On Monday, Raluca Licau waited for a couple of minutes to cross the South Circular Road at Leonard’s Corner. She says she usually doesn’t wait.

“It’s one of the few ones I actually stop at, if I’m completely honest. I stop, regardless of if there are cars coming or not, I stop and I obey the traffic. Because it’s really busy.”

Otherwise, she’ll jaywalk, if the road is clear.

By June 2020, as part of the effort to get more people walking rather than taking public transport, to reduce Covid transmission, the council had cut how long pedestrians had to wait before the green man signalled to them that they could cross the road.

That was adjusted a little over the following months, show the council’s Covid mobility reports. “The reduced cycle times and shorter waiting times for pedestrians remain in place except where there is evidence of serious congestion,” a report from 16 July 2020 said.

But those waiting times for pedestrians have now crept back up again.

That change has been “due to increases in traffic volumes in the city and the knock-on affect this had on public transport routes”, a council spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Explaining Traffic Lights

When the council officials talk about traffic lights, they talk about cycle lengths.

A traffic light cycle is how long it takes for all the different kinds of traffic in all directions to be allowed to move – and the cycle to start all over again.

Traffic cycles used to last a minimum of 50 seconds, said a council spokesperson, but that was increased in August to 60 seconds, shows an email released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Meanwhile, the maximum cycle length went back up from 90 to 100 seconds for everywhere in the council area, and up to 110 seconds at peak times, the email says.

Since cycle times are longer now, but crossing times for pedestrians have remained the same, that means cars are getting more time to drive through intersections while pedestrians wait.

The system that is used to change traffic lights is the SCATS system, which is a smart system that manages traffic crossing controls, and automatically changes the lengths of cycles across the city within those parameters.

Pedestrian crossings do operate on demand, they said. But there may be longer wait times if, say, they cross a busy public transport route.

“The SCATS system is designed to set a maximum cycle length for all sites, this time is then divided among all demanded traffic phases based on a number of different pre-determined plans,” said the spokesperson.

“In the DCC area, we actively try and keep the majority of sites operating at a lower cycle length where possible,” they said.

Are People Waiting for Too Long?

On Monday, Geraldine Monaghan has just crossed the road at Leonard’s Corner, and is heading towards the Grand Canal with her walker. She stops and leans on a green post box.

She thinks usually, there’s not too long a wait to cross the road. But there’s one crossing at Sundrive Road that gets to her, she says.

“You have to wait a good bit, even though you do give it the two taps,” she says, tapping her hand twice against the post box.

“Traffic signals are designed to allow the pedestrian crossing to run as frequently as possible within the overall cycle,” said the council spokesperson.

The pedestrian light should go green quicker when the button is tapped, says Monaghan. “I would like it if they were more responsive with the green man, so we could all cross together quickly, and go about our business.”

“We’re not all in cars, you know? And a lot of us are elderly and on foot, and doing as best as we can to get around,” she says.

Over in Rathmines, Philippa Cains, out walking to a coffee date, says she doesn’t notice many pedestrian crossings taking too long, except the one on Baggot Street, near where she lives.

“You’re definitely waiting for an eternity,” she says. “Maybe like two, three minutes.”

She doesn’t care too much though. “If I’m crossing there, I’m not going to work. Just going to get a loaf of bread and some milk.”

There’s always a buildup of people waiting with her though, she says. “I definitely think there are people who care if they’re running for a meeting because obviously there’s offices. I feel like it would be frustrating.”

Junctions where all the vehicle traffic lights go red at once are one solution, says Brian Gormley, of Connecting Cabra, a community sustainability group.

“Then at least people could go diagonally, and you wouldn’t have to go step by step to get across,” he says.

But there still needs to be more time allocated for pedestrians to cross too, he says.

The Fleeting Green Man

All crossings have a minimum green man time of 6 seconds, the council spokesperson said.

For the amber man, the time was increased in early 2019 from 0.833 seconds for every metre of the crossing to one second for every metre.

Those times haven’t changed during Covid. But they should be lengthened, says Gormley, of Connecting Cabra.

They just don’t give enough time to cross, especially at big intersections like where Ratoath Road meets Navan Road, the old Cabra Road, and the New Cabra Road, he says.

You have to cross bit by bit, Gormley says. “You’re stuck in a little metal cage then in the middle of the road while you wait for the next set of lights to cross,” he says. “All the buttons have to be pressed.”

Gormley says most people who are able to, don’t wait for the green man. “They just kind of jaywalk and run across when it’s relatively safe.”

“I’m relatively healthy, but you know, I couldn’t even get halfway across the road when the green man was on,” he says. The light went orange before he reached the median.

“Then you have to kind of, like, wave apologetically at the cars as you’re trying to get across the rest of the road and you’re not sure when the red man is going to come on.”

Gormley says in a survey he held for Connecting Cabra, not enough time to cross the road came up frequently in submissions.

It seems that the pedestrian light is green for a shorter amount of time than the light is amber, he says. “And I just can’t see the logic in that.”

“Because it’s the panic … that comes on, you’re when you’re halfway across the road, and the orange man comes on and you’re wondering, How long do I have to get to the other side of the road? Are the cars going to start moving while I’m stuck in the middle of the road?” he says.

Who Should Be Prioritised?

Mannix Flynn, an independent councillor, said that there’s still a lot of congestion in the city.

“With the lack of any pedestrian footfall within the city, again, what’s happening now is that you have a situation where cars are under huge congestion, from one end of the city to the next. And it’s very, very confusing,” he says.

There hasn’t been a policy change that has been brought to councillors about traffic lights, he says.

At the Ratoath Road junction, Gormley says he finds it safer to drive there than to walk, particularly with his children. “You certainly wouldn’t want him cycling on his own, or walking on his own up there at that particular junction. It’s a terrible junction.”

Licau, at Leonard’s Corner, says she finds when driving that it’s frustrating to have to stop frequently. “I think for pedestrians, it’s fine. For cars, well, there’s always going to be a stop. But that’s it.”

Gormely says the more favourable roads and traffic lights systems are made towards private cars, the more people are going to drive.

“So you really have to make the easiest option for everyone to be to walk, cycle or take public transport,” he says. “As a community that lives within between the canals, we would take the view that really, pedestrians and cyclists should have priority.”

Monaghan says traffic is heavy in the city. “Cars are going, as I imagine, a lot of them are, over the speed limit. The streetscape has become a very dangerous place if you’re any way slowed up as I am, I can tell you that at 83 years of age.”

Once, a man in an SUV waved to let her cross, although the vehicle light was green. “It was very decent, very good of him really. But it’s not necessarily safe on the other side. You have to be very careful going across.”

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 claudia@dublininquirer.com.

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