Saturday 21 October 2017

'We're effectively making it impossible to access certain streets' - Council chief says car as commute option will be squeezed out

'Game-changer'

Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan. Photo: Mark Condren
Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan. Photo: Mark Condren
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Traffic management plans coming into force by the end of 2017, when Luas Cross City begins operations, will effectively act as a 'congestion charge' as it will be impossible to drive in certain streets.

Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan has outlined the ban on private cars accessing parts of the city centre, including College Green.

A two-way cyclepath on the north quays, with cars and trucks diverted from Ellis and Arran quays into Smithfield, would also allow for more bus priority and a vastly improved walking environment.

It could eventually be extended to the IFSC, and would be a "game changer", he said.

Mr Keegan said Dublin's traffic problems and housing shortage will not be fixed overnight, but a belief that a directly elected mayor will solve all the capital's problems at a stroke of a pen is mistaken.

While there was "merit" to the proposal, the debate to date had been "childish", he said.

Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Greens and Labour have called for a directly elected mayor for the capital, but there has been no real debate on what powers or resources they would have.

"We have this sense we need a directly elected mayor because transport and housing is a 'disaster'. These are issues all cities are dealing with," he said.

"There may well be a case and I can see the arguments. I'm not saying the system of local governance is perfect, but the argument being conducted at the moment is childish."

In terms of congestion, he said: "The vast majority of businesses have worked very proactively with us.

"Most get it's not about getting into the city, it's the quality of the environment once you get here.

"Increasingly, the private car as a commuting option is going to be squeezed out.

"I'd be much more in favour of change by charging, but we can't do that and it's not on the agenda.

"Effectively we're imposing a congestion charge of infinity by making it impossible to access certain streets."

He said there would be a "noticeable improvement" with Luas linking the north and southside, more people using Dublin Bikes, and walking.

Read more: Calls to treble road investment as M50 traffic problems now at 'breaking point'

But more measures are needed - additional capacity on bus and rail, which will be difficult in light of limited financial resources, more cyclepaths, and "difficult choices" in terms of traffic movements.

"If you look at the high-quality segregated cycle lanes on the canals, they're congested. Where you provide good quality, you get the committed enthusiast and 'ordinary' people," he said.

"Difficult choices will have to be made. The north quays was key in that. We decided to bite the bullet and give priority to buses, cycling and a really good walking environment.

"We could have significant traffic calming so levels are such that cyclists feel comfortable and safe. There are cities which are so traffic calmed it works.

"It's a slow process. A constant issue raised is the poor behaviour of cyclists. As someone who cycles, I see it every day. They have a huge disregard for pedestrians. The lack of mutual respect among all road users is a problem."

Much work was needed around the city, including redevelopment of the Smithfield fruit market, which was shelved during the recession, replacement of pavement on heavily trafficked streets, improved parks and a new library on Parnell Square.

He said there was a "good relationship" between councillors and management, despite disagreements.

Read more: 'We need more homes - not stunts like Apollo House - to solve homeless crisis' - Owen Keegan

But he was disappointed elected members won't allow high-rise buildings in the city, which he said would result in more affordable housing. "That's one area I'm disappointed in. We need to go higher.

"I would have liked the members to be more ambitious, and we have made some progress, but not as far as we need to go.

"That reflects the fact there is huge unease on height and density," he said.

"I think there has been a failure on the part of the executive to sell this and get popular backing.

"We could go an awful lot higher in selected points. Twenty storeys. We're pushing the boundaries in Poolbeg which is up to 16.

"If you look at the Docklands, we are moving in the right direction.

"I just think in the context of the likely population growth and need for housing that it's a little disappointing."

Irish Independent

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