay for, residents started parking out on the street, Graham says. “So does anyone think that these guys won’t do the same?”

It’s Dublin City Council policy to push people to shift away from driving cars, towards getting around on public transport, on foot, and by bicycle.

Plans for new apartment buildings – including this one – contain provisions meant to encourage that “modal shift”, such as limiting the number of available parking spaces.

But some residents are raising questions about whether these “nudges” will work in practice – or whether they’ll just mean hundreds more cars will roll into these areas, but without sufficient provisions for parking and driving them.

Parking and Plans

It’s at 1–4 East Road, that Glenveagh is planning 554 apartments – 72 studios, 202 one-beds, 232 two-beds, and 48 three-beds.

The site borders East Road, the railway line from Johnny Cullen’s Hill, the back of Merchant’s Square, and the Island Key Apartments.

Like other build-to-rent schemes, there is space planned for retail units, a cafe, a creche, community space, and an area that’s open to the public.

The developer is planning on putting in 241 car-parking spaces for the complex – 227 for residents and others for staff and short-term parking – and 810 cycle-parking spaces.

Three car-club spaces (one inside and two outside the development) are part of the specs, and planning documents contain a letter of intent from car-sharing company GoCar.

As part of the planning process, developers have to submit reports detailing the impact that a new complex will have on the area, including on the transportation infrastructure.

The traffic and transport report by DBFL Consulting Engineers for the East Road development lists the cycle tracks nearby and the plans for more cycling and public transport infrastructure.

It sets out, in detail, all of the public-transport options in the area, how close they are, and in the case of buses, how frequently they run.

It concludes that “The site is ideally situated to benefit from a comprehensive range of transport connections which result in the site benefiting from excellent accessibility levels for all modes of travel.”

And that “the impact on the surrounding road network, as a result of the proposed development on the East Road lands will be minimal”.

Other plans for apartment complexes say similar things.

If it gets permission as is, parking for the 495 apartments planned on the former Chivers factory site in Coolock would be “rented separately” and the additional cost would encourage people to car share and use public transport, say developer Platinum Land’s plans.

Development Ocht Limited has applied for permission for 492 apartments on the former Concorde Industrial Estate on the Naas Road.

The complex – made up of studios, one-beds, and two-beds – would also have 516 cycle-parking spaces and 238 car-parking spaces, councillors learnt at a recent South Central Area Committee meeting.

Some questioned the potential congestion. Like East Road, there are fewer car-parking spaces than apartments, and more bike-parking spaces.

A travel plan for the application said the aim was “to ultimately reduce the number of single occupancy car trips and promote the use of more sustainable modes of travel”.

Not Encouraging Private Cars

Throughout the transport report for this East Road development, the engineers reference how they believe they are meeting local and national planning guidelines and objectives.

A common theme in the plans for these build-to-rent developments is “modal shifts”. Basically, they’re trying to get people out of their cars and onto bikes, public transport, or their feet.

Cutting car parking spaces also makes developments cheaper to build, so when debates around construction raged a couple of years ago, that idea met with approval across the political spectrum – even if in for-profit developments, those costs wouldn’t be passed onto the consumer.

Photo by Erin McGuire

In general, the planning policy is not to encourage the use of private cars, so complexes like this one have permission for only limited numbers of cars, according to Brendan O’Brien, who heads up technical services at Dublin City Council.

The council encourages developers of office and apartment blocks to put in cycle parking, electric-car charging points, and a car-share spaces, says O’Brien, whose staff deal with all the transportation, traffic management, and public lighting in the council.

Car parking “takes up valuable space that we could do something else with”. Allocating 500 car spaces in an apartment block for 500 people is “not sustainable”, O’Brien says.

He talks about the three bridges planned for the eastern end of the Liffey over the next number of years – two for pedestrians and cyclists only, and one for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport. None of the bridges will allow cars.

“So you kind of get the message – public transport, walking and cycling … That’s our plan for the future,” O’Brien says.

Shifting Modes

But will limiting parking spots and providing ample cycle parking really convince people to give up their cars and find other ways of getting where they need to go?

Or will people just keep driving their cars and, if there aren’t enough parking spots available, park up on the footpaths outside the complexes?

“Some people might,” O’Brien says, “but I suppose the move, particularly in the city centre, is to say, ‘Look, you don’t need your car because you can get around quickly and easily. There’s bike-sharing schemes; there’s dockless stations; there’s a car-sharing scheme.’”

“It’s not just saying, ‘You can’t have a car.’ It’s actually trying to put the alternatives there as well so you can actually exist without it,” he says.

It’s hard to get people to make that shift, says Paul Deane, a research fellow at the Environmental Research Institute at University College Cork.

“We have a very strong love affair with private cars … and breaking that love affair is very difficult,” he says.

When it comes to sparking a change in the way people travel, “there’s no silver bullet”, but convenience is the most important factor, Deane says. It’s what he calls a “pull” factor – it pulls people towards other modes of transport.

Then there are “push” factors that make private cars less convenient – like congestion charges seen in other European cities. Other “pushes” would be making on-street parking a little more expensive, he says.

“All these things, on their own, won’t make an immediate change, but taken together” they might nudge people out of their cars, Deane says.

Derek Halden, a transport consultant based in Scotland and working primarily in the UK, says there are three basic principles for new developments without much car parking space.

First, ensure that non-car travel is competitive. He says an indication that you’re going to get a “car-dependent settlement” would be if journeys are 2 to 2.5 times quicker by car than by public transport, walking, or cycling.

Second, use management methods, such as offering annual public-transport tickets or car-share memberships as part of residents’ facilities management agreements; and third, sustain these over time.

It’s about “making the alternatives to the car practical, and then enforcing that over time. If all of those are in place, the development is probably fine with limited car parking provision. If they’re not in place, then there are problems in store,” Halden says

These problems could include residents parking up on streets nearby, and “all the normal problems of urban development – road congestion and parking – they’ll manifest themselves somewhere”, he says.

“Part of the reason we have so many problems like parking congestion are not because somebody didn’t see the problem coming, but because the plan made by somebody wasn’t implemented in full,” he says.

That could happen, he says, where a developer builds a property and then sells it on. When that happens, agreements made by contract sometimes don’t transfer with the change of ownership.

Outside the Development

While the transportation infrastructure outside a development’s walls isn’t the developer’s job, it’s in their interest to consider it, says Deane, the researcher at UCC.

Options for getting to work are a big consideration when people decide where to live, he says. And it’s in developers’ best interests to work with local councils to make the infrastructure as attractive as possible.

“A lot more people are environmentally conscious and aware these days. They will be looking for clean alternatives getting them from living space to work in the city centre.”

The important thing, he says, is linking to cycle paths and providing safe, well-lit routes from apartments to the cycle and public-transportation network.

Says Halden, the Scotland-based consultant: “It’s quite possible to set up a development with an entirely car-free lifestyle, but it takes a lot of work to achieve it.”

Erin McGuire is a city reporter. Her stories often offer an intimate window into the lives of those we share the city with. You can reach her at erin@dublininquirer.com.

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