Last Friday afternoon traffic crept through the north inner-city.
Cars lined bumper to bumper along roads through Smithfield and Grangegorman at 4:30pm as rush hour began to rear its ugly head.
But one typically busy street in the area remained empty.
On Grangegorman Lower, a man in a navy suit and sunglasses is cycling in the middle of the street. He has the whole street to himself, owing to a trial of new blockades on the road in the form of bollards and plant boxes, installed in the morning of 6 July.
The nine bollards with five plant boxes directly behind them is a traffic calming measure known as filtered permeability.
Filtered permeability measures are used to stop cars using a road while still allowing cyclists and pedestrians to pass through.
“Drivers are no longer able to use this route as a shortcut from North Circular Road to the Quays, and vice versa,” a spokesperson for the Dublin City Council Covid Mobility team said in a trial update which was presented at the June Central Area Committee meeting.
So far, the installation of the bollards has divided the opinions of locals. Some say that the street is safer and more pleasant while others say they are struggling to get around and add that they were not consulted on their implementation.
A Divided Community
There’s been a mixed response from locals in the community of Grangegorman since these filtered permeability measures were introduced.
“It’s been incredibly divisive,” says Labour Councillor Joe Costello.
Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan has received over a hundred emails from residents both in favour and against these measures.
By the latest count from last month Boylan says she received emails by 69 residents against filtered permeability and 68 in favour.
“It was neck and neck,” Boylan says.
The idea for filtered permeability came up at a Rathdown Road and District Residents’ Association meeting in December, says the chair of the association, Luke McManus, a film director who lives with his family on Grangegorman Upper.
“I think we were all a little bit surprised that it happened so quickly,” he says.
During Covid-19, the council asked residents for suggestions on changes to make on traffic in the area so the residents association sent in this idea.
We were surprised that there was only 72 hours notice given before it went up, says McManus.
Councillor Boylan says: “Apparently there was a leaflet sent around but it was maybe the day before and it wasn’t enough notice.”
Bumper to Bumper
As well as the short notice, some residents say they didn’t receive any contact from the council on this trial.
“Most people in the area were complaining that they didn’t get any notification about it,” says Boylan.
Charlene McDermott lives just around the corner from the new bollards, on Kirwan Street Cottages.
“Nothing was sent to me,” says McDermott speaking on the phone last Thursday.
McDermott is not on the Rathdown Road and District Residents’ Association so seeing the new filtered permeability measures came as a surprise to her.
“I just went up one day and I couldn’t get past it,” she says.
McDermott says she often finds herself stuck in traffic on her daily commute to Ballymun, where she works in Lidl.
“And me mother lives out there so I’m out there a lot,” she says.
Traffic is bumper to bumper on all of the streets in McDermott’s area during rush hour, she says.
Since the filtered permeability came in on Grangegorman Lower, McDermott has to make her way home through a series of detours on top of the rush hour traffic.
Sitting in traffic has a knock-on effect for McDermott’s life.
“The likes of the childminder, you’re late for them all the time,” says McDermott.
Some days McDermott has to ring her neighbour to come in and mind her children for ten minutes, to let the babysitter off, while McDermott is stuck in traffic.
Locals need to be included more in the decision making for their area, Green Party Councillor Janet Horner says.
“I think it is a notable trend across a lot of environmental projects that where communities get some ownership over schemes there are far fewer incidents of unfounded concerns about them,” says Horner.
Both the councillors and locals in the area point to rat running, when motorists use residential side streets as detours and parking spots as the reason for the permeability measures.
But independent Councillor Christy Burke says that he isn’t sure if filtered permeability is the best way to stop rat racing.
“Rat running goes on everywhere. It goes on in East Wall, it goes on in Clontarf, it goes on in Fairview. We don’t automatically say ‘let’s cone off the roads’”, says Burke.
“People who are commuting to work and into schools are not rat runners,” says Boylan the Sinn Féin councillor
One of Boylan’s constituents grew up in the area but could not afford the current property price so they moved to Finglas, she says.
“There’s not a direct bus that comes from Finglas into Stanhope Street School,” Boylan says.
This person needed to drive her child down Grangegorman Lower because there was no suitable public transport, she says.
“I’ve never even seen people speed down that road in Grangegorman and I am living here years,” says McDermott.
Those in Favour
McManus from the residents’ association lives on Grangegorman Road Upper and says he has seen cars speeding through the area.
“I was noticing that cyclists had to swerve out and share a lane with cars just at the point cars were accelerating,” McManus says.
Last month there was an incident on the street which convinced McManus that something needed to change.
“I was putting my son in the car. A guy came down my road ,which is really narrow, at 60 an hour and rocketed over the speed bump,” he says.
McManus made eye contact with the driver. He motioned with his hand for the car to slow down
In response to McManus’s attempt to tell the car to slow down, the driver swerved towards him and then swerved away, he says.
“Having a street where the hierarchy is inverted where pedestrians and cyclists have more rights than cars is massively important for city livability,” he says.
There’s a new energy on the street since fast commuting cars are gone, says McManus.
“I have noticed people cycling on the road that I’ve never seen before, you know, like, you get in there [to Grangegorman Lower] and there’s people kind of meandering around and some people are walking on the road,” says McManus.
Here to Stay?
It is still hard to tell what effect this measure has on Grangegorman Lower, says McManus.
“There’s still a lot of construction workers on site working in the area, and that will be for the next two years. So you almost won’t get an idea of what the permanent effect is, you know, until the college is fully operational and the building sites are finished,” says McManus.
While it may be a divisive issue, a solution can be found by coming together, says Boylan.
“Do we need to make the road safer for cyclists and pedestrians and motorists? Of course we do. Is there a workable solution? There has to be, but we have to work together,” says Boylan.
Councillors are expected to decide in September whether the bollards and plant boxes stay or go.