BusConnects Redesigns Bring Relief to Some Neighbourhoods, Disappointment to Others

From Lauren Tuite’s upstairs window in Inchicore, she can see the street below and, on the other side of it, a tall old tree that was set to be cut down as part of the proposed redesign of the city’s bus network.

Tuite moved to Inchicore earlier this year. Before that, she’d been living in her family home in Bray, waiting for the house she and her husband had bought to be renovated so they could move into it.

One day, in Bray, she was putting her four-month-old daughter down for a nap and heard a noise outside. Through the window, she saw a contractor cutting down a line of mature trees, which had been there since before she was born, for the council.

“I went outside, screaming, sobbing in the road,” Tuite says. Then she went and stood in front of a neighbour’s tree, in the cold, her baby wrapped in a blanket. The contractor cut the other trees down, but not the one she was protecting.

Whenever the contractor came back, she went back out and stood in front of that tree. If she couldn’t be there herself, she pulled her car up as a stand-in. She saved the tree.

When she moved to Inchicore, “The first thing I saw is that they want to cut down huge, 150-year-old trees on Grattan Crescent,” Tuite says. So she set about trying to save those trees too.

Earlier this year, the National Transport Authority (NTA), as part of its BusConnects programme, unveiled the Core Bus Corridor Project and had a phased public-consultation process. It received thousands of submissions from communities and groups across Dublin.

Lately, the NTA has been meeting with some of those groups and showing them updated designs for what would happen to the public realm along some strips of the corridor.

Some, like Tuite and other Inchicore residents, got what they asked for – namely, they’re keeping the trees. But residents in other areas still have some questions, or, in some cases, are disappointed as they feel their voices haven’t really been heard at all.

In Inchicore

The original plan for putting in a core bus corridor through Inchicore was to widen the road to accommodate an extra bus lane, which would have made Grattan Crescent a road with two bus lanes and two general traffic lanes. Trees were to be removed in order to narrow footpaths and widen the road.

Tuite wrote a five-page letter, with diagrams, outlining a proposal that would preserve the trees by reducing the number of lanes for cars: Inchicore would be one-way for private cars heading southbound.

Tuite worked out the various turns, how they could work. She distributed the plan to her neighbours in the Woodfield estate area of Inchicore.

Tuite is a lawyer, not a transport planner. She says the one-way system was an option suggested by the NTA at one of its initial meetings with various groups in the area.

“The one thing that united 99 percent of us was we wanted to keep the trees, but there were different ideas about how that could happen. The NTA said a workable way to do it was to make this one way,” she says.

The new plan would mean she and her neighbours would no longer be able to drive, in a direct way, into the village. “I drive, we have a car, and we’re fully ready to give up that car if that’s what it takes to save trees in the city centre,” says Tuite.

The Woodfield residents’ group got more than 70 signatures and sent in the submission.

According to an email sent out by the Kilmainham Inchicore Network, there were a total of 107 submissions and two petitions on the bus corridors plan in the area – one by Tuite’s group of residents and the second by the National School on Grattan Crescent.

Tuite says she thinks the NTA listened to those submissions because there was some kind of consensus – a lot of people signing the same proposal.

Recently, on 9 July, there was another meeting with the NTA. There were representatives from a number of residents’ associations, the Kilmainham Inchicore Network, and the nearby school. There, the NTA presented some new drawings – tentative redesigns.

“They did say as well it was one of the most hotly contested stretches in Dublin, based on the amount of submissions received. A lot of submissions were coming in from the CIÉ estate,” Tuite says.

The new plan had all the turns Tuite had requested, the one-way system, better paving, and all the old trees and some new ones. The proposal is for two bus lanes but only one lane of car traffic going through Inchicore village.

A new level crossing is slated for the school, and there would be some car-parking spaces along Grattan Crescent, including accessible ones.

The draft sketches for Grattan Crescent in Inchicore.

“It was everything we asked for,” Tuite says. “Everything we thought of was there.” She plans to start going door-to-door with the proposed plans in September.

The NTA plans to spend the next few months going through submissions, reworking the designs that still need it, and drawing up the final “preferred route option” for the 16 core bus corridors, a spokesperson said.

Those preferred options are set to be published in November, followed by another round of public consultations, they said.

After that it’ll be another 12 months of “technical, environmental, and transport impact assessment work” before the NTA applies to An Bord Pleanála for permission to go head – likely in the second half of 2020, the spokesperson said.

Tuite says she felt genuinely listened to. “My thought is, ‘We got this one really nice section of road. What else could be done?’ Loads of trees are to be felled in Ballyfermot and all over the city.”

On Crumlin Road

Members of the Crumlin Road Residents’ Group (CRRG) also met with the NTA in July, though their experience was less positive.

The NTA’s original Core Bus Corridors plan for the section of Crumlin Road between Kildare Road and Sundrive Road was to have four lanes – adding two bus lanes to the existing road layout and dropping the designated cycle lanes. Currently, the road has one general traffic lane and one cycle lane in each direction.

The plan also called for compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) of some people’s front gardens, in order to make space for motor vehicles.

Architect Albert Tobin, the spokesperson for the CRRG, has lived there for two years. His front garden is slated for a CPO.

It’s not that he wouldn’t have bought the house if the garden were two metres shorter, he says. “We wouldn’t have bought the house if it was on the side of a dual carriageway, and that’s what we’re going to end up with – four lanes of traffic.”

The CRRG put in a submission, with 325 signatures, to the NTA during the public consultation earlier this year. The main concerns cited were safety, noise pollution, and air pollution.

“We wanted to engage, and we did engage,” Tobin says. “Five or six people in the group knocked on a lot of doors for a lot of evenings and got a lot of those signatures.”

While they submitted their concerns, unlike the Inchicore group, they didn’t submit a specific alternative plan.

They did, however, prefer a less invasive route, that wouldn’t require any CPOs, already outlined in a feasibility study conducted by the NTA, says Tobin.

When the NTA called a meeting in July, Tobin says the Crumlin Road group went in feeling hopeful. They’d heard about the good outcomes in Inchicore and other places.

But at the meeting in July, Tobin says, “We got presented with the exact same plan we’d gotten back in January. Like, exactly the same plan.”

Tobin says the CRRG asked the NTA about other options contained in that feasibility study, and the residents were told the option chosen was the “most workable”.

Tobin says the atmosphere in the room was “dismissive” and “fatalistic”. “Their official line was, ‘We don’t see an alternative here.’” A lot of residents left the two-hour meeting with their heads hanging, he says.

The CRRG see other groups “making headway”. “I think, to be honest, we probably have the least political pull,” Tobin says.

Crumlin Road hasn’t always been the most up-and-coming of areas, he says. “It’s definitely changing, but I think we’re the path of least resistance, to a certain extent.” There are also, he says, no trees to protect.

Tobin says the NTA representatives at the meeting told them that if they came up with an alternative, the NTA would “look at it”. But from his perspective, the NTA are the ones with the paid consultants and professionals trained to make these plans.

“The public-engagement part should be about engagement, it shouldn’t be about telling the public to do their job for them. That’s not my background. I’m wise enough to know there are consultants there for that,” he says.

But they haven’t given up. The Crumlin Road group has asked to meet with the NTA again before the next official round of plans come out in the autumn “in the hope they produce something else”.

“Our plan at the moment is to try and lobby as much support as we can,” he says.

However, Tobin says that when he looked at the “detailed, interesting” submission from the Lower Kimmage Road Residents’ Association (LOKRA), he felt the Crumlin Road group had fallen behind.

Members of LOKRA also had a meeting with the NTA in July. A spokesperson for the group said they didn’t want to comment on the outcome of the meeting, because the group hasn’t yet reported back to all residents in the area.

“Our response to the NTA should and will, insofar as is possible, represent the views of the entire road,” they said.

In Stoneybatter

In Stoneybatter, the reaction to the proposed redesign was generally positive, but there are still some issues to work out.

Stephanie Dickenson, a member of a delegation from the area that’s been engaging with the NTA, says the process was positive.

“I’m very cheered by new suggested plans featuring improved facilities for pedestrians, extended green space for the area, and in fact for more trees,” she said, by email.

Dickenson said there are still things she’d like to see addressed as consultations continue. One is potential rat-runs in the area and the safety implications for school children.

She said she’d also love to see segregated, continuous cycling infrastructure.

Joe Costello, a Labour Party councillor and the chairman of Stoneybatter Pride of Place, said their recent meeting with the NTA happened on 8 July, and he sent the NTA a response earlier this week.

Costello says residents groups had a “big showdown” with the NTA at their initial meeting back in March, as they weren’t happy with the potential impacts of the corridor on Stoneybatter as an urban village.

After that, Stoneybatter Pride of Place made a submission with 2,000 signatures. He says there were about 600 other, individual submissions from Stoneybatter too.

After that, he says, the 8 July meeting “went very well”. All in all, Costello, says “the design was an improvement”.

The new plan wouldn’t remove as much of the footpath as the previous one. It retains some parking and loading bays, retains green space in the village, and doesn’t remove as many trees. Three trees are still slated to be cut down, but the plan includes planting 13 others.

Retaining green space and trees is “the biggest change in their thinking in their new designs”, Costello says.

“They went back to the drawing board to come up with new proposals – some good, some questionable,” he says. His response includes some questions and requests for clarification about elements of the proposal.

“We would expect them to incorporate some of that into the next version of their design, which we expect in September,” Costello says.

“We’re engaging with them as much as possible, and hopefully we’ll get them to respond reasonably,” he says, “that they’ll take on board the community’s views because we have consulted widely.”

The NTA says it will start meeting with community forums for each of the 16 core bus corridors in September, ahead of the next round of public consultation.

The NTA says it identified a few locations “with particular opportunities to develop enhanced public realm designs”. Links to “work in progress” public realm designs are available here.

Author:

Erin McGuire: 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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