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Years ago when they were slimmer, you could fit a parked car alongside two passing in each direction, says Paddy McCartan, a Fine Gael councillor. “And there wouldn’t be a problem.”
But cars have grown, McCartan says, so there’s no longer space on either side.
It’s something McCartan has noticed in Belmont Avenue in Donnybrook, he said at the council’s transport committee meeting on 1 December.
Larger cars mount footpaths as they can’t pass easily on the road, he said. “With all the consequences of that for the safety of pedestrians and children going to school.”
In that case, the council has opted to try a traffic calming scheme after reported near misses involving school children, and damage to parked cars along the narrow street, said a March 2021 council report.
It’s indicative of an issue that’s come up elsewhere in the city, that as cars have gotten bigger they’re starting to bulge further into public space.
Some councillors are wondering if the council should use its own parking enforcement to disincentivize large car ownership. Or, whether there’s the possibility at a local, national or EU level to shrink private cars.
There has been a “dramatic shift towards bigger and heavier cars” over the past decade, according to a 2019 International Energy Agency (IEA) report.
This included in Europe, where SUVs were 10 percent of total cars sold in 2010, but had risen to 33 percent in 2018.
According to the EU Auto Industry, SUVs made up 40 percent of passenger car sales in 2020 in the EU.
Richard Willis, who lives in Leopardstown, says he used to own a smaller car, but it wasn’t practical.
Now, he owns a Nissan X-trail, to better fit his dog, triathlon gear, shopping, and, next year, a car seat for a baby, he says.
“I am definitely conscious of the size of it,” he said. “If I don’t go by bike or by Luas, car is the absolute last resort.”
Car manufacturers tend to push larger cars and SUVs, says Eoin Bannon, spokesperson for Transport and Environment, an EU clean-transport campaign group.
“Consumers like the extra height of these vehicles. But sales of SUVs are being pushed aggressively by carmakers because they can charge a premium price,” said Bannon.
Michael Pidgeon, a Green Party councillor, says some people have large cars because they’re better for people with disabilities or can fit big families. Others buy them because of car marketing, he says.
“People feel that they have entitlements to kind of choose any car regardless of size, and they have a right to leave that somewhere, either for massive subsidy or almost free of charge, usually on public space,” he says.
Says McCartan, the Fine Gael councillor: “Some people would feel more comfortable in the bigger car because they feel safer in it.”
Pidgeon says that while people might buy a car that will fit into their own garage, driveway, or the space outside their house, they won’t consider how it will fit into the public realm.
“A lot of people think they can buy whatever they want, and then the public realm has to grow to accommodate,” he says.
“When it comes to cars, people assume that someone else is going to provide the storage for it. Which is very strange,” he says.
Do They Fit on the Road?
The Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (DMURS)– which provides guidance to councils on road widths – says that standard carriageways on local streets should be between 5 and 5.5m wide, and the lanes should be between 2.5 and 2.75m wide.
These standards depend on context and street hierarchy, said Jason Taylor, urban designer and an author of the DMURS.
When building roads, councils have to consider the surrounding land use, population density, volume of traffic, speed limits and the size of vehicles, like buses and heavy goods vehicles using the road, he said.
“Within existing street networks, which are generally constrained, authorities will also need to carefully analyse what space is available,” he said.
Some carriageways don’t reach the width in the DMURS design because they weren’t designed for cars in the first place, says McCartan, the Fine Gael councillor, and “certainly not to contemplate facilitating these people carriers and SUVs”.
The Toyota Corolla was Ireland’s best-selling car in 2020, according to the Central Statistics Office, which with wing mirrors open would be somewhere around 1.92 metres to 1.98 metres wide, suggest figures in a brochure and estimates from Toyota’s press office. Two Corollas passing one another, with no room between them, would leave at most 1.16 metres of road space for cyclists and parked cars on a 5 metre wide road.
The Volkswagen Tiguan, the second best-selling car in 2020, is 2.09 metres wide. Two Tiguans passing tight to each other would leave just 82 centimetres for other road users on a 5 metre wide road.
As McCartan sees it, there are two solutions to situations like the one on Belmont Avenue, where cars mount the pavement. People can buy slimmer cars, or the council bring in traffic-calming measures, he says.
Lots of people would be in favour of the latter, he says. “But on the other hand then, a lot of people may find this very inconvenient, depending on which section they are on and have to go in a roundabout way to gain access to their homes.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Transport, said the trend towards heavier vehicles is unwelcome in both cities and in rural areas due to the increase of energy use.
“The Minister for Finance has increased both VRT and annual road tax on the higher polluting vehicles, which are generally the heavier and larger vehicles,” she said on Tuesday, in response to a query on whether the department thinks people should be encouraged to buy smaller cars.
The IEA report also flagged the higher carbon emissions that come from bigger, heavier vehicles.
“SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions since 2010 after the power sector,” the report said. “On average, SUVs consume about a quarter more energy than medium-size cars.”
The Parking Question
The squeeze for space and the impact of bigger cars is also a point of discussion in the ongoing debate around how to deal with pavement parking within residential neighbourhoods in the inner-city.
In June, councillors voted that parking enforcement should only clamp vehicles parked on pavements that leave less than a 2.5 metres gap between them and the wall.
All pavement parking, except on private landings, is illegal. But on some roads in the city, some residents don’t have any off-street parking.
At the transport committee meeting in December, councillors debated whether to change this agreement around 2.5 metres on roads where residents can’t meet that but don’t have elsewhere to park.
Roads like Coolsan Avenue, Templemore Avenue and Cloncarthy Road, said Dermot Stevenson, a council senior executive officer for parking policy and enforcement.
“Parking on the footpath is illegal, and we can’t continue to ignore the legislation,” he said.
Some councillors brought up car size during the discussion on parking.
Said Carolyn Moore, a Green Party councillor: “As cars continue to increase in size, we need to consider imposing size limitations on certain streets also.”
Said McCartan, the Fine Gael councillor, at the meeting: “Most people seem to favour these SUVs and they’re contributing to the problem.”
Car size isn’t the underlying problem on Templemore Avenue, where most residents park on the footpath without leaving 2.5 metres of space, says Mary Freehill, a Labour councillor.
“This has been a problem for years, before cars got bigger,” she says.
Keith Connolly, a Fianna Fáil councillor, says parking issues from larger cars are less of an issue in areas outside the city centre, such as Finglas.
“But if the vehicle’s that size, what can you do? You have to park somewhere,” he says
Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor, says that off-street solutions to parking issues should be tried. Like using nearby car parks outside churches or schools, she says.
Cars that don’t fully fit in parking spaces should be given tickets, she says. “It’s very intrusive onto the footpath area, so everybody on the footpath has to go around it.”
Vehicles are fined by Dublin Street Parking Services, the council’s contractor for parking enforcement, if “over 50 per cent of the vehicle is outside of the bay” during pay and display operational hours, said a council spokesperson on Monday.
Horner says the council needs to improve its messaging around parking enforcement, before it can introduce fines for incorrectly parked vehicles.
“There’s still very much a free-for-all mentality in how people feel they are entitled to park a vehicle,” she says, and the council doesn’t enforce enough.
With messaging through letterboxes or meetings with residents, and better enforcement, people may not buy big cars that don’t fit in parking spaces, she says.
Weaning People Off Big Cars
McCartan, the Fine Gael councillor, says he thinks people need to be weaned off cars.
He sees lots of big cars in the south of the city, he says. “SUVs that could hold six or seven people and only one person in it. What do they need these extra large vehicles for?”
The council does limit HGVs in the city. HGVs with five or more axles are not allowed in the city centre between 7am and 7pm every day.
Pidgeon, the Green Party councillor, says that restricting vehicle size might be possible through motor tax, where people are taxed higher based on the size of their vehicle.
It also might not be possible on a local or national level and may have to come from European Union directives, he says. But the EU is primarily focused on setting emission reduction targets.
“That’s been working, like engines are way more efficient, and electrification is coming,” he says.
“But even if cars are more efficient with fuel, they’re still bigger. If you get hit and you’re a kid or on a bike, it makes a big difference,” he says.
Bannon, from the EU transport group, said that under EU car CO2 standards, car manufacturers have an average emissions cap to reach across all their sales.
Selling lots of electric vehicles, which are counted as zero-emissions cars, creates space to sell higher-emitting vehicles such as SUVs, says the group’s 2021 report.
“Without this clause they would need to sell more fully electric cars in order to comply,” says Bannon.
Connolly, the Fianna Fáil councillor, says it would be hard to penalise someone because of the size of their car.
“We don’t know why they’ve a big car,” he says. “A person could be disabled, for example, they could have six children.”
“I don’t know how legally sound let’s say it would be, or fair it would be to people,” said Connolly.
[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 1.15pm on 15 April to correct the width of the Toyota Corolla. An earlier version included a width without wing mirrors open. Apologies for the error.]