I’M baffled. I know that I come from a biased standpoint as the spokesman for the AA but I still can’t figure out the answer.
Why exactly is it a good thing for a day to be ‘car free’? What is it supposed to achieve?
Lord Mayor Oisin Quinn is pushing the old idea again. Like most Dubliners I am all in favour of making our streets more pedestrian friendly. It is a good thing on an ongoing basis to have the city centre as a pleasant space that people can enjoy.
What I dislike though is this fashionable pretence that it is car drivers who are causing our problems. It just isn’t true.
Dublin has a poor standard of public transport provision compared to other European cities of the same size.
We are very car dependent — for commuting journeys especially. We need to invest in public transport and to make efficient use of the resources that we have.
But that does not mean that cars are the problem.
They are the most effective solution that we have. Mayor Quinn talks of closing key roads on Sundays to give them over to pedestrians and allow stalls to be set up.
But presumably he does not want to allow trucks and buses on his closed streets, so why is it not being described as a ‘traffic free day’? Why is the private car specifically singled out?
There is a lazy attitude that blames our problems on the car. You will regularly hear people talk about restricting cars for the sake of the environment but that is increasingly irrational.
The progress made in car design over the past decade or so has been astonishing. Emissions have been reduced to the point where they really are not polluting any more.
Nowadays if you think of a family of five using a car in tax Band A, they will have to get above 15,000kms in a year before they produce as much CO2 from the tailpipe as the family will produce by breathing.
There is a cost in CO2 I’ll admit. But then there is also a huge CO2 cost embedded in the hamburgers that will be sold from Mayor Quinn’s stalls.
Virtually everything in our lives and in our economy has a CO2 cost, from washing machines to takeaway coffees.
It is not practical or desirable to get rid of all traffic from a city.
We do not want a Dublin that is completely park-like to the point where you can picnic on O’Connell Street if we end up ruining the city’s economy in the process.
Yes, we want to manage our traffic properly but it is an illusion to think that closing roads is the way to do it.
Car Free Day has been tried before. I first came across the idea as an initiative from the EU around the year 2000.
Dublin took part for a number of years but eventually, correctly, concluded that it wasn’t doing a blind bit of good. It was scrapped in 2008.
Measures like the free Dublin Bike scheme are brilliant and fully supported by AA. Likewise investments in Luas, in buses and in trains. They all share the virtue of being positive.
I’m quite happy if Mayor Quinn wants to stage fun-days in the city from time to time. I’ll go along myself.
But why can’t we lose the needless and distorting ideology that comes with calling it a ‘car free day’? Even better, why don’t we have a ‘Free Public Transport Day’? This is much closer to the source of the city’s transport problems.
Conor Faughnan is director of consumer affairs at the AA