Dubliners Collect Their Own Data on Neighbourhood Traffic

Engineer Darragh Rogan has already learnt more about the traffic that flows by his home in St Columbanus Road in Milltown.

Most drivers stick within the 30kmph speed limit, he says. But around 10 percent go over that, and 2 percent reach speeds of more than 50kmph.

Fewer people walk by when it’s below 5℃, while other traffic stays the same.

“There’s a marked difference between weekdays and weekends,” he said.

Four months ago, Rogan set up a traffic sensor on his windowsill. It’s a small box and no hassle to host, he says.

He got the sensor from Francesco Pilla, an associate professor at University College Dublin, who launched a project in January to help Dubliners – and some in other cities, too – to monitor neighbourhood traffic themselves.

The aim is to channel complaints about traffic away from social media to more productive channels, says Pilla. “What we would like is for the citizens to use the data themselves, to raise an argument for more sustainable mobility in the area,” he said.

Getting on Board

Rogan has two young daughters, he says. “I bring them out scooting and rollerblading.”

He teaches them to be sensible around roads and look both ways. But the more time he’s spent outside with them, the more he’s noticed an imbalance in his estate between vehicle drivers and other road users, he says.

Across the county in Dún Laoghaire, Briege George’s big concern was also for her child, in her case, her teenage son who has asthma, she says.

The study jumped out at her as interesting to be part of, she said. “And because you can do it from home it’s not very intrusive.”

She was curious as to whether flows of traffic by her home had any clear bearing on her son’s health. “I do notice when the air is most polluted that he would cough more, you know.”

She’s not sure yet what to make of the numbers, she says.

Pilla has sent sensors to 20 or 30 communities around Ireland – mainly in Dublin, and some in Limerick.

All seem to care about the same thing: safety on the roads, and safety around schools, he says

Empowering Dubliners

The data on passing vehicles that is netted by the sensors is sent to a platform called Telraam, where anyone can take a look.

The project, called WeCount, is funded by the European Commission, with four other European cities also taking part.

Armed with real numbers, residents can prove that their anecdotal experiences require real infrastructure changes, says Pilla, of UCD.

“By collecting data, they can show that there are a lot of cyclists, but at the same time, there is poor infrastructure,” he says.

With the data, residents can approach the council, he says. “It’s not a complaint any more. It’s an observation supported with data. So it forces the council to do something about it.”

It could help council policy to be less detached, he says. “You actually try to build them starting from the citizens themselves.”

“When I looked at the numbers, I was quite surprised with the amount that came back,” says Jeffery Roe, who has a sensor in his window that he uses to add to data he’s already collecting around air pollution.

Roe sits by the window of his Crumlin home all day as he works. He paid little attention to traffic, he says.

But there’s a steady stream of about 20 or so vehicles an hour, he says. “You just wouldn’t notice them. It adds up to a fair amount each day.”

He wonders why people are driving up his narrow-enough street, particularly the large vehicles. “I didn’t think there were that many, but the sensor said there were 17 in a week.”

Rogan said he thinks the data shows what he suspected: ”I do feel that there is a bit of a rat run in my particular location and just, completely inappropriate speeds.”

He clocks people driving faster than the speed limit, he says, and “it’s a bit like, why are people gambling with my children’s lives?”

Using the Data

Pilla says he hopes to run workshops with the hosts to help them understand the data, once they’ve collected more.

“The point of this project is actually to help them progress their own problems around mobility,” he says.

He also aims to help them draft proposals for Dublin City Council, hopefully in the summertime, he says.

Dublin City Council Press Office hasn’t yet responded to queries sent Monday about its work with the UCD team on the monitors.

Roe said he would like to see fewer large vehicles rumbling down his road, although he’s not sure what measures would be needed to make that happen.

He would also like if people used more sustainable ways to get to the nearby school, but he understands the dangers of cycling, he says.

In Dún Laoghaire, George already has ideas for restrictions on what traffic can enter her street.

People use the road to nearby schools, she says. When it gets busy, students from Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology park on the road, she says.

Safety bollards would help, George says. “You can actually close off the street. Even if it was closed off at certain times of the week that would be nice, maybe on weekends.”

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Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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