Aidan Somerville says he remembers being brought to the traffic school in Clontarf when he was a child. “It was encompassing everything,” he says.
Kids would get a safety briefing, and split off into different groups. “There were pedestrian groups, kids would go into go-karts and then there was kids on bikes,” he says.
The grounds were mapped out with grass, roads, and paths. “There was road sections, there was traffic lights, there was pedestrian crossings, the whole thing was laid out,” says Somerville.
The Clontarf traffic school has been closed since 2006. But demand is still there for a little world where kids can learn the rules of the road, and road safety, said a council spokesperson. And Dublin City Council is looking to set up a new one.
Some transport experts say, however, that while education is important, investment in infrastructure across Dublin is the most critical intervention that the state could take to encourage safe cycling among kids.
The Traffic School
A 1970s video of the Clontarf traffic school shows a typical lesson. There’s a traffic warden watching children whizz around the track on go-karts and bikes, and cross the roads on foot.
“Car number two there, you turned left and you gave no signal,” he shouts over a megaphone.
“You got caught on the footpath because you didn’t stay out a little bit from it, you must stay out from the footpath when you are turning left,” he says to a child on a go-kart.
“Some of you may remember your own kids or maybe even yourselves going to the traffic school in Clontarf, going around in those little toy cars,” said Brendan O’Brien at the recent transport committee meeting at City Hall.
The council is looking to reintroduce the traffic schools, O’Brien, an acting executive manager told councillors.
The Clontarf Traffic School started to become dilapidated in the 2000s. In 2009, Dublin City Council said that the traffic school site would be developed into a €2.7 million sports facility. It’s now home to all-weather pitches.
But the demand for road-safety training for children hasn’t gone away.
There’s a five-year waiting list for the Road Safety Authority’s facilities to train primary-school children, said a council spokesperson. “Dublin City Council wishes to fill the gap in the service provision.”
The plans are in early stages though, they said. The council is “assessing all available premises for the school. It’s likely to be indoor and outdoor facilities”.
“Also, we are talking to Fire Brigade and Gardaí to identify if this project can be delivered in partnership with these key stakeholders,” the spokesperson said.
They were unable to give an estimate of costs of the project and how many facilities they will build until they’ve looked at different concepts, they said.
Education and Infrastructure
“If we can get it back it would be fantastic, it’s well needed,” says Somerville, of the proposal.
He benefitted as a child, he says. “You came away understanding the rules of the road, why you do certain things.”
“You have an idea, don’t just pull out in front of a car [on your bicycle]. If you’re coming up to a junction you signal and give the reasons why. And give enough time for people to take notice for it and adapt,” he says.
Traffic schools could help reduce congestion too by encouraging kids to cycle, says Francesco Pilla, an associate professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy at University College Dublin.
“Anything that would take away cars from the road, in my opinion, is not a bad idea,” he says.
Lorraine D’Arcy, a lecturer and programme co-chair of the MSc in transport and mobility at TU Dublin, says she thinks a traffic school is “really valuable”.
But she’s not convinced it will cause any major surge in parents cycling to school with their kids, she says.
“The people that you will get now, I think, are people that are already cycling the city but kind of feel that they are already not as confident in scenarios,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to upskill in that.”
But getting new people into cycling? “I’m not sure the infrastructure is necessarily there to convince them that this is a good thing to do,” D’Arcy says.
D’Arcy says that funding needs to be prioritised better if the council wants to encourage more children to cycle to school.
“I think it is going to be virtually impossible to hit a critical mass of people cycling or see a jump in people cycling unless we invest in infrastructure,” she says.
Others say similar. “Our experience is that segregated cycling infrastructure is key for safe cycling. That said, education is a critical part,” said Aodhán King, a parent involved with the cycle-bus initiative in Greehills.
D’Arcy, the lecturer, says changes in traffic peak times in the city also indicate a growing need for better cycling infrastructure. “Our city peaks are changing, our traffic peaks are changing.”
There’s now a 2pm peak in traffic in residential areas in both the outer city and suburbs, she says. “Which we have never had before.”
Before, there were just two peaks: from 7am to 10am, and then from 4pm to 7pm.
This third peak is down to parents dropping off and collecting kids from school in cars partly because they’re not comfortable cycling with the current infrastructure, she says.
Also, “children don’t go to the local schools in Dublin”, she says. They often have to travel further afield.
“If we want to address that peak we have to look at, why aren’t people cycling to school?” says D’Arcy.
“Why are the parents not picking up their kids in a cargo bike for example? And that comes down to infrastructure and the perception of safety,” she says.