A Car-Free Dublin Is All Well And Good – But It Could Cripple Us If We Don't Have Decent Public Transport

"The Transport Minister has admitted that spending is €300m short of what's needed to maintain the transport system we already have"


You’ve probably seen the headlines over the past week warning that cars are to be banned from large chunks of the city centre. Dublin City Council made the announcement in its new Dublin City Centre Transport Study that would see big changes in how private vehicles access the city centre.

Understandably, people who drive into the city are gnashing teeth at the thought of an already congested city centre being cut off to them completely.

But those headlines were a tad disingenuous. Private vehicles will still be able to access most of the areas they currently do, it's just that they'll need to do so in a different way.


Many of the proposals announced by the Council last week still need to be ironed out. Some of those include the pedestrianisation of Suffolk Street and St Stephen’s North, between the main entrance to the Green and the top of Kildare Street.

Also of contention are proposals that would see private cars banned from Westmoreland Street, Bachelor’s Walk and another as yet unspecified location on the south side of the River Liffey – most likely George’s Quay. The current peak time ban on private cars on College Green will also be extended to 24 hours, meaning only buses and taxis will be able to travel through that area at all times.

Remember Grafton Street?

Bold proposals such as this will always cause initial controversy. Speak to any Dubliner over the age of 50 and they'll be able to recall the time when cars and buses were able to drive three abreast down Grafton Street. The decision to pedestrianise the street in the late 1970s was considered radical at the time and prompted people to take to the streets in protest. Three decades on, and a pedestrianised Grafton Street is the jewel in Ireland’s shopping crown and an accepted part of Dublin life.

We can expect more of the same too. More and more people are coming to live and work in Dublin. Government employment forecasts and historic trends suggest that there will be 43,000 more jobs created in Dublin each year for the next five years. That means 215,000 more commuters by 2020.

Courageous plans are necessary if we really want to make Dublin a great place to live, work and visit. The economy is growing again, which something we all want. But with growth comes a new set of problems: busier roads, longer commute times, congested buses and trains, rising rents, and a dwindling housing supply.

The way we engage with the city centre has to change. Anyone walking around Dublin these days can see how the city is transforming; more pedestrians on the pavements, a new much-needed Luas line is being constructed through the heart of the city, tourists are back in their droves, cranes are back on the skyline and cafes, restaurants and shops are all seeing a pick-up in trade.


Employment distribution according to 2011 cenus da

We can expect more of the same too. More and more people are coming to live and work in Dublin. Government employment forecasts and historic trends suggest that there will be 43,000 more jobs created in Dublin each year for the next five years. That means 215,000 more commuters by 2020.

The main concern for commuters is that they can get into, out of and around the city easily and without lengthy delays. A sluggish economy and fewer people working have meant we haven’t had to face up to the issue in recent years.


But the picture is changing. Usage of Dublin’s roads and public transport will soon be back to pre-recession levels, and that’s not good news for anyone who uses the city on a regular basis.

Known for gridlock

It’s a potential turn off for companies too. Quality of life issues like congestion and commute times are a big consideration for companies – and their staff – when deciding where to locate. If Dublin becomes known for gridlock (we are already the fourth most congested city in Europe according to recent study by sat nav maker TomTom), there’s a very real risk that big multinationals will start turning their back on Dublin in favour of more competitive and attractive locations. That’s bad news for Ireland as a whole, as experience tells us that a multinational company’s second choice won't be Longford or Leitrim, but rather Zurich or Amsterdam.

Making sure that Dublin remains – and becomes more – attractive is dependent on two things: well thought out, long term plans; and a big increase in the amount of money being invested by the Government in infrastructure.

Indeed, the under-investment in infrastructure over the past seven years is one of the main reasons for Dublin’s current slide towards gridlock. The Government’s current plans are to spend around €150m per year on transport in the Greater Dublin Area – the engine of the national economy.


But that’s nowhere near enough. Why? For starters, it’s around two to three times less than what rival cities such as Manchester and London are spending.

But that aside, Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has admitted that Government spending is €300m short of what is needed to simply maintain the transport system we already have. So, not only are we not getting the new rail lines and improved frequencies that we desperately need, but the potholes in the roads (and cycle lanes) that we already have are not getting fixed.

If car users are to be persuaded to leave their cars at home in favour of walking, cycling or public transport, this quite simply has to change. People won’t be enticed to walk past the car in their driveway in favour of the bus or train, unless the offer is compelling.

A much-improved city

The Council’s new transport plan won’t solve the problem on its own, but it will play a big part in shaping the future look, feel and usability of Dublin.

While the initial draft plan has been written, arguably the most important stage of the process comes now – during the consultation phase, open until July 16 – when the people and businesses of Dublin get to have their say on the parts of the plan that will work and, crucially, those that won’t. As a Chamber we’ll be submitting our thoughts on behalf of our members. We would encourage all businesses and city users to make their own submissions too.

The prize for getting this plan right couldn’t be bigger for Dubliners: a much-improved city that we can all live in, work in, and enjoy.

Gina Quin is CEO of Dublin Chamber of Commerce

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