Dublin City Council is pressing ahead with a cycle route from Rialto Bridge to Suir Road, through the western end of St James’ Linear Park, said Leslie Moore, head of the council’s parks department, in an email to local residents on 7 December.
Funding for the cycle route means responsibility for that strip has moved from the council’s parks department to its environment and transport department, said Moore.
That’s left some local residents trying to work out if the council is less committed to the park as a destination, and sees it more as a through route.
Moving the western end of the project’s to the transport department means the council isn’t committing to maintaining the park as a public space, says Carol Ballantine, a local resident, involved in a campaign for improvements to the park.
Residents met over the weekend to discuss the move, she says. “A few of us, and we were kind of wavering. Between kind of giving up and fighting on.”
A council spokesperson said on Thursday that the park is being developed in phases.
One phase is enhancing the walking and cycling infrastructure, they said, which is something that the council’s transport department can programme. “As one of the many mobility interventions they are implementing throughout the city.”
Meanwhile, the playspace at the Basin Lane end of the park – which is at the eastern end – would be designed and built in 2022, they said.
A Continuing Campaign
St James’ Linear Park is a strip of green space that runs for a kilometre alongside the Luas Red Line from Basin View in the east to Suir Road Bridge in the west, and passing by the Rialto and Fatima Luas stops en route.
In July 2018, the council appointed Ait Urbanism and Landscape Architects to assess the park as it was.
The council published a masterplan for a revamp in November 2020, showing new play spaces, a community garden, and a wildflower meadow along its route.
Local residents campaigned for bins, seating, markets, drinking-water taps, outdoor chess tables and basketball hoops, and safer access.
These local residents see the council’s move to press ahead with the cycle track as a roll-back of its masterplan for the park, says Ballantine. “We were just really, really surprised, like and really, really let down.”
“Certainly, it’s not being delivered as a park now, it’s being delivered by environment and transport, and taken out of the remit of the parks department,” she says.
At a meeting of the council’s South Central Area Committee on 8 December, Sinn Féin Councillor Máire Devine said the change was disappointing for local groups.
“Myself as well, that live on it, on what seems to be the dilution of the promises that have been gone on for so long now,” she said.
Ballantine said that at the moment, residents find the linear park is unsafe and unpleasant. “Our current experience of the park is just an awful lot of traffic, an awful lot of waste, and kind of, you know, just poor maintenance.”
Improving it would improve their quality of life in traffic-choked Dublin 8 immeasurably, she said.
“We’d like it to be a really lovely space where we could bring our friends and bring our kids and meet people and have somewhere to sit down,” she said.
“We believe that the huge response to the consultation is indicative of a desire for this space to be a real park, a destination place,” says Ballantine.
Why Not All at Once?
The council’s masterplan for the park, broke down the project into phases.
For the bit from Rialto Bridge to Suir Road, it noted a proposal to widen the path south of the Luas tracks to make a pedestrian and cycle route, and a wildflower meadow. It mentioned a possible new pathway to the north of the Luas, and a new entrance to the park.
It also pointed to tree planting, a possible community garden, and ways to use the canal more, like a kayak-launching platform.
In the council’s February 2021 report on that consultation, it said that the environment department intended to prioritise the design of the cycle route, which is called the “7B” in the NTA’s cycle network.
The parks and transport departments were working together, it said, “to develop the detail of how this cycle route will be integrated into the park, while ensuring that the park is retained as a safe space for walking amenity and children’s play”.
The environment and transport department “intends to prioritise the design development of this route in order to minimise delays to the development of the linear park”, said the report.
Funding for the cycle route is coming from the government’s walking and cycling fund, said Moore, head of the council’s parks department, in an email to local residents on 7 December.
The environment and transport department has “procurement for contractors in place as well as the expertise for this work so hopefully this explains the rationale for them delivering this aspect of the project”, he wrote.
The funding isn’t bad news for the park, said Michael Pidgeon, a Green Party councillor, at the South Central Area Committee meeting on 8 December.
There’s a lot of money sloshing around for walking and cycling at the moment, he said. “And I understand why we might try and use some of that for the park.”
The funding can be used to improve the park around the route, he said, even if it’s being spent by the environment and transport department.
“But that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily just a bike lane and that’ll disregard any park funding there,” he said.
Derek Kelly, director of council services on the south side, said the funding is there because the route is a priority for the city. “So it wouldn’t be a good idea to not avail of that, while also trying to deal with the parks issue,” he said.
Space is limited in the park, Kelly said, partly because the Luas Red Line runs through. Add in routes for cycling and walking and it will cut down space for a park, says Kelly. “But there’s always a way of integrating it.”
Council and NTA officials should meet with local residents, said Tina MacVeigh, a People Before Profit councillor, and Máire Devine, the Sinn Féin councillor.
“Once we get past the short-term requirements around funding and establishing cycling, which is to be welcomed, that can incorporate and come in as part of a longer-term plan,” said MacVeigh.
Kelly said that Moore, the parks department head, has said he will go and talk to residents about the park.
Ballantine says the residents’ group has already met with parks officials. “We’re pretty expert at walking the park with officials and politicians at this stage.”
Meeting with the parks department was always positive, she says, and they’ll keep meeting with anybody they can.
“But I guess we just feel a little bit gut-punched right now, that, you know, we felt like we were getting somewhere,” she says.
Ballatine still has questions around whether the money is there to fund the park. “Is there any commitment really? It doesn’t always feel that there is.”
In the council’s 2022–2024 Capital Programme, St James’ Walk Linear Park has been allocated money over three years. That includes €210,000 in 2022, €650,000 in 2023, and €450,000 in 2024, it says.
The council spokesperson said it is not seeking funding from the National Children’s Hospital board or the HSE for improvements to the park.
“However, there will be reinstatement work carried out by contractors working on the hospital project which will contribute to the enhancement of the park,” they said.