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The proposal

A Dublin City Council proposal for closure of College Green to through East/West traffic is out for public consultation. This follows on from the Dublin City Centre Transport Study, which was out to consultation in summer 2015. The need for changes is being driven by opening in 2017 of Luas Cross-city. The Study also made improved provision for cyclists and pedestrians, and targeted a substantial reduction in car traffic into Dublin city centre, with increased shares for both public transport and cycling.

The new plan includes a change in College Green. Where it was planned to restrict access to/from College Green/Dame St. to buses and taxis, the new plan closes off this route to all vehicular traffic. Arguments for this are:

  • clash of westbound traffic with trams and buses coming out of Grafton St. (formerlybuses came down Church Lane)
  • difficulty in accommodating cyclists
  • the creation of a civic space in College Green.

The proposal will have a significant number of buses sharing the Luas line between Dawson St./Nassau St. junction and College St./Westmoreland St. junction in both directions. This should be a quicker, more direct route for these buses, thereby gaining time and making them more attractive. However, for buses that currently run via Dame St., it would involve significant rerouting, with longer journeys, displacement of bus stops and a very intense bus operation on both north and south quays.

Targets for traffic by mode

This can be evaluated in the context of expected/targeted development of transport modes over the next few years. The main measure is the & “cordon count”peak numbers of people crossing the canals into the city in the morning and out in the evening. Another measure is the profile of transport used by city centre shoppers.

The target for 2020 is to reduce car share on the cordon count from 33% (in 2014) to 20%, while increasing public transport from 48% to 55%. Most ambitious target is to triple cycling share from 5% to 15%. In promoting and facilitating sustainable modes in how we manage our streets, we need to consider Luas, bus, cycling and walking. Private cars are an unsustainable mode, while off street rail is not a factor in how we manage our streets. On Street Sustainable Modes (which I will call OSSM) account for 51% on the cordon count, and are planned as 66% in 2020. They currently account for 77% of shoppers, so shoppers are more likely to use OSSM, while less likely to use cars or trains than commuters.

Will it work?

The test of the traffic plan is whether or not it will facilitate the achievement of the targets. In reading it, one can’t but be impressed at the attention given to improving facilities for pedestrians and cyclists, while Luas speaks for itself, it has huge investment to give a high quality mode for those lucky enough to live or travel near to its routes. Yet the abiding impression is that buses are expected to increase share, while getting whatever road space is left after the needs of other modes have been fulfilled, rather than having specific attention paid to their needs.

Some facts and figures will help to represent this. Dublin City Council claim that provision of a cycle lane through College Green will facilitate 6.500 cyclists a day, or about 2 million a year. Yet buses being displaced from this corridor carry 32 million passengers a year. Which is more important to facilitate?

Even if cycling triples its share as targeted, and even if none of this growth comes from those who currently walk, and even with Luas CrossCity, buses will still account for 50% of those crossing the cordons using On Street Sustainable Modes. Buses are by far the most important mode for getting people into and out of our city in a sustainable way, with effective use of road space. Yet the attention in planning is focused on the needs of the other modes.

Is that a fair comment to make? Yes, we have plenty of bus lanes, mostly there since the 1990s. Yes, we have the Bus Gate, which has been very effective in improving reliability, but this will be gone in the new scenario. Yes, it is planned to improve bus priority on certain routes, including the Quays.

So overall, we have done much to make it easier for buses to travel along corridors into and out of the city. But we have restricted the space that they need within the city core in order to meet their customer needs effectively. This has happened progressively due to Luas Red Line (loss of Abbey St. terminals); removal of bus stops in Lower O’Connell St.; Luas Cross-City (loss of key stops in Marlboro St., College St., Lower Grafton St., Lower O’Connell St.); and now College Green proposals. This despite the fact that bus customers, as much as Luas customers and cyclists, are the people we need to nurture in order to maintain mobility and economic benefits, while making our city sustainable.

There is, of course, scarce road space in the city. But if we keep squeezing the space for buses to facilitate Luas, cyclists and pedestrians, how can we expect buses to deliver their targets? International norms for buses are to have stops every 300m, or in some cases (such as London) every 400m. We have buses with gaps of 1000m, a full kilometre, between stops in the city. What is the point of having bus lanes to get buses into the city if they simply drive through without stopping to let anyone on or off where there need to go?

A need for prioritising

I am suggesting that, in planning our traffic in the city, given the high volumes we expect buses to deliver, we have to set specific targets for how we provide for buses. These should include:

  •  stops in city centre every 300m to 400m, in line with norms and best practice
  •  terminal points for longer distance and low frequency routes, either on street or off street  (routes that normally take more than 50 minutes from city centre or which operate every half hour or less)
  •  priority in "city core" (circle from Spire to Trinity College and Butt Bridge to Halpenny Bridge) to city buses, with long distance services outside this area
  •  street capacity to match demand (number of buses per hour) – issue here is, for example, can the Quays cope with the volume of buses planned under the proposed

Delivering these for the 50% of On Street Sustainable Mode users who use the bus is every bit as important as delivering for the Luas and for cyclists. There needs to be some balance, some give and take, between the modes, with decisions based on numbers of people to be facilitated, rather than on strength of lobbying. scenario?

The College Green plan has many worthy and positive aspects, and will be very popular with & “city realm” and cycling interests. It also looks good for users of bus routes that will share the Luas corridor. But for users of other routes, which account for 32m journeys a year, it is not clear that either rerouted journeys or new stop locations will be an incentive or a disincentive to use buses. There is not enough information to form a judgement, but my hunch is that loss of stops in Dame St., D’Olier St. and Westmoreland St. will be a strong negative for many users of these routes.

Bob Laird (FCILT)


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