If transport infrastructure “works well for someone with a disability then it is perfect for anyone else”, says Martin Hoey.
“If somebody in a wheelchair can make it somewhere, then a person with a buggy can go the same way,” he says.
Last week, Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority (NTA) set out their plan for changes to transport services and infrastructure across the city, as lockdown measures ease.
Some disability advocates like Hoey, though, say they haven’t been consulted enough about how changes could impact their mobility – in particular, when it comes to changes to pavements and bus stops.
Dublin City Council Press Office did not respond to queries about whether there was a social inclusion audit done on the proposed changes, or whether any disability representative had been consulted on the plan.
What Are the Changes?
In November, more than half of people travelled into the city centre by public transport during the 7am to 10am peak period, according to the Covid-19 mobility plan for the city.
But with social distancing, the NTA and the council expects the capacity of public transport to drop to about 20 percent of its normal levels.
If the city’s going to reopen and people are going to get back to work here, they’re going to need a way to get into and around the city.
The NTA sees that decline in public-transport capacity being made up for largely by a 200 percent increase in people cycling, and a 100 percent increase in people walking, the report says.
To make this possible and safe, the NTA is planning temporary changes to street and footpath layouts to make more room for pedestrians and cyclists.
“While cycling and walking will not be feasible for some people, it is clear that it will become a viable alternative for many more people in the period ahead,” the report says.
Among the changes planned are wider footpaths, so that as more walk about the city, they can make sure they can still socially distance.
At first, this will be done by giving pedestrians not only the current footpath, but some of the roadway, marked off for their use with temporary materials such as plastic bollards, according to the plan.
That concerns Hoey, he says. “It’s not very sustainable. A cone can’t tell you that the footpath is now on the road.”
Guide dogs are not used to walking on roads either, says Hoey, who sits on the council’s transport committee as a representative for the Dublin City Public Participation Network.
“They would be used to staying on the path and away from the road. So how do we retrain them?” he says.
Robbie Sinnott says he is concerned that there wouldn’t be a kerb at the edge of the pedestrian area, separating pedestrians from cyclists and motor vehicles. At least not one of the preferred height for guide dogs as outlined by the Irish Guide Dogs charity, he says.
“When they extend the footway what they’re doing is they’re having cyclists share the same level as pedestrians,” says Sinnott, a co-ordinator with the disability organisation, Voice of Vision Impairment . “That’s a dangerous precedent.”
The report says the proposed changes will allow pedestrians who can do so to step off the footpath into the extended pedestrian area to make way for others – people with disabilities, say – who want to remain on the footpath and need a bit more room these days.
That’s not going to happen, though, says Hoey. “That’s good in theory but it’s not actually practical.”
Says Sinnott: “I’ve been knocked down five times in the last twenty years on a pavement.”
The council is looking at ways to widen footpaths quickly and to provide proper curbs, the spokesperson says.
A council spokesperson said they’ve been limited to date in what they could do with footpaths because of the Covid-19 crisis.
“But we now are responding to the crisis by designing a rapid implementation of a footpath buildout which we hope to trial in the next three weeks,” they said.
“We are investigating a range of options which would allow us to widen footpaths quickly and would provide proper kerbs,” said the spokesperson.
Changing Bus Stops
Under the mobility plan, bus stops in the city would also have to be rejigged.
The changes include spreading the stops out more, cutting down how many routes share the same pick-up points, and making sure the bus stops that are used have wide enough pavements.
Hoey says he has concerns about all the changes to bus stops, too. That will be tough for people with cognitive disabilities and set routines to navigate, he says.
“They are so set in having their way that when something goes wrong this can induce a panic attack,” he says.
“What happens when the bus goes past where you normally get off your bus?” says Hoey.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that no bus stops have yet been relocated.
“If and when any have to be then we will work via the accessibility mechanisms which the National Transport Authority has in place for any public transport changes,” said the spokesperson.
“You would think they’d be humble enough to ask questions and be guided by our knowledge on what’s safe for us,” says Sinnott, of the council’s engagement – or lack of, as he sees it.
Currently Dublin City Council engineers are surveying roads around Dublin on how to ensure social distancing. A form is also available online for the public to submit their Covid-19 transport recommendations to the council.
But a social inclusion and accessibility audit should have been done for these new transport measures, says Hoey. Sinnott says the same.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to a query as to whether any social inclusion audits had been done on any of the changes to transport infrastructure in response to Covid-19.
A spokesperson for the NTA said that the council would respond to this and other queries.
Hoey says he thinks more one-way roads could help make more room for bicycles so they don’t end up sharing space with pedestrians.
“At the moment cars coming down Dorset Street have about six different routes into the city centre,” he says.
Introducing a one-way system on one of these roads that forks off Dorset Street would free up all the other routes into town, Hoey says.
“You could suddenly turn these remaining roads into bus, cycle and pedestrian only,” he says.
As yet, the current mobility plan doesn’t mention one-way systems.
But a council spokesperson said: “We are open to all ideas if they can be shown to have benefits and where a one way system may provide more space for other uses we can investigate its feasibility.”
“I don’t think the entire city centre though could be made one way,” they said.
Hoey has another idea, too, that might improve accessibility.
“Everybody in an authority role should either be made go out in a wheelchair for a day or be blindfolded for a day and go out,” he says.
[CORRECTION: This article was updated 3 June at 16.55. A previous version of this article said Robbie Sinnott worked for the Public Interest Law Alliance. We apologise for the error]