Orla Rahill heaves her two sons in a buggy up Broadstone Hill daily to and from créche. “It’s my exercise a bit, with the double buggy,” she says.
“Come on!” whines her eldest, as she parks the pram midway up the hill. Ahead, a glass bridge crosses over the newly built – but as yet unopened – Broadstone Plaza.
The concrete space below boasts a gentler incline towards Grangegorman. It’ll mean a nicer route once it’s opened up, says Rahill.
That should be in two weeks, says Derek Dixon, the council’s lead engineer for the project.
It’s part of a massive redevelopment of the area north-west of the Broadstone Luas stop, into the so-called “Grangegorman Urban Quarter”, including the new(ish) TU Dublin campus there. The Broadstone Plaza, or Broadstone Gate, is meant to be the grand entrance to this revamped part of the city.
Why the Wait?
Builders started work on the plaza in March 2019, more than two years ago, on the plaza, says Dixon. It’s cost €4 million.
“It makes zero sense that it’s just been fenced off now for months and not in use when it looks finished, says Ciarán Lyng, who goes on runs past the plaza.
“Especially considering the need for outdoor public space this summer and the fact that the summer is nearly over now.”
Jia Lee, a passerby, scans the plaza through the steel barriers enclosing the plaza. It looks ready to open, he says patiently. “There’s no harm opening up, right?”
Joe Costello, a Labour councillor and member of the consultative group of the Grangegorman Development Agency, which is in charge of redevelopment in the area, said in June that the plaza was to open that month.
Dixon says the target was always to open in September for the start of the academic year when students would begin to flock to the TU Dublin campus in nearby Grangegorman.
Over the summer, there were final bits of work to do on the lighting and electricity, drainage, gates and gravel, he says.
“Even though the majority of the paving was done, there were some … the end pieces were a bit more complicated than one might expect,” he says.
They’re just waiting on one item now, he says. “A separate gate that has to be put in for access at the very top,” he says. Getting materials was slowed by people off on summer holidays, he says.
Covid also stalled the project, he says, as they couldn’t be on site for stretches of time. “And even with some of the work practices that had to be carried out when they got back to the site.”
Says Dixon: “That’s the reason why it’s taken the equivalent of two and a half years to do the job.”
Around the Plaza
On her daily trips to the créche, Rahill crosses the road at Constitution Hill at a pedestrian crossing in front of the plaza.
Traffic means that her way is sometimes blocked for longer than usual by a stuck bus, she says.
There’s no dedicated bus lane on Constitution Hill in front of Broadstone Plaza, so buses leaving the Dublin Bus Phibsboro Depot have to wait for traffic to move, she says.
“I’m always just standing at those lights every day being like, you know, they could have done this better,” she says.
“All the cars and the buses are trying to squish into one lane, and there’s no cycle lane. It’s a bit of a feck up at the end,” she says.
The footpath comes out too far, and instead, there should be a bus lane and a segregated cycle lane, Rahill says.
Bus Connects revised network map has buses numbers 23 and 24 going up and down Constitution Hill.
“It is not physically possible to fit a bus lane and a traffic lane in each direction plus footpaths in the space available,” said a spokesperson for the National Transport Authority.
Instead, there’s a combined car and bus lane. “The lights will be managed to prevent queuing occurring in the combined lane section,” they said.
On Friday, Faye Kearney waits at the lights before the Luas track crossing Phibsboro Road from Western Way on her cycle back from work to Phibsboro.
The constant movement of the steel barriers during construction often interrupted her cycle in and out, she says. “It has been a bit annoying, it seems to be taking forever for it to open.”
The cycle lane is great on the Grangegorman end of the plaza, she says, but not so much in front of the plaza.
“They need to put proper signage on the road and maybe separate bollards for cyclists, because it’s not safe,” she says.
There are segregated cycle lanes up Constitutional Hill, but none in front of Broadstone Plaza.
“I actually got cut off just there when I was cycling before.” she says, pointing at the road directly in front of the plaza, where a car had come from behind and cut across her. “And I noticed there’s loads of cyclists, so I don’t know, I feel like they probably should have continued the separated lanes.”
A narrower footpath might have allowed more space for a cycle lane, Kearney says. “There’s a really nice footpath but no space for cyclists. Isn’t that great! I don’t know who planned it.”
There’s not enough space for a cycle lane, said a spokesperson for the National Transport Authority.
“For that reason an alternative cycle track is proposed along the Canal Bank, passing under North Circular Road via a new bridge and linking to the Royal Canal Greenway and Cross Guns Bridge,” they said.
There’s a cyclist and pedestrian crossing on Constitution Hill, and a short section of cycle provision along Western Way, before linking with the Canal Bank route, they said.
“This provides a continuous cycle corridor from north of Phibsborough down to connect to the Liffey Cycle Route,” they said.
Who’ll Use It?
Broadstone Plaza joins two roads on the north side that were unconnected before, says Dixon: Grangegorman Lower and Constitution Hill.
Holly oak and callery pear trees and benches frame the plaza entrance off Constitution Hill. Plant climbers, like blue passion flower and star jasmine, line the wall of the hill.
In the flowerbeds, purple flowers like African lilies and iris silver edge bloom among ferns.
But the wide concrete space is clear for walking – which is what it’s mostly for, he says. “That is the definition of a plaza, you know,” he says.
Outside of that, people will have to see what the space becomes.
“It can be used for any number of other things. And I’m sure that that will come about over time, but you’ve got to build the plaza first,” he says.
Matthew Holmes, who lives in Phibsboro, sits himself down on the Broadstone-DIT Luas stop bench and squints over at the plaza. “It looks very nice. There used to be an old garage here, which looked horrible.”
He’s not sure he’ll stop off there, on his trips to and from work. “Certainly when it opens it up it will make it a lot easier just to cut across, but I don’t know about hanging out,” he says.
When he was studying in the King’s Inns, he says there used to be a problem with people leaving syringes in the grass. “So it might get opened up to a bit of vandalism. I hope not, but you never know,” he says.
Kearney, leaning back on her bike’s frame, says that with the benches and the trees, it looks like a nice area to sit down, maybe with a coffee, if there were coffee places around.
“It seems like you might have to walk down to Smithfield,” she says. “I don’t know, you’d have to bring a lunch or something. Maybe if there were more places around here.”
Rahill says she thinks the plaza may end up having other uses than a walkway. “I did see a few skateboarders break in yesterday, so that’ll be interesting to see.”
Skateboarders usually hang out outside the derelict Hendron’s building across the road, she says. “I wonder if this would be a little hub for that. Which would bring a bit of buzz!”
Her sons love to watch the skateboarders in Weaver Park and Fairview Park, but there isn’t really anywhere around Grangegorman for skateboarding, she says.
“More skateparks, why not?” she says. “If there’s young people hanging about, and students, I don’t really mind.”