A Plan to Make Drivers Hate Downtown Dublin

While this post is about Dublin, Ireland, it could just as easily be about Toronto and it’s problematic and challenging love/hate relationship with it’s “street furniture,” “publicly accessible private space” and the street-maiming “outdoor advertising strategy.” Just so you know, I’m all for limiting private cars in Toronto’s core – so long as it comes with improved and elegant public transit – Ed.

Dublin, Ireland, is considering a new approach to its dense downtown core that will prioritize space for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit. As the The Irish Times reports, car through-traffic would be strongly discouraged in the city’s center under a new plan developed by city planners.

Titled Your City, Your Space, the draft strategy notes that more than 500,000 people access the city centre daily – 235,000 workers, 45,000 students, 120,000 shoppers or other visitors and 116,000 inner city residents.

Notwithstanding the recession, it states that projections for 2020 suggest figures could increase to 350,000 workers, 70,000 students and 180,000 residents. This would “put pressure on the public realm”, requiring reallocation of road space.

Though car traffic and service will still be a logistical reality for many businesses in the city center, Dublin’s planners foresee that most of the future movement within the area will be on foot. The report notes that “Dublin City Council has reduced reliance on the private car for commuting to 34% and aims to further reduce it to 20%.” Limiting road space for automobiles is intended to improve the flow of non-car traffic, an idea that’s aimed at improving the public realm. The idea is also, by extension, about improving the economy by increasing the efficiency of movement in the central business district.

But the economy itself may be what prevents such a proposal from taking hold. City officials acknowledge that making public space improvements like removing erratically placed street furniture to reduce pedestrian congestion or building more space into sidewalks for tree plantings are highly desirable. With such improvements, though, come the inevitable maintenance costs. The report suggests privatization as one option. “The potential, for example, for publicly accessible areas to be privately managed needs to be encouraged.”

The city is also considering an “outdoor advertising strategy” that’s intended to subsidize some of the proposed street-level improvements, like the provision of ad-covered street furniture. This, coupled with the privatization suggested by the report, may provide the funding needed to create the sort of public realm Dublin planners envision. But such private control inherently reduces the public-ness of the space, and that should be a consideration as the public weighs in on the plan between now and January 25.

Photo credit: Flickr user infomatique

Nate Berg is staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Martin on August 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Ed, it is folly to compare Dublin to Toronto. Having spent many years living in, working in and visiting Dublin I can attest to the fact that the only similarity Dublin has to Toronto is the fact that both cities have people, and vehicles on its roads.

    Dublin was first formed in the Viking era and as it grew it did so in a very haphazard manner. Look at any map of Dublin and you will see that it is most assuredly not built on a grid system. Roads, squares and the entire geography of the city were established long before the advent of the motor vehicle; as is the case in many old European cities. Toronto by comparison is a relative new born and is based solely on a grid system.

    Further, Dublin is split in two by the River Liffey. The north side is dominated by O’Connell Street, which used to be the 2nd or 3rd widest street in the world until it was narrowed significantly in order to accommodate pedestrians. The south side is a rabbit warren of narrow streets with Trinity College in the middle of it causing a natural choke point.

    In short Dublin was never designed for the automobile, but Toronto was. As long as I can remember, and that is quite some time now, Dublin traffic has been bad. Simply getting across the river was an exercise in frustration; even in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.

    And please trust me on this, Toronto’s gridlock is NOTHING compared to what happens in Dublin each and every morning. I drive every day in Toronto and seldom do I see anything that even remotely compares to what I have experienced in Dublin.

    But, I have to give credit where credit it due. Dublin has systematically addressed their issues over a period of time. They have invested (well, the EU has) in improving their public transport systems.

    When I was growing up all Dublin had was the bus, and only the bus. But Dublin appreciated the predicament it was in and sought ways to alleviate the congestion. In 1984 the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) network was introduced. Using old railway lines (some of which are the very first track ever laid in Ireland) Dublin’s version of the GO train was introduced. Since then it has been expanded and now carries 80,000+ passengers per day.

    In 2004 the LUAS (an LRT system) was introduced. It also currently carries 80,000+ passengers per day, and while it is presently a bit disjointed expansion plans will see it integrated into existing bus and rail networks.

    Dublin had the wisdom to invest in new systems during the boom times. Alas Toronto has not had that political will since the early ‘70s. Having said that, I would be remiss in not pointing out the fact that the LUAS has had some issues “getting along with” pre-existing systems: including some Dublin buses.

    However, one thing the grandiose proposal from Dublin City Council failed to recognize is the notoriously poor weather. You cannot expect people to walk when it is pissing down with rain and when that happens (and it does with some degree of regularity) people will resort to old habits.

    I am not entirely certain how things will pan out over the coming years, but many Dubliners do not support the proposals that were put forth. Nonetheless, the fact remains that Dublin has actually done something to address their issues while Toronto has been spinning its wheels for the best part of 40 years. And with all of the politics being played at City Hall there does not appear to be any improvement in sight.


  2. Thanks for the commentsMartin. I’ll take your word for it that Toronto’s traffic problem pale in comparison to Dublin. One this I’m sure we can agree, in order to get people out of their cars we need to made it either a) incredibley desirable to do so, or b) incredibly painful not to! Now if we can only start systemically addressing the traffic woes that Toronto does have – not-with-standing the comparison to Dublin. Ed


  3. Posted by Martin on August 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I vote for option a). Give people a better option and they will use it. But simply making it inconvenient or too expensive will simply drive (no pun intended) people away and that will not help the City’s economy.

    Having said that, I am not certain we really have the political will to do it. We really have left it too long. All of this should have been done when the City had less than 2 million inhabitants, not when it has 3.2+ million. All of the work being discussed will create an absolute disaster of mess for traffic. Can you imagine what Don Mills and Eglinton will be like for years while all of the work is done?

    Thanks, but no thanks. Bracebridge is looking more and more inviting all the time.

    Take care, and keep up the good work. Dieppe (aka Dippy Park) needs all the friends it can get.


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