Q&A: Will Eamon Ryan’s Active Travel Network transform Dublin?

So why has Eamon Ryan’s drive to get Dubliners out of their cars up a gear?

Because the Minister of Transport has launched a series of initiatives that are intended to make our capital much easier to experience by bus, bike or on foot.

Last Friday, Ryan unveiled Dublin City Council’s (DCC) Active Travel Network, which comprises 80 projects aiming to dramatically expand interconnected walking and cycling routes. This was followed Monday by his Pathfinder program, which includes another 35 programs to create greener travel opportunities across the country.

“Be fast, be bold, be bold,” Ryan urges local authorities, claiming fewer cars on our roads can “completely transform” Dublin and elsewhere.

However, a number of recent controversies over local designs have also shown something else – there is limited space, and this process will bring both losers and winners

What exactly is “active travel”?

To quote DCC’s advertising campaign, it’s about “traveling meaningfully on your own power”. In plain language, this means walking, cycling or driving a scooter. While Dublin obviously has plenty of roads to do these things on, it doesn’t usually take too long to get caught up in traffic.

DCC’s existing active travel network is only 10 km long. According to the Council’s new proposals, this will increase to 210 km by 2031. A further 90km of connected infrastructure will be added when the Dublin BusConnects project is complete.

If all goes according to plan, 95 per cent of people in Dublin city will be within 400m of this network – giving them every incentive to leave their car at home or live without it.

Which areas will look the most different?

First of all, the city center should become significantly less car-friendly. The most radical development will be turning College Green into a pedestrian plaza, with DCC beginning to remove lanes there next year.

Ryan has said he wants “major changes” to key locations including Beresford Place, Tara Street, Pearse Street and St Stephen’s Green. Elsewhere, there are a variety of designs to widen footpaths and create separate bike lanes. Examples include the Dodder Greenway, the Liffey Corridor and the Clontarf to City Center project.

Further out in the county we are promised an 11km D24/Tallaght cycle route network and the development of Castletymon and Dún Laoghaire into ’10 minute neighbourhoods’ – meaning that residents at this time and without access to all their daily needs should have wagons.

So what’s the catch?

Quite simply – almost all of these ideas are about either taking away space for cars or reducing parking spaces. That’s a particular concern for downtown merchants, who claim it will have a negative impact on their businesses.

“Some customers need to be able to drive into town,” said Mary Costello, owner of a Chatham Street accessories store business mail.

“[Pedestrianisation] just drives shoppers away and sends them to malls out of town — and they don’t bike there, I can tell you that. There’s this narrow-eyed attitude that it’s the green thing.”​

Does that mean the Active Travel Network won’t expand without some fighting?

Yes, and its supporters have already taken a beating. A proposed cycle lane along Sandymount’s Strand Road had to be abandoned last July after residents successfully challenged it in the Supreme Court.

A similar one at North Quays was also met with objections that traffic would be diverted through neighboring streets. Several businesses on Capel Street opposed to its pedestrianization are also reportedly preparing to file a lawsuit.

Conor Skehan, a former Housing Agency chairman, summed up many people’s fears on Newstalk radio last Monday: “A city without cars is a city without commerce. A city without trade has no future.”​

But isn’t this question more complicated than just business interests versus environmentalists?

Yes. Perhaps the most emotional controversy over the division of transport space is currently taking place at Deansgrange Cemetery in south Dublin.

After objections to the construction of a one-way street and the creation of a cycle lane, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown District Council proposed that bicycles could be diverted 200m through the cemetery instead.

Not surprisingly, some people who regularly visit loved ones at Deansgrange Cemetery are appalled at the idea. A petition to stop them has garnered more than 3,500 signatures, and hundreds of protesters held a candlelit vigil there last Friday.

“I am still absolutely shocked that the Council believes this is an acceptable plan,” said Aoife O’Connor, whose child Emily is buried there. “I would ask any of the councilors who are going to vote on this to stand by my daughter’s grave and tell me that’s the way it is.”

Still, it looks like Dublin’s future direction of travel is clear?

Yes, away from cars. Earlier this month, a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that Ireland’s “current mobility patterns” are inconsistent with our climate change targets.

In particular, it described the government’s plan to have one million electric vehicles on Irish roads by 2030 as “low impact”. In other words, an electric car is still a car and takes up space that could be better used by more environmentally friendly modes of transport.

There is evidence that Dubliners are ready for such a radical change in the way we travel. According to a recent study by the National Transport Authority, Covid-19 has led to an upsurge in cycling, and almost a quarter of Dublin adults now do it at least once a week.

For Caroline Conroy, Mayor of Dublin, failure is not an option. “Our climate is changing faster than we thought…we need to move our people forward faster in greener ways,” she said

Will Dublin’s transport revolution actually happen or could it get stuck in a planning deadlock?

Only time can tell. Dublin has developed a dismal track record of major infrastructure projects, with great designs like MetroLink making their original budgets and deadlines look like a joke.

However, when it comes to the Active Travel Network, DCC CEO Owen Keegan expresses great confidence. “The funding is in place, the team is in place,” he said last week. “These are two very important prerequisites for a successful delivery.”

As for Eamon Ryan, he’s clearly pinning his hopes on a famous line from the film field of dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” Dubliners will soon have to decide if he’s the new Kevin Costner.

https://www.independent.ie/regionals/dublin/dublin-news/q-and-a-will-eamon-ryans-active-travel-network-transform-dublin-42084619.html Q&A: Will Eamon Ryan’s Active Travel Network transform Dublin?

Fry Electronics Team

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