To Meet the City’s Climate Goals, Dubliners Need to Stop Jumping in the Car for Five-Minute Trips

On the big and busy R139 in Donaghmede, which runs behind his house, Adam Connaughton feels like one of the only people who braces it to cycle.“Lots of neighbours just all drive,” he says.

He drove everywhere too, until the pandemic came and he wanted to get some exercise by cycling to the shop.

On Tuesday afternoon, he was pacing out the walk to his daughter’s creche in Clare Hall. But it takes 30 minutes. If there was a second entrance to his estate from the R139, the journey would be halved, says Connaughton.

To meet future emissions-reduction targets for transport – even if it hits its massive target for electric vehicles – the government needs to find a way to cut the distance travelled by the remaining fossil-fuelled cars in the Dublin region by at least 23 percent, says the Dublin Region Energy Master Plan, drawn up by Codema, Dublin’s energy agency.

Alongside making sure commuters can get to their work without their cars, there needs to be more focus on local trips, says the plan, which charts how the region can meet carbon emissions-reduction targets for 2030 and 2050.

Local trips in other words, like those for which Connaughton has switched.

Across the city though, drivers point to different frictions that stop them from leaving the car parked up – or getting rid of it altogether.

For some, a car just feels more convenient, or they don’t have enough time or patience for another method, or else there aren’t footpaths or cycle lanes – at least not ones that feel safe enough to use or direct enough.

Having walked 15 minutes, Connaughton stands on the footpath near what will later be his daughter’s school – and points at his garden shed. “This is the trek I have to do to bring my daughter to school. Even though my house is right there,” Connaughton says.

The R139 is speedy for drivers, but not pleasant for walkers or cyclists, Connaughton says.

“It’s just so loud and unpleasant,” he says. “You’ve got big walls left and right. You’ve got really fast cars going past.”

There’s only one footpath, pedestrian lights take a long time to change, and the few cycle lanes don’t connect, he says. So people aren’t encouraged to not use their cars.

“Make it pleasant for people to actually walk around in their own neighbourhood,” he says.

Shorter Journeys

Eoin Ahern, an energy researcher for Codema, says that changing how people travel for short journeys has the most potential for reducing transport emissions in Dublin.

Nationally, 56.9 percent of people used a private car for journeys under 2km, and 72.6 percent used a private car for journeys between 2km and 4km, according to the Central Statistics Office’s (CSO’s) National Transport Survey in 2019.

Figures for what percentage of people in Dublin do similar weren’t available to Codema, said Ahern. (A CSO statistician wasn’t available to respond to queries sent Wednesday asking for data relevant to Dublin.)

In Dublin, compared to rural counties, there are likely more short slow drives than longer fast drives because amenities are closer, says Ahern.

That means less fuel is consumed per journey than in places where destinations are further away. “The faster the vehicle is travelling, the more fuel that will consume,” he says.

But it’s still beneficial to reduce smaller journeys by fossil-fuelled transport, he says. “It’s always going to improve, not so much the carbon emissions, but the harmful diesel fumes, for air quality and congestion.”

Longer and shorter journeys need to all be tackled, Ahern says, and it might be easier to lure people out of their cars in Dublin because people are closer to amenities. “That would be the easy win for Dublin.”

Busy Lives

Dublin City Council has said it is adopting a “15-minute city” approach, which means amenities like shops, parks and schools should all be within a 15-minute walk or cycle from each Dubliner’s home.

In a recent “Your City, Your Voice” survey, 80 percent of the 1,053 respondents said they already lived in a 15-minute city, the council reported in February.

But still, people are opting for cars for short journeys.

According to the 2019 CSO report, of those journeys by car under 2km, nationally 14.2 percent were people going to work, while 29.5 percent were people driving others somewhere, and 26.5 percent were for shopping.

Mamin Kazia says he doesn’t like driving to the shops or to take his daughter to creche – but it’s so much faster than other ways of getting around.

Kazia lives deep in a long housing estate in Swords. The walk to the shop is less than 2km, but he drives.

It’s not impossible to walk, Kazia says. “It just takes way too much of my time. If I take the car, I can get the entire thing done in five, 10 minutes.”

It would also take too long to hop on the bus to take his daughter to creche in the mornings in Malahide, he says. The stop is 1.2km away – so he drives.

“I constantly miss being near a bus stop,” he says. “[Driving] is a more active thing where I need to focus and pay attention. I can just relax while walking or taking the bus.”

Switching away from cars doesn’t always have to mean more travel time though, says Jean Mitchell, who has been cycling to work and for short journeys for eight years.

Cycling is more convenient for short journeys, she says. “You’d be back before you get there in the first place in the car.”

As she sees it, some of the difficulty is habit. Her friends just can’t picture making similar changes, she says. “When I would say to my friends, you don’t really need to use the car for everything. They can’t get their head around it.”

People should be incentivised to switch, says Christina Dibelius, who says she made a conscious effort to shift to cycling through 2021, to reduce her carbon footprint and be more active.

“It can be stressful when you are a parent, and you have too much to do,” she says. “There are so many families like mine, so busy, with an activity every day.”

Schools should offer kids prizes for biking to school, or something to incentivise people to do it, she says.

Sometimes she has to give her kids lifts in the car, but she does her own journeys on the bike, she says. “Definitely more energising than being stuck in traffic.”

In Coventry in the United Kingdom, the local council is trialling a scheme to pay people £3,000 in “mobility credits” to give up their cars – money they can use to buy a bike or spend on public transport.

In Brussels in Belgium, residents who cancel their licence plates can also get up to €900 to spend on other sustainable ways to get about – and access to a mobility coach to help them work out the best alternatives.

“Once you start using the bike for small journeys, you realise that actually it’s far more convenient,” says Mitchell.

But she has learnt a few other things too, she says. It rains less than she thought, she says. But it feels more dangerous than she anticipated too.

The city needs more protected cycle lanes, she says. “It’s very, not really safe on the road.”

Mitchell’s daughter will start cycling to school on her own this year, she says. “I’m being brave about it. But like I’m also thinking, are we insane given the way that drivers treat cyclists?”

Shorter Cuts

Kazia, in Swords, says his estate could have a cut-through route that would make a more direct walk to the shops and bus stop. Right now, the cut-through gets too muddy and you can’t bring a buggy through it.

“If they put in a walking path to go straight to the shops, it could actually make my life a lot easier,” he says, as it would shave at least five minutes walking off the journey.

He hasn’t mentioned it to Fingal County Council yet, he says. “I should do that.”

If there was a path, he might walk more often, he says. “It’s frustrating to walk around walls and muddy places.”

Adam Connaughton on the R139. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

Ahern, from Codema, says that within Dublin city centre, many places are walkable and bikeable. But as you get further out, fewer places are, he says.

“There might not be good quality footpaths, you might be waiting for a long time at junctions, there might not be pedestrian crossings,” he says.

That needs to be dealt with, he said. And pedestrians and cyclists should be given the highest priority on the road, he said.

Pedestrians should be at the top of road designers’ priorities, followed by cyclists, and public transport and private motor vehicles, says the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets _(DMURS_).

“Local authorities have been very slow to redesign the urban areas to really make it more convenient for people to walk and cycle,” says Ahern.

Making it quicker and safer to get around by car and bike and public transport is one side of the equation.

Good cycle networks and public transport are carrots to lure people out of cars but there needs to be a stick too, says Ahern. “There doesn’t seem to have been really even the slightest inconvenience for motorists in Dublin.”

Driving has to be made inconvenient, he says, with measures to restrict cars from more spaces, so that pedestrians and cyclists can go about freely.

More measures similar to changes on Capel Street, Grangegorman Road Lower, and Pigeon House Road, where bollards have been added to prevent car access and open up streets for pedestrians, cyclists and children to play.

Charles Musselwhite, a transport psychology expert at Aberystwyth University, says the environment needs to feel like walking and cycling is welcome there.

“People are simply put off by too much traffic or too fast traffic,” he says. “It should look and feel attractive and you should want to be there.”

In Donaghmede, with his daughter Ava sitting on his cargo bike as he walks up the R139, Connaughton says he drove everywhere until the pandemic.

Then, he realised he wasn’t getting any exercise by driving to the shop for small bits, so he started cycling.

He still finds it dangerous, as does his wife, who drives to work at the creche rather than cycle with the kids on the bike along that road.

“She’s just about happy to cycle by herself,” he says. “Ideally, it shouldn’t be this much work to take that option. It’s very much that you are the outlier.”

If there was a cut-through out of his estate, she and others might walk. Ava’s future school, Stapolin Educate Together, is practically in his back garden.

Yet without a cut-through out of the estate, some of his neighbours are planning on driving their kids, he says.

Author:

Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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