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ABP Submission on the new Civic Plaza at College Green

Proposed Development of a New Civic Plaza at College Green Dublin 2
and Ancillary Traffic Management Measures

Submission from Róisín Shortall TD: An Bord Pleanála Oral Hearing
Gresham Hotel, O’Connell Street Dublin 1
March 13th 2018

I would like to begin by saying that while we are strongly in favour of general improvements to the public realm in Dublin city, we cannot support the proposal to permanently close College Green to east-west bus transport. The potential drawbacks that this would cause, far outweigh the benefits that would result in the creation of a pedestrianised plaza on College Green.

We believe that it is nonsensical to close access to the main cross-city artery to buses, the predominant form of public transport. This proposal undermines and in fact hampers the stated objectives contained within the Dublin City Development Plan to promote the use of public transport, especially buses. The plans, while laudable in their vision to create a civic space in the city centre, simply do not reflect the reality of the severe constraints already on public transport in Dublin. Due to the very limited road space in Dublin city Centre, the bus will continue for the foreseeable future to be the primary mode of public transport in the greater Dublin area. To undermine that fact and limit the ability of this public service to operate effectively, completely undermines the civic spirit which the creation of this plaza seeks to enhance.

The closure of College Green to east-west bus traffic will have very serious implications for the sustainability and effectiveness of bus transport as the predominant form of public transport in Dublin and in particular as the sole option for residents in many parts of the Greater Dublin Area, including the constituency of Dublin-North West, for the foreseeable future. In addition this proposal, will serve to make the city centre far less accessible to the most marginalized.

Pobal Map of Dublin North-West

Figure (I)

Figure (I) shows the Pobal Deprivation Index for 2016 with the boundaries for Dublin North-West in purple. The blue areas are categorised as affluent, green as average and red as deprived. Dublin-North West has some of the highest rates of deprivation in Dublin, if not the country. As you can see, there are areas of very high deprivation around Finglas, South Finglas in particular and also in Ballymun. We know that more deprived areas rely more on public transport as a means of getting to and from work but also for shopping, leisure activities and so on. This is particularly true of areas with few or poor local services, people are often forced to travel to the city centre, or further for basic necessities.

So, how specifically would Dublin North-West be affected? There are a number of high-frequency cross-city routes that serve Dublin-North West, the 40, the 140, 11, 13, 9, 83, 44 and the 16. All of these routes traverse College Green and of these routes, the 13, 40, 9, 16, 140 and the 83 cross on the east-west pathway. These services would need to be re-routed away from College Green if these proposed changes are to take effect.

When the sole means of public transport for an area such as this is the bus, it is frankly, ridiculous that access to the core of the city centre would be curtailed in this manner.

There is no reason why changes to College Green cannot be made to allow for public events to take place on an ‘if and when’ basis which would allow the area to close temporarily for events and parades and so on without the need to permanently discommode bus passengers.

College Green is a core axis of the bus network within the city and has already, in recent times had bus access limited owing to the construction and operation of the Luas system at great inconvenience to many bus passengers. Further restrictions of access to the city centre would undermine the resilience of bus transport to serve the city and its ability to offer an effective alternative to car ownership. It would also seriously limit its ability to serve deprived communities.

The current proposals to re-route buses via Winetavern Street are highly unsatisfactory as they serve to move passengers away from the core city centre area – increasing walking distance to the south and east city centre.

The proposed ‘turning-circle’ at the Western end of the plaza comes across as very much an afterthought. It is very hard to see how this proposal would have sufficient capacity to deal with the volume of re-routed bus traffic that this project would result in and it would also add further to journey times.

Again, this would further curtail the ability of the most vulnerable to access the city. The elderly, the infirm and those with disabilities would be far less likely to be able to effectively access the city if their only mode of transport is forced away from where they need to be.

The inclusion of Parliament Street as an alternative North-South axis for bus traffic would appear to be unrealistic given the unprecedented environmental strain that this would place on a very narrow street, the absence of pavement space for loading and unloading of passengers and the need for the street to have a full-time two way traffic system.

If the plans proceed as currently envisaged, it is estimated that over 4,000,000 bus passengers each year would be displaced from College Green to the quays. Given the ongoing gridlock on Dublin’s quays, it is not realistic to expect buses to be able to maintain an adequate level of service along this route. A single accident on the quays, for example would mean the entire east-west pathway for the city’s public transport would be severed.

The scope for additional stops for the loading and unloading of passengers along the quays is virtually non-existent. Additionally, the walking distances involved and access pathways through Temple Bar are not suitable for individuals with mobility impairment.

While future developments, such as the long promised Metro and the possible extension of the Luas to Finglas may in the longer term mean that people will have a choice in public transport, however for now that is not the reality. Simply put, College Green is central to the effective operation of the bus network in Dublin. The alternative routing plans are not realistic or feasible. Bus is the sole mode of transport that reaches the entire city compared to very specific rail and tram corridors which are totally absent from many parts of the city including Dublin North-West. This is an area, which owing to demographics is disproportionally reliant on the one form of public transport which is available. The success of the extension to the green line Luas and recent increase in passenger numbers is to be welcomed, but it is not acceptable that the proposed changes would result in seriously discommoding high volumes of existing bus users. It would be extremely unfair if the established bus routes and the resultant movement of both commuters and shoppers were to be severely disrupted and this would be socially unacceptable.

The proposal from Dublin City Council seems to completely disregard the work on BusConnects and its key objectives. The logical approach from a transport planning perspective would be to allow the BusConnects review process to continue. This is particularly so given the government’s commitment to fund an effective, modern and environmentally friendly bus service to serve the needs of the public in Dublin city and county,. It is premature to look at such a major change to the road network within the city until such time as the BusConnects review process is completed. The most sensible approach therefore would be to defer consideration of this proposal from Dublin city council until the BusConnects process is completed and fully implemented.

I also wish to register concern about the absence of safe cycling routes around and through College Green currently and what would have seen to have been a complete overlooking of this in the design of the Luas lines. Irrespective of whether a plaza is built or not, it is essential that large numbers of cyclists would be safely catered for in this key city artery.

To conclude, we would ask that An Bord Pleanála consider the ability of a civic amenity such as a public square to deliver on its objective of fostering a sense of civic pride, when the basic needs of so many citizens of Dublin would have to be sacrificed to achieve this. If the City Council is serious about enhancing civic pride in Dublin, it would be doing its upmost to ensure that all of Dublin’s citizens had the ability to travel to and from, and through the city safely and speedily using public transport.