Residents on Fringes of Phoenix Park Debate Possible Paths to a Car-Free Green Space

Paediatric surgeon John Gillick lives on Martin’s Row in Chapelizod, a narrow road that runs parallel to the River Liffey and Phoenix Park, in between the two.

He has seen children in his surgery who have been injured on other roads similar to his own, he says.

“I deal with kids who have been involved in road-traffic accidents, and it is a completely unsafe environment for kids,” says Gillick.

“Because the volume of traffic is so much that you know you can’t literally let a child cycle on that road,” he says.

When an Office of Public Works (OPW) mobility plan last month showed it had scaled back plans to limit cars in Phoenix Park, it was partly because of feedback that the measures may bung up the roads in surrounding neighbourhoods like Chapelizod and roads like Martin’s Row.

Gillick said that closing the park to cars does cause traffic on his road to go “through the roof”.

But he also wants to keep cars out of the park, he says. “The park is, you know, for people, but you’ve got to have some sort of plan in place.”

His proposal, as other residents in the city have sought, is for a one-way system, one that bends around Martin’s Row and Chapelizod Row near the south-west boundaries of the park – or that continues further depending on what works.

Others suggest different changes, and more time for people’s transport habits to transition.

Clogged Up

Since the M50 was built, Martin’s Row has been used as a rat-run for commuters seeking to avoid the toll as they journey to the city centre, says Mildred Healy, a member of the Chapelizod Old Village Association.

During recent periods when the OPW closed Phoenix Park to traffic, there’s been an upswing on Martin’s Row, says Healy, who also lives on the road.

“You’ve very little hope of getting your car out in the morning. It’s just impossible,” she says.

Peter Marriott, another local resident, says areas like Blanchardstown and Carpenterstown were built up with the Phoenix Park acknowledged as an access point for their residents. “The traffic is still gonna hit communities living outside, unfortunately.”

Healy says the road is in a valley. “When the traffic is stopped in the morning, you have all these fumes going into the houses.”

Says Gillick: “All the cars are idling and there’s a lot of pollution for people living there. There’s a number of people with respiratory problems and breathing problems.”

“There’s a view that the OPW is kind of acting like an island state,” he says. “They’re just shipping all the traffic to the commuter belt around or under the people that surround our whole community.

Michael Banim, a resident of Stoneybatter who frequently goes to Phoenix Park, says not removing traffic from the park is a missed opportunity.

“Even just reducing car access, you know, basically reducing road capacity, also is well established to have a positive effect in reducing congestion,” he says. “It really doesn’t reflect the evidence that we have.

Tweaks and Solutions

Neither speed bumps nor road widening are solutions for Martin’s Row, says Gillick. The Liffey is one side and Phoenix Park the other, for one, he says

But “if you made Martin’s Row or Chapelizod Road into a one-way system, contraflow something like that,” he says. “Or if you had speed cameras that were enforced, it would be safer.”

Dermot Hanney, a transport consultant based in London, says roads like Martin’s Row on the south side of Phoenix Park and Blackhorse Avenue in Ashtown on the northern edge, are too narrow to handle piles of two-way traffic.

“A one-way system would be helpful because you reduce the width you need for traffic flow, and then potentially you could put some cycle tracks down or you could widen the pavement or do both,” he says.

Healy, of the Chapelizod Old Village Association, says a one-way system wouldn’t work, though. “That wouldn’t be fair for the residents.”

“If you were coming in from town then you’d have to go the whole way around the park to get back to your house, so that wouldn’t work,” she says.

Immediate or Not?

The current OPW plan includes a bunch of pilots of traffic changes, including a pilot one-way route from Cabra Gate to Garda HQ, a pilot shuttle bus and a pilot cul-de-sac for the Upper Glen Road.

Hanney, the transport consultant, says that if traffic is restricted from Phoenix Park, it will naturally go elsewhere.

So it may be necessary to keep traffic in Phoenix Park for the time being, he says, until other modes of transport take over.

Says Hanney: “I think you need to accept it’s more than just a local park. At the moment there’s no bus services going through there. People have to get there without driving – at the moment they can’t.”

Of those who responded to the recent OPW consultation on transport changes to the park, roughly 30 percent of people cycle to the park, 30 percent walk, and 30 percent drive, says the consultation report.

Hanney says that ideally the park would be car-free and to do so requires public transport to replace the route.

He pointed to DART upgrades and changes to the bus network through BusConnects. “And stuff like that so people would be using public transport around the park, and then in the park you don’t have any kind of traffic.”

Currently, just 6 percent of people who visit the park reach it by public transport, says the OPW report.

Says Gillick: “Really the infrastructure is not in place to look after the population, as it increases. Never mind commuting traffic, there’s not enough buses taking the population into town.”

Subject to funding, the OPW plans to pilot a bus service that would run from Heuston Station via Parkgate Street, through Phoenix Park on Chesterfield Avenue and out Cabra Gate to Broombridge Station, says its mobility plan.

“It’s quite a short bus route,” says Hanney. “I think you’d be better trying to connect it with Castleknock and turn it into a full-blown express bus service.”

Banim, the Stoneybatter resident, says of the bus scheme: “I mean, it’s better than nothing but it’s pretty underwhelming to me. It seems like a very weak kind of commitment to public transport.”

You have to grasp the nettle, he says, as there’s so much talk of how Phoenix Park is an important commuter route. “But then there’s been no real effort to offer those people a public transport route instead.”

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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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