Opposite Plunket College in Whitehall, a family is out for a walk on a balmy Monday evening.
They reach a narrow stretch. The daughter steps onto the road. The parents conform to the cramped footpath in a single file.
Despite their manoeuvres, a jogger running towards them is forced off the path into the middle of Swords Road.
As pedestrians – and cyclists too – negotiate space on the city’s narrow footpaths and roads, Dublin City Council engineers are changing walking and cycling infrastructure to aid social distancing.
Most of the changes are likely to be temporary but still in place for a good while, say councillors and council officials.
“We see these changes coming in place for at least a year, and then some of them might be in place for a more permanent project,” says Brendan O’Brien, the council’s executive engineer for traffic.
A Gradual Roll Out
What measures the council is taking and where is constantly evolving, says O’Brien.
“This week, we are doing work on the North Quays,” he said on Monday.
Just outside Inns Quay and Ormond Quay, the parking has been taken out along the riverside, says O’Brien. It is now being resurfaced to put in a cycle track.
Bollards are being used to widen pedestrian areas around Dublin by taking over loading bays and car parking space, he says.
Roadworks similar to this where bollards are being introduced have begun in Stoneybatter, Dorset Street, and Rathmines, he says.
On 27 April, work was due to start on a temporary cycle track from Clare Street to Kildare Street, he says.
That’s phase one of a contraflow cycle track on Nassau Street, says O’Brien.
In Ranelagh, too, towards the end of this week, there’ll be more works, he says. “To protect the cycle track there and provide some more space on it.”
Some bus stops are being rearranged and moved to different spaces as some bus lanes are being pedestrianised, says O’Brien.
“Over the next couple of weeks we will be expanding the work that we are doing,” he says.
How Are They Doing It?
There is a form on Dublin City Council’s website for, among others, people who wish to flag where changes to streets and roads might be needed to make space for social distancing.
“As those requests come through we will be processing them to see if they can be done,” O’Brien says. Dublin City Council staff go out and survey the areas, he says.
Councillors can submit requests themselves too.
In Sandymount, Fine Gael Councillor James Geoghegan surveyed residents about whether measures should be put in place to make the green accessible only to pedestrians and cyclists. The majority said yes.
Among the concrete ideas from more than 280 residents about what measures might be needed, many suggested pedestrianising the north side of the green. Others suggested one side, or three sides – or other stretches.
Ultimately, it’s not up to councillors whether these temporary changes happen.
Putting in pieces of transport infrastructures such as bollards or widening footpaths doesn’t need approval from councillors, independent Councillor Christy Burke.
Says O’Brien: “For the moment it is being done in consultation with the Garda Commissioner and being done under statutory orders.”
“These are temporary changes that are being done under temporary orders. They are going in place to meet the need,” says O’Brien.
Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn says there is a sense of urgency to all this: “These are not about green issues. These are not about cycling issues. They are about Covid-19.”
How Long For?
While the changes in infrastructure during Covid-19 are all short-term measures, they could be looked at for the longer term, says O’Brien.
“They’re going in place to meet the need. Obviously, nobody knows how long these will be in place from a Covid point of view,” he says.
Feljin Jose says that he thinks restrictions are going to be loosened up in the next couple of weeks. (But it’s all unclear.)
Jose is part of the Dublin Commuter Coalition, an advocacy group for people whose main transport is public transport, cycling or walking.
Looser restrictions would mean more walking, more buses. More people everywhere, really, he says.
“It is going to be impossible to stay two meters away from people,” he says.
Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam says that, in Stoneybatter, the footpaths are too narrow for social distancing.
“Pedestrians are having to walk into the middle of the road, into bus lanes,” he says.
Changes to infrastructure which ensure social distancing will need to be made for some time to come, McAdam says.
“The reality is that social distancing is going to be here for the foreseeable future and my view is that we need to look at the existing road space allocated to vehicles,” he says.
Says Green Party Councillor Caroline Conroy: “We [at the Green Party] would love to see some of this actually stay permanently if it was possible.”
“This is an ideal way to trial it, to see how it works,” she says.
When people see something in action and see the attraction of it, it is easier to implement it afterward, says Conroy.
Burke says he would welcome the changes if they encourage people to walk and if they encourage people with disabilities to go out more.
“It would be great to see a city where people can walk about and people are out in their wheelchairs,” he says.
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