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Should the Dublin city traffic plan go ahead this summer?

Business groups have called for a delay on plans to overhaul traffic flow through Dublin to examine how it will affect businesses. But those in favour say any pause is a vote for status quo of a traffic-clogged city

Billy Hann: Yes. The voices of caution were wrong about the Luas and pedestrianising Grafton Street, and they are wrong now

Dublin City Council’s City Centre Traffic Plan represents the most significant change to the city’s relationship with car traffic in more than 40 years. Change is always challenging. Old ways, old interests, old thinking rarely go gently or quietly.

Predictions once warned that pedestrianising Grafton Street would devastate business on Dublin’s premier shopping street. Similarly, many claimed that introducing a light rail system in Dublin would be a waste of time and money. Cycle lanes on the quays were forecasted to be a disaster, and the smoking ban was supposed to close thousands of pubs and restaurants. All arguments trotted out during previous attempts to make Dublin a nicer place to live and work. And guess what? The voices of caution were wrong then and they are wrong now.

The next time you’re travelling on Dublin Bus, please look out the window at the cars you’re passing by in the city centre. More often than not, you’ll see one person in the car on their own making a journey. Indeed, research now tells us that many of these journeys through the city centre are completely unnecessary, with more than 60 per cent simply passing through. Ask yourself a simple question, is it fair that a line of cars with an average of one person per vehicle delays a bus with 85 people on it? Is it right for the Dublin of 2024? Of course not.

Our city centre is being choked by cars and it is having a real economic impact. Research by the Department of Transport shows congestion cost the city €336 million in 2022 and is expected to increase to €1.5 billion by 2040. There are also many significant environmental, health and social costs, including poor air quality and the negative impacts of stress, inactivity, or time away from family or community. No one can argue this is sustainable.

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Critics may argue that restricting car access to the city centre is inconvenient. But the reality is we must prioritise the collective good over individual comfort and ensure that progress for the city is not dictated by convenience. It is clear that the long-term benefits far outweigh the small sacrifices we may need to make. Cities worldwide, from Copenhagen to Paris, have successfully implemented similar measures, resulting in more liveable and attractive city environments.

A less-congested city centre is more attractive to businesses and tourists. When people find it easy to move around, they are more likely to shop, dine and spend time in the area.

Pausing implementation now is a vote for the status quo, and it is important to set out clearly what the status quo is. Today, it can take up to 29 minutes to travel just 10km in Dublin. The status quo is many hard-working people facing into commutes of an hour or more because their bus is stuck in a line of car traffic. This is clearly not going to convince people to leave the car at home.

I may be wrong, but I can’t see, in the next few years, a great movement calling for the reversal of this plan. “What do we want?” “Traffic congestion!” “When do we want it?’” “Now!” is hardly a rallying call for the generations. People, particularly young people, want a bus service that is reliable, frequent and fast. The biggest barrier to this is the dominance of cars in the city centre.

It’s easy to forget just how far Dublin Bus has come in recent years. Customer numbers have risen by more than 20 million in 10 years, and we have rebounded from the pandemic. This year we will introduce additional services across Dublin and another brand new 24/7 bus route.

These new services need the opportunity to operate in a city centre with significantly fewer cars travelling through it. The City Centre Transport Plan will achieve this and that is why Dublin Bus supports its implementation. We cannot press pause on Dublin’s future.

Billy Hann is chief executive of Dublin Bus

Richard Guiney: No. City traders are extremely anxious and need time for consultation

Cities throughout the world are reducing vehicle movements in response to climate change, congestion costs and a desire for green and welcoming spaces. Dublin is no exception. However, change is difficult and unintended consequences can play havoc with bold and radical visions. City traders are extremely anxious about the implementation of the new traffic plan for Dublin.

Work from home and negative perceptions of the city have reduced footfall and undermined trade, leaving little margin for error in the delivery of these transformative plans.

Dublin Town has consistently called for detailed engagement to avoid negative and damaging consequences. A workshop attended by Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority, together with 100 businesses, was held on May 23rd.

The issue of customer access was omni-present but was overshadowed by concerns around deliveries, access for services such as equipment deliveries, maintenance work, etc, and the need to activate traffic-free spaces to avoid anti-social behaviour.

Businesses which have new bus or cycle lanes outside their premises are struggling to take deliveries of stock and heavy equipment, while construction, repairs and fit-outs are proving immensely challenging. These are obstacles which can be overcome, but they are facts of business life which must be incorporated into the working plans if the city is to continue to function and attract investment.

Dublin City Council undertook to meet businesses individually and collectively to discuss specific concerns raised at the meeting and agreed to re-engage with the broader Dublin Town membership when it has fully considered the points highlighted. It is important there is clarity and a resolution of challenges before the proposals are implemented. It is better to get things right than to implement prematurely.

Dublin Town is committed to working with all parties to help find workable solutions to the challenges posed. This work can be tedious and time consuming, but is essential to the city’s vibrancy. Such an open and constructive approach worked during the construction of Luas Cross City when, despite considerable fears, footfall actually rose during each year of construction.

A number of queries have already been resolved through provision of information. More clarity is urgently required to rapidly close a most unhelpful information gap. Customers, businesses and indeed business suppliers lack the clarity they need to be confident the proposals will work.

Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority are at pains to point out they propose a “low” rather than “no” traffic environment. Car parks will remain accessible, albeit with potentially circuitous access routes. What will change is that bus gates and traffic-free zones will make cross-city routes a less attractive option for drivers.

However, where logistics and repair providers use vehicles which cross the city, reassurance is required that efficient access will be maintained for sites both within and outside the city core. Otherwise, we may well see businesses closing city premises in preference to more serviceable out-of-town locations. Such an outcome will only increase emissions and disperse development.

More widely, market research shows the potential to lose a proportion of city shoppers to car-dependent out-of-town shopping centres, emphasising the need for a region-wide traffic plan, rather than one that is purely city focused. We need detailed plans for the greening and activation of newly freed-up space. In a smart city, we need to develop comprehensive shared delivery systems which reduce delivery vehicle numbers on city roads with resultant reduced costs.

Simultaneously, shared deliveries from city retailers to customers would facilitate sustainable transport use and support the integration of the city’s shopping, socialising and entertainment options. Such models are achievable with a little co-ordination and imagination.

Richard Guiney is chief executive of Dublin Town