Could Dubliners Do Their Big Shops on Foot Instead of by Car?

Lois Hegarty perches her baby daughter, in a pink dress and pink headband, on her hip, and with the other arm, starts to unload her overflowing shopping trolley into the boot of her car.

It’s Friday and she’s just done her big shop for the week at the Dunnes Stores at the Crumlin Shopping Centre. Her mother, Karen Salmon, stands by her own trolley filled with her weekly shopping load, too.

“We go together as well so at least we’re getting both houses done, so there’s no kind of having to run back out again,” says Hegarty.

She drives from her home on Kevin Street, picks up her mother from Marrowbone Lane, and drives to Crumlin, she says.

With how busy her week is, she has to do all her shopping at once, except for bits like milk or bread which she’ll grab while on other trips, she says.

“We’re like in a hurry trying to get all this done so we can go home and do everything else we have to do,” she says, in mock exasperation. “Like everyone else, I suppose.”

Of those journeys by car under 2 kilometres, nationally, 26.5 percent were for shopping, according to the Central Statistics Office’s 2019 travel survey.

Dublin figures aren’t available. But if the city is to push, as some energy experts have called for, for people to cut short journeys by car, then the weekly shop could be one trip to look at – but how?

Too Much to Carry

People make more than 21 percent of journeys in Dublin of less than 2 kilometres by car,

according to data from the Central Statistics Office.

But for Dublin – unlike for the nation as a whole – it’s not possible to break down the purposes of those short journeys and how many were for shopping, said Maureen Delamere, a CSO statistician, because of the small sample size.

Outside Dunnes Stores on Friday, Ciara Carroll was waiting with a trolley of shopping for her husband to collect her in his van.

She had walked down to the shops, she says, from the Lissadel area nearby – less than 2km away. “It’s walking distance, but not walking home with all this,” she says.

John Doyle and Trisha Keogh live in Crumlin too, they say, about 2km from here. But they can’t walk to pick up their big shop, either.

“It’s too much to carry all this,” Keogh says.

Other Ways?

Dublin is far from the only city facing this challenge.

In the state of Vermont in the US, the organisation Net Zero Vermont set up a Walk To Shop initiative in April 2021.

The plan was to sell shopping trolleys to people in the city of Burlington, says Stu Lindsay, a project coordinator for Walk to Shop.

The idea came from a presentation called “How do people walk and carry things?” at a Walk21 conference on walking. “The question stuck with us and never went away,” says Lindsay.

(This year’s Walk21 summit is due to be held in Dublin in September, and Lindsay is a scheduled speaker.)

Walk to Shop set out in April to get people to use 20 trolleys in Burlington. Between May and November, it had placed 146 trolleys, says its final report.

They surveyed these new trolley owners, 67 of whom responded, and of these, “59% of the survey respondents indicated that their trolley allows them to leave their car at home and 50% said they leave their car at home two or more times per week”.

Lindsay says they stood outside at farmer’s markets and grocery stores selling trolleys, showing people how light they were, and maps of how far they could get in a 15-minute walk.

“So we asked, why don’t they walk? And the biggest impediment is the ability to carry the groceries,” says Lindsay. “The cart removes that excuse.”

Using a trolley is actually more convenient, says Phil Hammerslough, a Walk to Shop project coordinator. “Instead of going out and doing a 30-minute walk through exercise, do a 30-minute walk to go grocery shopping.”

Hammerslough says he and his wife use the trolley, but his children don’t.

They work and look after their own children, he says. “They are very aware of how they don’t have time to amble down to the store and pick up groceries.”

Lindsay says for some people, they hope they use the trolley to substitute an occasional trip, and hopefully then it just builds into a habit. “Maybe this time, they can leave the Range Rover,” he says wryly.

Trolleys in Dublin

Barbara Clifford says she has never owned a car.

On Friday, she’s walking back from Tesco’s in Dolphin’s Barn pulling her shopping on a trolley cart behind her. A 7up bottle and a sprig of spring onion peek out of the bag.

“I think these are easier,” she says. “You never have to wait in traffic. It might be a bit of hassle with the weight of the trolley, but at least you’re home.”

She’s shopping for three people in her household, and three dogs. So she goes three or four times a week, she says. “It does be very heavy. But like that, I don’t have to pay tax, insurance, I don’t have to pay for fuel.”

Clifford has to buy new trolleys relatively frequently, though, she says, as they break from the weight. “I know I’m putting loads into it.”

But she much prefers the trolley. “I don’t have to wait around on anyone, and I’m not holding anyone up,” she says. “And you’re not hurting anyone else, with exhaust [fumes] or whatever.”

It’s a bit of exercise, too, she says. “If you use a trolley, it’s not going to kill you. If you’ve far to go, fair enough, but if you haven’t got far, just use a trolley.”

Brenda Ryan, slamming the boot of her car closed outside Dunnes Stores in Crumlin, says she can’t imagine that a family of five would be able to use a trolley to get all their shopping done.

“You’d be walking up and down every day, and then you’d have to pay for a babysitter as well!” she says, and begins to rush back to her car seat.

“That doesn’t make any sense. None. That’d be only for if you were living on your own and you were just buying things every day,” she says.

Carroll, who has begun to help her husband pack their food into his van, says she’s not so sure about a pulley trolley.

“Ehh … no,” she says, raising her eyebrows. “I’m not at that age yet.”

Doyle, leaning his weight onto the shopping trolley handlebars, says he would do it, if the trolley looked something like this one. “If it was more sturdy. Of course I would.”

It would be handier to unload shopping directly into his house, rather than into his car, because of the logistics of having to put the heavy items on the bottom, he says.

But he’s adamant he wouldn’t use a pulley trolley. “Nah, you wouldn’t catch me pulling one of them,” he says, and Keogh laughs out loud. “No way, not a hope.”

“That’s like sitting on one of those stripey deck chairs when you go to the beach. No thanks. They’re granny chairs,” he says.

Closer By

How many Dubliners are, these days, actually within walking distance of a supermarket is a key piece of missing data.

According to a study on food deserts from 2009, on average, people in Dublin lived 1,373.05 metres from their nearest supermarket, and 856.19 metres from their nearest convenience store.

There isn’t more recent data than this, says Richard Layte, a professor of sociology at Trinity College Dublin, and co-author of the study, which was focused on diet, health and distance from food shops.

“Nobody has paid for that data to be collected,” he says, but the research is needed. “We’d like to be able to understand the factors that drive dietary patterns.”

Layte says smaller shops closer to people’s houses would be needed if people were to walk instead of drive.

“You need the kind of shopping that tended to be apparent in Ireland before the 1980s or 1970s, where you had local butchers, greengrocers,” he says. “They were specialists that you had to go from shop to shop.”

But smaller shops can’t compete with larger supermarkets now, he says. “They would be undercut in terms of their prices.”

Carroll says she only wants to do shopping once a week. “Getting it and bringing it home and the whole rigmarole, it’s boring!”

Plus, she hardly has time. “Life’s too short to have to do two trips, like. One is enough.”

If she had less to do, she would enjoy walking back and forth, she says. “I’d go every day.”

Hegarty’s daughter sings and claps her hands, making up her own song, as she is strapped into her car seat by her mother.

Hegarty would consider walking to the shops more often if she had less to do every day, and if better quality shops were closer to her home.

“I noticed a lot of people in the houses here who do, they just nip around. It’s because it’s so convenient for them, we wouldn’t be able to do that,” she says.

They are doing their best, she says. “We’re not thinking about the environment. We’re just thinking about, how do we make things easier for ourselves, at the minute.”

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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]

Reader responses

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Stephen Boyd
at 31 August at 18:20

Tescos charge 10 euros a month for deliveries - for me that’s worth it rather than walking, cycling or driving.

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