The broad strip of Ranelagh Road outside Ranelagh Multi-Denominational School can get really busy, says Rosemarie Stynes, the school principal.
“Especially when it comes to drop-off and pick-up times,” she says. “We’re very conscious of the children coming out of school.”
It’s become apparent since the school – trying to hinder the spread of Covid-19 – started to use the front door onto Ranelagh Road rather than just the side door on Mountpleasant Place, she says.
“I suppose that highlighted to us really the dangers around the speeds on Ranelagh Road,” Stynes said. As have the accidents right outside, she says.
But since the school is on a 50km/h road, it won’t be prioritised for a school zone – the bollards that look like pencils and colourful road markings that the council has put in around some schools to flag to drivers to take care, and slow down, as kids are about.
A school zone would help let drivers know they’re approaching a school, says Stynes. “It kind of needs to be proactive rather than reactive, you know?”
The council did say it would install bollards along the bike lane on Ranelagh Road, says Stynes, but couldn’t do a school zone.
Dublin City Council did not respond to queries sent Tuesday asking when the bollards will be installed, and whether any other traffic-calming measures are planned for outside the school.
And it’s not just around schools that locals have found the infrastructure they want rejected by the council because of nearby fast roads, with speed limits still stretching to 50km/h.
Across the city in Clontarf, a hair salon owner, hoping to add a bit of outdoor seating, says she recently ran up against the same.
School Zones in Waiting
At least 44 schools are on roads that are 50km/h, which aren’t initially prioritised for school zones, says the report.
Instead, schools on 50km/h roads will be prioritised for the government’s safe routes to school program, which will improve walking and cycling infrastructure around schools, it says.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries as to why it isn’t prioritising school zones on 50km/h roads.
Crumlin Road currently has a speed limit of 50km/h, and Loreto College has some school zone infrastructure just outside its gates, on one side of the road.
Speeding is a problem still, says an April written query from Tara Deacy, a Social Democrats councillor, and Deirdre Conroy, a Fianna Fáil councillor, to the council’s chief executive.
They asked for investigation into speeding on the road near three schools and a sports ground.
“There have been a number of serious collisions on this stretch in recent times,” says their question. A review by the council in 2018 didn’t allow for any measures to be put in place, it says.
Residents want the speed limit dropped to 30km/h, more visual obstacles added for traffic calming, the road to be narrowed, a yellow box to be painted on the road outside the entrance to Dolphin Park, protected bike lanes put in, a speed reader installed and a traffic warden assigned to the area, they said.
In the council’s response, Karl Mitchell, director of services for the council’s Central and South East administrative areas, said there was already signage for schools and a school zone, as well as pedestrian crossing at each junction.
The council will look into the yellow box and school warden, said Mitchell, and future changes under BusConnects, the revamp of the city’s bus network, will see Crumlin Road’s two lanes of traffic cut down to one lane plus a bus lane.
He didn’t mention any more traffic calming measures.
Says Ray McAdam, a Fine Gael councillor: “The response … shows in my mind that there is still an inherently conservative attitude within Dublin City Council to acting on things.”
“We cannot have a situation where we continue to permit road safety being substandard in the vicinity of schools. Not acceptable and cannot be tolerated,” he says.
Stynes, the head of the Ranelagh Multi-Denominational School, says the school has been doing all it can to increase traffic safety on its stretch of Ranelagh Road.
They have a traffic warden, and the school has been encouraging parents and kids to walk, cycle, and park further away from the school, she says.
It’s a shame they’re not considered for a school zone, which would act as a visual signal to drivers that children are nearby, she says. “That’s where we’re at, I suppose, that’s the piece of work that needs to be done.”
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries as to why it can’t do more traffic calming on Crumlin Road, and what alternatives it can offer to school zones if they aren’t being prioritised for 50km/h roads.
Not Just Schools
Footpath extensions or build-outs to make more space for outdoor dining would be great on Clontarf Road, says Fiona Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald owns Salon 56, not far from the entrance to Fairview Park and opposite the seafront, on Clontarf road, a hair salon that also serves coffee.
Seeing people drinking and eating outside cafés attracts others, she says. “All I’ve seen it do in every other area is cause more footfall in the area and more business for everybody else in the area.”
Right now, cars on Clontarf Road, which has a speed limit of 50kmph, go past really fast, says Fitzgerald. “No matter what the speed limit is, they just bomb along that road. It’s madness.”
Last summer, Fitzgerald and Seán Haughey, a Fianna Fáil TD, wrote to Dublin City Council to ask for a build-out to make the footpath in front of her salon wider, she says. But the council said no.
There are serious safety implications to placing outdoor dining next to a fast road, said a council spokesperson on Tuesday.
Outdoor furniture permits “would only be issued for indented sections of carriageway that were protected by buildouts”, they said.
“It was considered that the planted plastic bollards being used to designate outdoor dining areas offered little physical protection to diners from moving vehicles,” they said.
Neil Galway, an urban planning lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, said traffic-management systems have been dominated by years of aiming to move private cars as quickly as possible.
“Rather than maybe thinking about the importance of people being able to actually sort of linger and dwell in spaces, to actually use public spaces, that have by and large been given over to private vehicles,” he says.
Traffic calming, like build-outs that trim roads and add planters and ramps, can modify the behaviour of drivers without changing the speed limit, he says.
They can make the driver feel more like a guest on the street, he says. “Rather than, you know, the primary function of the space.”
Fitzgerald says she thinks putting in parklets, which are small build-out areas with room for tables and chairs, would slow the traffic down. “It wouldn’t be as heavy going along that road. It wouldn’t be as fast.”
But she also thinks the speed limit should be cut to 30km/h, because the road creates a danger zone between two nice areas for walking and cycling. “Nobody does 50, they do 80.”
At the moment, the default speed limit in the city is 50km/h, although the council has taken measures over the last few years to try to whittle that down and speeds are capped in most residential areas at 30km/h.
In September 2020, councillors voted against changing the bye-law on the default speed limit in the city to 30km/h rather than 50km/h.
A council spokesperson said: “The council does install traffic calming measures along 50 km/h roads where vehicles are observed to regularly exceed the speed limit.”
But there still couldn’t be outdoor dining on Clontarf Road, without adding infrastructure, they said.
“Even if traffic calming resulted in improved observation of the 50 km/h speed limit in this area, in the absence of a build out, on street outdoor dining would not be recommended for the reasons outlined above,” they said.
The council is planning to roll-out 30km/h roads in phases, says Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor.
“I think that school areas should be priority for reducing to 30km/h,” she says. “It just means that you’re never going to see parents feeling comfortable cycling their children to school.”
McAdam says traffic calming and enforcement is needed, even with the 30km/h speed limit in place.
“Reasonably long stretches of road in a residential neighbourhood where you can build up speed, then the need exists for my view for measures beyond simply a speed limit,” he said.