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Ross Maguire: 'Our capital must be protected and our cars are the problem'

It will take brave steps to bring about change, writes Ross Maguire, but once we start, the possibilities are immense

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STARTING POINT: An artist’s impression of what a pedestrianised College Green might look like. Dublin City Council has agreed to close College Green to traffic on three Sundays this summer

STARTING POINT: An artist’s impression of what a pedestrianised College Green might look like. Dublin City Council has agreed to close College Green to traffic on three Sundays this summer

STARTING POINT: An artist’s impression of what a pedestrianised College Green might look like. Dublin City Council has agreed to close College Green to traffic on three Sundays this summer

In politics, as in life, small things count. Whether it was the introduction of Dublin Bikes, the plastic bag levy or the smoking ban, life has been improved and our sense of community enhanced by small and inexpensive change.

In every case there were sceptics, but today nobody would go back to where we were before these simple developments were introduced.

The NTA Bus Connects plan is important because it paves the way for future transport in Dublin and that will have a material effect on all our lives.

The difficulty is around limited space and the inexorable fact that four does not and cannot fit into three. The four elements here are trees, bicycles, buses and cars. One must be sacrificed. Under the current proposal trees will be the victim, transforming ancient treelined routes into highways for buses and cars.

Today the victims are cyclists forced to share what cycle lanes there are with giant buses, while lines of cars take up most of the available space.

In a future overwhelmingly determined by how we protect our environment, it seems obscene to chop down trees to make way for cars and buses.

The raw and unavoidable truth is that cars are the problem. These gas guzzling carbon spewing relics of the 20th century often carry a single occupant and clog up our city's arteries.

But people like their cars - just as smokers liked to smoke in pubs. No matter how compelling the environmental argument is, cars will win out unless the public imagination is changed.

This may happen eventually, but it could take decades and Ireland will remain a laggard in protecting the environment.

All the while the quality of life for those who live and work in Dublin will be diminished.

The fact is that across the EU cycling represents 8pc of transport types - rising to a happy high in Holland of 36pc and to a sorry low in Ireland of 2pc. This must change.

When you want to convince somebody to do something which you know to be to their advantage, you ask them to try it. Imagine we did the same in Dublin.

Dublin City Council has agreed to close College Green to traffic on three Sundays, starting on the 21st of July.But we can go much further.

Imagine the National Transport Authority were to direct that cars could not be used in the city, or defined parts of the city, between the hours of 8am-10am and 2pm-6pm every Thursday for six months from next September.

What is the worst that could happen?

In truth not a lot, but the experiment could always be suspended if there is undue hardship to a material group of people.

On the other hand if, as I expect, it is a huge success and puts smiles on faces and brings communities together, we would have begun a process of people experiencing how a car-free or car-freer city would work and, just like smoke-free pubs, there will be no going back.

Key to this is that schoolchildren can ride their bikes to school because the roads are free of cars.

Thousands of children riding bikes to school along car-free roads would indeed be a sight to behold.

Adults on their way to work, who today will not risk life and limb to play chicken with buses, will be free to take out their old bike, oil the chain and feel the joy of speeding through town on your own non-carbon producing steam.

We would experience a quieter city, and in that quietness, ordinary social interaction will be made so much easier and better.

There will be stories among neighbours of how people overcame any inconvenience and of the simple delight of quiet streets.

Remember the snow!

Perhaps people will work from home which, in a city connected by broadband, is so much more possible.

The international community will likely be interested in this development as a European city takes on a new way of living and Dublin would be news for all the right reasons. At the end of the six-month period there would be public consultation about continuing the project or even extending it to two days or beyond. That consultation would now be educated by real experience and would likely include contributions from greater numbers.

This is leadership.

It begins with a truth that our environment must be protected and that cars are the problem.

But rather than decrying cars and blaming motorists, this project will show people in real life what it is like to live with less cars.

Once people get the taste of this better and more connected life, change will be easy, and change will be fast.

Ross Maguire is CEO of New Beginning

Sunday Independent