Ask Google Maps how to get from Harold’s Cross to the airport on a Friday afternoon and the first option it offers is straight through the core city centre – up Clanbrassil Street, across the O’Donovan Rossa Bridge, along Dorset Street, through Drumcondra and north.

Even though the driver is not going to the core city centre, Google Maps sends them through it. This is not what Dublin City Council wants.

But between 7am and 7pm, 68 percent of vehicles crossing the canals – mostly private cars – were not heading to a destination in the core city centre, council transport head Brendan O’Brien said at a recent meeting.

The council is working on a new city-centre traffic plan, O’Brien said, and one of its goals will be to reroute these drivers around the heart of the city.

Going from Harold’s Cross, for example, the third option Google Maps offers loops around it: along the Grand Canal, out through Irishtown, across the Tom Clarke Bridge, and north onto the M50 to the airport.

This route would take one minute more, according to Google Maps. But it would also move the vehicle traffic, noise and air pollution out of the core city centre.

At the June meeting of the council’s transport committee when council staff and councillors were discussing the new city-centre traffic plan, and the goal of routing cars not headed to the core city centre around it, one big question was – how?

Green Party Councillor Janet Horner suggested that using “technological solutions” might be the way to go, and mentioned Google Maps.

It seems that transport planners in cities across Europe have been thinking along similar lines – and so, European Union institutions have been too.

The EU law

Under a previous EU law, agreed nearly 10 years ago, “service providers” like Google Maps were only required to “take into account, as far as possible” city traffic plans.

But a revised version, agreed last year, goes much further in obligating mappers to work with Dublin City Council and other road authorities across Europe.

“Delegated Regulation (EU) 2022/670 could indeed allow for Dublin City Council (DCC) to indirectly reroute traffic through the use of sat navs,” Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe said by email on 19 June.

A spokesperson from Ireland’s Department of Transport said that “No specific changes are needed in Ireland to enable this.”

The law is due to go into force in a staged way – impacting different types of roads at different times – between 2025 and 2027.

“It would be 1st January 2028 before Delegated Regulation (EU) 2022/670 would apply to all roads, including those in Dublin city centre,” said Cuffe, the Green Party MEP.

At the moment, service providers and road authorities are working together through an EU-funded project called NAPCORE, to talk through how best to implement it.

They’re getting to know each other’s goals, challenges and processes, said Annet van Veenendaal, of the Netherlands’ Nationaal Dataportaal Wegverkeer or National Road Traffic Data Portal, who is active in NAPCORE.

They’re working to come up with common definitions of terms like “traffic circulation plan”, and to decide in what format to gather and share data, van Veenendaal said on a video call on Friday.

“They [service providers] do not want to have different solutions in the Netherlands, France, Italy,” she said.

Similar experiences

In February, van Veenendaal moderated an online NAPCORE meeting.

Representatives of road authorities from across Europe talked about what they’d like to get out of the new law.

Meanwhile, representatives of mapping service providers such as Google and TomTom listened in, and asked questions.

Different cities offered different cases of what they’d like to work with service providers to achieve.

Making sure HGVs follow appropriate routes, or rerouting vehicles around big events or road construction to avoid traffic.

Tim Claeys of the Belgian city of Ghent talked about routing vehicles away from small city centre streets if they’re not going there.

“What we see in our city is that there’s route guiding without destination through neighbourhoods and streets which are not designed for large volumes of traffic,” he said. “And this relates much to the livability in that streets relates to road safety.”

“The streets are usually much more narrow. There’s more pedestrians, there’s no separate lanes for cyclists and so on. So we want to have fewer motorists traffic in these streets,” he said.

At the moment, there’s no system that really works to ask service providers like Google Maps to reroute vehicles, Claeys said.

“We offered to share all sorts of information regarding strategies, road classification, routing requests and whatnot,” he said.

“And all the big navigation services said that, well, they were unable to kind of put this into their systems, because, well, there is no standard and if we start doing this for one city, then all the other cities will start to get these requests as well,” he said.

Vincent Lau, of the municipality of Amsterdam, talked about similar issues in his city.

“The car-centric point of view is really shifting towards a more quality-of-life point of view in most European cities,” he said.

But “Abstractly, the problem that we see is that the desired use of our public space … is not how the public space is actually used,” he said.

“Routing services do make this worse,” he said, by sending drivers through the fastest, shortest, most economical route – whether that route’s meant for lots of traffic or not.

“We see worse air, noise, quality of life, safety, emergency services problems, and additionally, infrastructure that will just collapse because it was never meant to sustain the amount of vehicles sent by many services,” he said.

Since there’s not a good way to work with service providers to keep them from routing traffic through, say, residential neighbourhoods to save a minute or two, cities are taking other steps to prevent this, Lau said.

“We see that cities are taking increasingly draconian measures and closing off routes for all travel,” he said. “We see the need for robotic bollards to close off certain neighbourhoods.”

Back to Dublin

In Ireland, the Department of Transport is aware of these efforts at the European level to deal with this issue.

“The Department and its agencies … regularly attend EU meetings on the ITS [Intelligent Transport Systems] Directive and its supplementary delegated regulations,” the department spokesperson said.

Whether this is a mechanism that the council plans to lean on to reroute traffic that’s not going to the city centre, around it though, is unclear.

A council spokesperson did not give responses to a series of queries on how it planned to do this, whether working with companies like Google Maps was part of its strategy, and whether it was aware of the work on the EU level on this issue.

“The city centre transport study update is an objective of the Dublin City Development plan 2022 to 2028 and the updated study will be published in the next number of months,” the spokesperson said.

Horner, the Green Party councillor, said that waiting for the EU law to kick in to help with the issue shouldn’t be Dublin’s only strategy to get cars not headed to the city centre to go around it, rather than through it.

“I think it’s great that the EU are doing something on this,” she said. “I think we shouldn’t be holding our breath waiting for the EU because that will take years.”

Georg von Harrach is a Europe journalist based in Brussels for Channel 4 News and international broadcasters. He has been reporting about the European Union for more than a decade. He tweets @georgvh.

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