Last Saturday, a 150-year-old pharmacy went out of business in the heart of a Dublin village. A coffee shop will replace it.
It had taken two years for the words of a high-ranking Council official to come true. When it was announced that the street outside would be pedestrianized, the pharmacist disagreed, saying, “How will my elderly customers come by to pick up their prescriptions?”
She was told they could use the new public car park. This involves a 600m round trip, crossing a busy road and navigating a steep ramp. The official’s response to the dealer’s disbelief in the viability of this system has never been forgotten on the ground: “Well, there has to be collateral damage if we’re to make any progress.”
Also last week, in similar circumstances, jewelers in Fairview, Dublin, announced they were closing their family business after 40 years. Loss of access for cars and on-street parking to allow for new pedestrian and cycling facilities is cited as the cause.
Meanwhile, in Lucan, more than 7,000 people out of 15,269 residents have formally objected to a Main Street redesign, largely because of the associated loss of parking space. The mayor there reportedly said the program was good for the area, while noting that “a lot of people object to it; we received a big petition”.
This story is repeated in many places across the country. The courts are filled with lawsuits from local interest groups trying to stop the implementation of these plans. Each drama seems to contain the same key elements: prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists over cars; innovative and experimental plans pushed by officials and actively opposed by local businesses.
Many are surprised at how large these “urban villages” are. Swords, Leixlip and Lucan each have populations equivalent to large, important county towns such as Tullamore. Planners see this as the key to a sustainable future by improving the quality of pedestrian environments and public spaces – and yet they are being degraded at an alarming rate.
Something is obviously wrong. Why? Urban planning is like cooking. For a successful dish, the ingredients must be used in the right proportions. Too many embattled plans seem like a sluggish chef using too much of his favorite ingredient — in this case, walking or cycling. Then there’s the detail, especially around pedestrians. Enthusiasts are often unaware of how much “mere details” about incline, steps, traffic, path width and distance attract or detract from “pedestrians” – the holy grail of urban living.
“Where’s the damage?” It is not uncommon for objections to be dismissed because walking and cycling are inherently good – for health, for the environment and for quality of life. In reality, poorly designed public systems can be extremely detrimental to the well-being of businesses and communities. Through the unconscious or thoughtless discrimination of large social groups, poorly planned urban interventions can also impair the future viability of these areas. Urban centers that discriminate against businesses in favor of amenities have no future.
These problems stem from a combination of factors including a lack of advice, dogmatic approaches, poor business alignment and the merging of recreational and mobility cycling.
A big factor is an ill-informed, unbalanced, uncritical, and arguably biased attitude towards cycling combined with an increasing hostility towards car use. This serious problem is that the mobility needs of large sections of the population – especially older citizens and women – are not taken into account.
Our increasingly aging population has been hit particularly hard: 90 percent of older adults rely on cars rather than public transportation. Older women are particularly affected, with the 72 percent who typically drive themselves dropping to just 30 percent of those over 75. At this age, more than half of all women travel primarily as drivers – usually in a car driven by another woman.
Then there is the issue of distance.
Fitness walking is very different from functional walking. Many are surprised to learn that the “walking ability” for an average person has an upper limit of about five minutes. When forced, people walk up to eight minutes to a bus stop and up to 12 minutes to a train. When not exercising, nobody walks more than 15 minutes – only 750 m.
These numbers are lower for women, lower with age, and lower for those carrying groceries or small children.
It’s also important to realize that decisions about walking are heavily influenced by the weather, especially rain; Time of day and perceptions about public safety. Again, all of these factors have a much greater impact on children, women and the elderly.
It’s time to stop removing parking spaces. Cars may all go electric, but drivers will still have to park. Maybe now we need to start investing in downtown parking – multi-storey or underground. We must be willing to spend around €15m or incentivize to provide any purpose built parking structure for 300 vehicles within 250m from the center of any place where we want to keep village life.
Progress is not cheap. If we are serious about sustainable mobility, we need to invest in cars and parking spaces.
For comparison: We spend more than 350 million euros annually on pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure – this budget alone would be enough to revitalize more than 20 cities per year. In three years we would have these in every settlement with more than 10,000 inhabitants; four years later we had them in every place of more than 5,000.
These problems strongly reflect similar planning errors in the past. In the 1960s and 1970s, many cities were badly damaged because of their over-emphasis on faster cars.
During the same period, most public facilities were designed almost exclusively to provide playing fields that only accommodated men between the ages of 15 and 35 – without considering the rest of the population. Are we making the same mistakes again?
We will all have to live with the consequences for the next 20 years. Are we really prepared for the hearts of our cities to become the collateral damage of these failed experiments?
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/banning-cars-may-please-the-green-lobby-but-its-killing-our-town-centres-41560362.html Car bans may please the green lobby, but it’s killing our inner cities