By 2028, when Dubliners in the morning rush cross over Portobello Bridge or North Circular Road, say, headed into the city centre for work or school or play, more should be travelling on foot, bike and public transport and fewer by car.
That, in any case, is the vision.
Dublin City Council says in its draft development plan, that it aims to more than double the percentage of people who cycle into the city, growing it from 6 percent to 13 percent.
It also hopes to nudge up, more modestly, the percentages who walk, from 11 to 13 percent, and who take public transport, from 54 to 57 percent, it says.
Those changes would happen alongside a fall in the share using private motor vehicles, from 29 percent to 17 percent, the council says in the plan’s targets.
Changing how people get around, also known as “modal shift”, will be key to Dublin, and Ireland, meeting targets in the national Climate Action Plan to cut emissions from transport by somewhere between 42 and 50 percent by 2030 compared to 2018 levels.
Exactly how far the suggested targets would get the city, and whether it needs to aim higher, is a point of issue in the debate over the draft development plan – which is currently out for public consultation – as is whether the council has the control over transport to make its commitments happen.
On the Targets
The modal shift targets in the development plan should be much more ambitious, says
Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor, who sits on the council’s transport committee.
“In my opinion, the Dublin City Council executive have still not got their heads around the scale of the shift that we are looking at between now and 2030,” said Horner.
“We are talking about a very significant shift in how we do things about the city,” she says.
Transport accounts for about 25 percent of CO2 emissions in Dublin city, according to an estimate, based on 2016 data, by Dublin’s energy agency Codema.
Christy Burke, the independent councillor who chairs the transport committee, said he isn’t aware of any council estimate of the impact of the mooted modal shift changes on that figure.
Besides, questions about modal shift and emissions fall within the remit of the climate committee, he said. “That would come under environmental health.”
Michael Pidgeon, the Green Party councillor who chairs the climate committee, said he doesn’t think the council has the capacity at the moment to do an emissions analysis like that.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries sent on 4 January as to whether its targets for changing how people would be enough to meet climate action targets for emissions cuts from transport.
Feljin Jose, spokesperson for Dublin Commuter Coalition, says that 2028 – the final year covered by the new draft development plan – is two years from 2030. “We need to reduce our transport emissions by up to 51 percent by 2030.”
Most of the work towards the goals will be done in the time period covered by this development plan, Jose says. “I feel like this doesn’t do it. The targets itself for 2028 are not ambitious enough.”
The city is the ideal place to strive to reach climate goals, Jose says, as opposed to providing public infrastructure to towns and rural areas with lower population density.
“The most well-connected public transport, the place that should have the most cycling facilities, that should be easy to walk into, that has everything within a short distance. It doesn’t get easier than this,” he says.
But Pidgeon, the Green Party councillor, says setting different goals for different places – say, setting more ambitious goals for cities than for rural areas – might not be as straightforward as it seems at first.
“You also have to factor in what people are already doing,” he says. Saying there would be a 50 percent emissions cut in a city where more than half of people are already getting the bus into the city at rush hour, could be a bigger challenge.
“That’s the kind of thing that if they are allocating regionally, that’s trickier than saying it’s easier in cities,” he says. In any case, he thinks the targets will remain national ones, without different targets for different places.
That’s a technical thing though because there’s loads more things the city can do and it should be much more ambitious, he says.
Vera O’Riordan, a researcher on low-emission transport at University College Cork, says there should be more specific emissions targets in the city’s development plan. “It would be great to see specific numerical targets, a bit like the Climate Action Plan. How do you measure and track progress or lack thereof?”
What’s in the Plan?
The city’s last development plan was more cautious in its language around the place of the private car in the city.
In its section on “modal change”, it talked about giving people the opportunity to move to more sustainable ways to get around.
But it also talked about “having regard to the necessity for private car usage” and economic benefits to the city.
In contrast, the new draft 2022–28 development plan is more forceful. “It is important that we transition away from the private car and fossil fuel based mobility to mitigate against the negative impacts of transport and climate change,” it says.
The draft development plan, which is quite high-level, alongside some more specifics, outlines a vision for how to push for all this modal change.
For starters, it says, make the city a place where people can and will live, so they don’t have to commute into it. Then, design the city so people can also live near where they work, and easily get to whatever else they need.
Encourage higher-density development along public-transport routes. For people who will need to travel a bit further in the city, make it easier and more pleasant to walk, cycle and take public transport.
Then discourage the use of cars in the city by making it harder to park there.
The council plans to progressively eliminate all free on-street parking within the canals and areas where there is evidence of all-day commuter parking, through parking enforcement or removing parking spaces, it says.
It will carry out a feasibility study for parking in the city, and look for opportunities to repurpose parking lots for green spaces, such the car park at the front of Leinster House, it says.
It also plans to encourage the creation of park-and-rides on the fringes of the city, where people can leave their cars and make the last leg of their journey into the centre by public transport.
How to Count?
To track whether people are moving from one kind of transport to another, the council relies on its canal cordon counts.
It counts pedestrians, cyclists, cars, taxis, buses, goods vehicles and motorbikes as they travel across either the Royal Canal or the Grand Canal and into the city centre during morning rush hour. Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and Transport Infrastructure Ireland also help with statistics.
The council’s draft development plan, and its targets for changing how people get around, also rely on cordon count figures.
According to Jose, the spokesperson for the Dublin Commuter Coalition, an organisation which he says has almost 200 members, the council should be using more data, not just the cordon count.
“It’s a useful metric for looking at commuting patterns into Dublin City Centre but we need more city-wide metrics,” he says.
The cordon count ignores the inner-city and suburban trips, says Jose. “It misses out on me going from Finglas to DCU. It misses out on a lot of local trips.”
“Climate change happens outside peak time too,” he says.
Pidgeon, the Green Party councillor, said take the school run, which is seen as low-hanging fruit in terms of getting people to walk and cycle, rather than drive.
If you’re driving kids to school from Crumlin, you may head to Synge Street over the canal or out westwards.
“Some of it would be captured by the canal count, but some of it wouldn’t,” he says.
Caulfield, the assistant professor at Trinity, also says more data like the cordon count is needed. “So we can see are people adhering to what it is we’ve asked them to do.”
Jose says the council could copy the NTA, which used 2016 census data for its draft transport strategy, as well as collecting other data in more places.
The council did not respond to queries sent last Wednesday asking whether it is planning on using other data to determine mode share targets for the development plan.
Will the policies proposed in its draft development plan work to help the council meet its targets for mode shift – and, more broadly, the targets for emissions reductions?
Brian Caulfield, an associate professor of engineering at Trinity, who does research on the environmental impacts of transport, says a 12 percent decrease in the share using private cars may be difficult to achieve.
“Unless we start to deliver the public transport projects,” he says, “and that kind of goes outside of what the council’s remit is. But they’re in line with what other European capitals are doing.”
And it’s not the council that is in charge of delivering big public transport projects like Metrolink, Dart+, BusConnects or Luas extensions. Indeed, the draft development plan talks about “supporting” the agencies in charge of these projects, like the NTA, Irish Rail, Transport Infrastructure Ireland and Dublin Bus.
Anne Feeney, Fine Gael councillor, says council’s targets heavily rely on the NTA and its projects.
Often when she raises questions to officials about transport projects, she is told that it is down to the NTA, she says.
Like when she has asked about segregated cycleways in different places, Terenure for example, and has been told that they have to wait for the bus corridors under BusConnects to be rolled out, she says.
“[Dublin City Council’s] transport plans are heavily dependent on what the NTA decides, and [the council] should have a much bigger say in transport solutions,” she says.
The council’s draft development plan calls its target to increase the share of people travelling into the city on public transport – so by Luas, bus and rail – by 3 percent, from 54 to 57 percent “modest”.
There’s a lot of major public-transport infrastructure proposed during the lifetime of the plan, it says. But “The impact of public transport infrastructure projects on mode share is more likely to come into fruition during the lifespan of the following plan,” it says.
The BusConnect changes, for example, aren’t due to be rolled out fully until 2026 or something, says Horner, the Green Party councillor.
“There’s a serious challenge to the NTA and to the department at the moment to look at how they can accelerate some of these projects,” she says.
Jose, of the Dublin Commuter Coalition, says that moving from 54 percent to 57 percent travelling by public transport would be good.
“We could do more, but it’s the walking and cycling within the Dublin city centre inner-city area that feels really low,” he says.
Unlike public transport infrastructure, the council has the power to make ambitious changes on walking and cycling, he says.
Many people want to walk and cycle more but infrastructure prevents them, he says.
Walking takes too long, he says. “You’re waiting too long at junctions, always having to weave in between parked cars on the footpath.”
Solving those issues are within the council’s control, he says. “They really need to increase walking and cycling.”
While the council has powers over some transport changes, much falls under the NTA, which has its own targets for modal shift and emissions, albeit for a much wider area.
Drafts of those are laid out Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy 2022 to 2042, which was recently out for public consultation.
The Greater Dublin Area takes in six councils, Dublin City, South Dublin, Fingal, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Kildare, Wicklow and Meath.
The NTA predicts, if it carries out the changes in its draft strategy, transport emissions within the Greater Dublin Area would fall by 45 percent by 2042.
Caulfield, the associate professor of engineering at Trinity, says there should be a separate mode-share target for increasing shared mobility, which are cars, bikes and scooters that people share, to incentivise the council to work on it.
The taxi fleet has been slow to electrify too, he says, because there aren’t charging points just for them. This should be an aim in the strategy, he says.
Vera O’Riordan, a researcher on low-emission transport at University College Cork, says there should be more goals on making specific areas of the city into low-traffic neighbourhoods.
Those are areas which have traffic-calming measures and more pedestrianisation, like the bollards on Pigeon House Road in the Docklands. “It seems like a pretty obvious strategy,” she says.
(Those are mentioned in the NTA’s GDA strategy.)
There was also no inclusion of plans for a congestion charge, says O’Riordan. “Revenue raising is really important,” for the city to fund more cycling and walking measures.
Caulfield says the plan should include stronger statements on public space and include the aim of completing the pedestrianisation of College Green in 2025.
“We’ve never seen more people crying out for parts of the city to be pedestrianised like we did last summer, and I suspect it will again this summer,” he says.
The draft plan also says the council will ask those applying for planning permission for offices and homes to say how people will get around.
Monitoring that should also be included, said Caulfield. “And that perhaps the developers are levied if they’re not meeting their targets that they said they would.”
“If it’s not performing the way it should perform, that perhaps that they’re fined if they’re not reaching their mobility goals,” he says.
Horner, the Green Party councillor, says that one addition she wanted was to see a 500 percent increase in the number of children cycling to school in 2028.
The official response was that she was undermining the credibility of the plan by putting in unrealistic targets, she says.
“Whereas I would say, that should not be unrealistic if we are serious about getting a 51 percent reduction in emissions,” said Horner.
“That is an example in where there is a disconnect in how we are all grasping what is our challenge at the moment,” she says.