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Eoin Leahy has just a few seconds earlier had a narrow escape on Parnell Street.
It’s Thursday, and he had waited on the refuge island outside Cineworld until the eastward traffic cleared. But before he could get to the other side, cars from Jervis Street started to turn the corner towards him.
He dodged the first car and skipped onto the footpath. “I’ll put my hands up. I wasn’t really paying attention,” he says, eyes wide. “I’m used to it.”
Late afternoon on Thursday, a trickle of pedestrians, young and old, from all directions lean or step onto Parnell Street looking to spot an opportunity to cross.
There’s no green man to guide them as to when it’s safe. Ciarán Cuffe, a Green party MEP and former city councillor, says a signalled pedestrian crossing at the Cineworld junction is a “no brainer”.
He’s been asking the council for one since 2010, he says.
The council has set aside €1 million for “pedestrian crossing project” this year, according to its Capital Budget Programme 2022-2024, but hasn’t yet responded to a query sent last Wednesday as to where those crossings, or crossing, would be.
Cuffe, and some Dublin city councillors, want there to be more transparency on how council officials decide on that, and which are lined up next – similar to the level of detail published about main road or cycling projects.
They have questions, too, about the budget.
How much a pedestrian crossing costs depends on what kind of junction it’s being added to, and how many arms that junction has.
A simple one-arm crossing on a 6–8 metre wide road would cost around €80,000, said Eoin Corrigan, a senior council engineer, in response to an April 2020 query from Green Party Councillor Janet Horner.
A four-arm junction for a major route, where each “arm” is around 12 metres wide would cost roughly €220,000 to €280,000, he said.
A budget of €1 million, therefore, may cover 12 crossings if they are simple ones, or just three or four if they are more complicated.
Janice Boylan, a Sinn Féin councillor, says she doesn’t think the budget is big enough for what’s needed.
“There’s an awful lot of work that needs to be done to make the streets safer, so the money is welcome, it will make a difference, but it won’t make the difference that we need across the city,” she says.
The Capital Budget Programme doesn’t have specifics for which pedestrian crossing projects are in the works.
It does set out specific cycle lanes that the council expects to build during the 2022–2024 period.
Cuffe, the Green Party MEP, says pedestrian crossings should be listed too. “I think the more information in the public domain, the better. And to me these lists are gold dust.”
Why the Hold-Up?
Cuffe says the Cineworld junction on Parnell Street could really use a “pelican”-style pedestrian crossing. “There’s a lot of footfall trying to cross the street.”
The council’s view seems to be that the road isn’t that wide, and there’s a central island so people should be grand, he says.
“But actually, for people with children, or for older people, for everybody, there really should be a direct pedestrian crossing there,” he says.
Darcy Lonergan, a Green Party councillor, asked in July for a pedestrian crossing across Parnell Street at the west side of the junction with Jervis Street. The council said they would investigate the request.
Cuffe’s requests for a crossing here had previously been rejected by the Traffic Advisory Group (TAG) in 2011 and 2016. TAG is the section of the council which processes traffic requests around the city, and includes engineers and administrative staff from the council, as well as representatives of the Garda, the ambulance service, and Dublin Bus.
Cuffe had asked again in a transport committee meeting in June 2018, after which senior engineer Andy Walsh wrote to him saying that Parnell Street would likely meet criteria for a pedestrian crossing, since the Luas had been installed and the road had changed.
There is a finite budget, Walsh said. “If the pedestrian crossing does not proceed under the above works, we would consider it favourably for the 2019 program of works.”
Choosing a pedestrian crossing is a “difficult decision”, he said, and given there are already crossings on Parnell Street, it may not be chosen over other areas which also need infrastructure.
Horner says she’d prefer to see a different solution to the lack of a crossing outside Cineworld on Parnell Street.
The eastbound side of the street doesn’t need two vehicle lanes, she says, so one should be removed, along with the traffic island, and a wider footpath and cycle lane installed.
“Really the only people coming up Wolfe Tone Street are coming out of, I think, one car park there. So there’s basically this tiny trickle of traffic that comes up there,” she says.
The council could also consider zebra and wombat crossings in some places, she says.
How Does the Council Decide?
When they are designing traffic systems, engineers decide where to put in pedestrian crossings based on how much delay it will cause to the traffic network, says Brian Deegan, a principal design engineer who specialises in road infrastructure for walkers and cyclists for urban-design consultancy Urban Movement in the UK.
Deegan says that traffic engineers may be taking into account the monetary cost of congestion when deciding whether to install a pedestrian crossing, rather than the safety or health of pedestrians.
“People are in complete peril of their lives every time they cross it, but like okay, in terms of delay that would cause to a busy road, you’re talking billions across a network,” he says.
Traffic engineers also say that stopping for pedestrian crossings makes drivers frustrated and more dangerous on the road, he says.
Dublin City Council did not respond to queries sent yesterday as to whether its engineers make decisions based on these kinds of economic considerations or driver frustration.
For Dublin City Council, councillors make requests that are sent to the Traffic Advisory Group (TAG), says Cuffe.
“But it’s like the Black Hole of Calcutta,” he says. “It can take years for them to come out with a decision.”
Cuffe says he thinks the council counts the number of people crossing the street, and how long they are waiting for.
“If people weren’t crossing, they would say, ‘Oh, the counts don’t justify it.’ But that was crazy. It’s a bit like saying there’s no need for a bridge because nobody’s swimming across the river,” he says.
Cuffe says the council should bundle requests and prioritise requests for walking, cycling and disability measures, which could lead to area-wide traffic calming.
“Often you might have half a dozen requests on the same street, and there doesn’t seem to be a willingness to look at all the requests in tandem.”
Dublin City Council did not respond to a query sent yesterday as to whether the TAG team bundle traffic requests from the same area, route or road.
A Lack of Transparency, and Funds
Horner says that she finds it hard to find out what the council is doing regarding pedestrian crossings.
“There’s no transparency on this,” she says. “The reason we don’t know is because they’re not telling us, not because we’re not following.”
According to a 2018 Local Authority Satisfaction Survey by the National Oversight and Audit Commission, which oversees local government, 16 percent of surveyed residents in the Dublin City area felt that the council was open and transparent.
This was the worst score out of 31 councils in the country.
There also isn’t a high enough budget for pedestrian crossings, says Horner.
A pedestrian crossing at Mountjoy Square, which had been sought by councillors and residents since at least 2004, was finally funded under Covid Mobility funding, which was provided from May 2020 so the council could undertake works to improve walking and cycling in the city centre, as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As far as I could see, it wasn’t getting done until there’s an emergency budget,” she says.
Boylan, the Sinne Féin councillor, says there are areas where she has been asking for a pedestrian crossing for years, like Hanlon’s Corner on the North Circular Road, and outside Summerhill Health Centre.
“You’d have some areas where you could be walking along the road for a good ten minutes or before you come across a place to cross the road”, she says.
Joe Costello, a Labour councillor, says more attention should be paid to the need for pedestrian safety.
“The ordinary person is normally a pedestrian who has to get from place to place, and has to do so safely. Those are the areas that we need to be putting the money into, rather than putting it into some grandiose schemes,” he says.
Cuffe says he’s exasperated by the council’s approach to pedestrian crossings. He saw that a pedestrian crossing was installed on Grangegorman Lower, where there is a filtered-permeability scheme that blocks out through traffic by cars to open up the street to pedestrians and cyclists.
“They’ve put in two fully signalised crossings on a road where as you know, they’ve stopped the through traffic. So why put in a fully signalised crossing where the amount of vehicular traffic is, is really low?” he says.
On Parnell Street on Thursday, Leahy watches a pair looking for a gap to cross, pushing their buggy slightly onto the road. They pull it back onto the path again, before a car rushes by.
They’ll have to wait for another gap to cross. “They didn’t really have an opportunity,” says Leahy.