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Sunday 11 December 2016

Terry Prone: Do we want a Dublin that discriminates so much against cars?

Researchers found a link between long-term exposure to the roar of road traffic and death rate
Researchers found a link between long-term exposure to the roar of road traffic and death rate

Do we want lovers walking through College Green, past some of our most beautiful buildings, holding hands and breathing clean, emission-free air? Of course we do.

Do we want pedestrians to come into the city and wander from shop to shop, tossing coins into the baskets of buskers whose music they can actually hear? Definitely.

Do we want lots of cyclists getting great exercise while reaching their destination without being threatened by bigger vehicles? That would be good, too.

We can all buy into that quiet, peaceful, pastel notion of Dublin. Particularly at weekends. However, the plan currently advanced by Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority does not confine itself to weekends. Understandably, because both organisations are looking at a post-recession level of congestion during the business week that must, somehow, be managed.

Increasing numbers of cars in the city is a great indicator of just how far we have come since the economic meltdown.

People have jobs. Because they have jobs, they have cars. Because they have jobs, they need to attend meetings and meet customers and clients, which requires them to use those cars.

As a result, the streets are clogged, the pace of transit has dropped. The end result is a vicious circle emerging from a virtuous circle, and the City Council and the National Transport Authority have to deal with it.

Their proposals are radical. Cars would be banned in College Green.

Full stop. End of. Buses would still go through the area, but private motorists would face a complete ban. The current ban in rush hour would be extended. But that's only the half of it.

breathtaking

In addition you won't be able to drive along Bachelor's Walk. Nor will you be permitted to use some of the south quays. Nor will you be allowed to turn left from Westmoreland Street onto the quays.

It's breathtaking in its scope and scale and if the plan, as proposed, gets through the consultation process, our capital city will be transformed into one which ruthlessly discriminates against cars.

If you work in the city centre, you will be forced to use public transport to a degree that may not suit you. Some Dubliners will be able to get to their place of work but will have to think twice before planning to get anywhere else in their own city.

It's an extension of the "live horse and you'll get grass" approach to which Dubliners have been subjected for half a century.

The implicit promise is that if we all get out of our cars, Dublin will be transformed into a pedestrian's paradise and we'll all live happily ever after.

Sorry. I don't think so. I think there's a great danger in apartheid thinking that sets the interests of drivers against the interests of pedestrians.

In many cases, drivers and pedestrians are one and the same. People use their cars when they must, and walk when they can.

Now, we are effectively being told that one part of our lives must be cut away and that we will all learn to be permanent pedestrians. Life doesn't work like that for older people. Or for families with lots of children. Or for people with disabilities - and a lot of Dublin's population is made up of one or more of those groups.

What they face is a re-drawing of their mental maps of the city, which in turn means a series of assumptions and exclusions. Forget Grafton Street because it's going to be too difficult to get to. Forget a load of other destinations for the same reason.

One of the contradictions in the plan is its clear favouring of cyclists (not a bad thing in itself) and an assumption that the threat to cyclists from big vehicles will be reduced. How will that work out, given the plan's emphasis on public transport, meaning big buses and the Luas? The average Fiat 500 is a teeny threat compared to a double-decker.

If this plan is enacted as proposed it will change the character and shape of our city. Dublin has always been chaotic, crowded but accessible to everyone. After this plan happens, it may be less chaotic and crowded but some of us won't be able to reach destinations we have always loved.

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