23 September, 2015

Councillors insist on having cake and eating it

Dublin City Council met last night and dropped Local Property Tax by 15% against the CEO Owen Keegan’s recommendation.
That means less money for libraries, pedestrian crossings, senior citizen services, opening locked parks, fixing footpaths and roads, tackling dog dirt and street cleaning, public realm improvements etc. Interestingly in the light of the Web Summit moving to Lisbon it also would have funded CoderDojo and city WiFi. Oh, and housing, and homelessness services will feel the pinch as well.
You’ll save €60 if you own a house and it is worth €250,000 or €1,000 if you live on Shrewsbury Road. No tax is perfect, but the Green Party felt this was fairer than most and voted against decreasing this tax in Dublin City.

15 June, 2015

Improving cycling on the Liffey Quays

The Liffey Cycle Route is a 'must have' project for Dublin . It is strong on vision, and just like the Grand Canal Cycle Route it will attract increased numbers of cyclists once it is built. Currently cycles feel the squeeze at too many locations.

So why have I requested further information on the four options that were made available for consultation earlier this year? Let me explain. 

Four options were presented to the public as part of a non-statutory public consultation earlier this year. You can see them here. Actually they aren't that easy to see, as the detail drawings are large files that can take several minutes to download. What you can see though are images for each of the four options. As you can imagine most people went for the option showing a green park. The schemes could have been better presented, but that's not my main concern. I'll discuss the problems with the preferred route (Option 3) below.
1. It involves diverting buses and most traffic to the north of the Croppies' Acre Park. This involves running a ten metre-wide road through the mini park shown in the image above. This would effectively divide the park in front of the Aisling Hotel in two. It would also involve demolishing a large chunk of the red brick buildings that are part of the Civil Defence premises on Temple Street West. These have been used for homeless accommodation in recent winters and the buildings are of some merit in themselves. This small park will be bisected and become a busy road.

2.  All buses that currently use the north Quays will be diverted to Benburb Street and then on to a route just south of the Luas tracks as far East as Church Street. The problem is that there's an apartment block ('Smithfield Lofts') under construction (Ref. 2992/14) just west of Smithfield and this is a real obstacle to allowing this to go ahead. You can see a crane on site in this image. I'm not sure how this can be addressed other than by re-routing buses back down Queen Street. Incidentally Dublin Bus has expressed concern about their buses being re-routed from their current alignment.

3. This option also reroutes traffic around the larger Croppies' Acre park, effectively placing a two-lane 'chicane' in front of the Collins Barracks entrance at the eastern boundary to the park. The drawings show a wide curved road at this point. I'm sure this could be refined in detailed drawings, but for the moment it seems clumsy, not very-pedestrian friendly and more suited to cars than people..

4. The main advantage of the preferred option is that it takes vehicular traffic away from Wolfe Tone Quay leaving the cyclists with a pleasant quay-side cycle route. It also allows the park to stretch towards the quay walls. While this sounds good in principle I suspect that in practise it could be a bit intimidating to cyclists at night time.  No-one likes sharing road-space with lots of traffic but a few passing cars at night-time can increase passive security. I'm sure that the route would involve decent lighting, but the centre of the park is a long way from nearby homes. 

My preference if for Route 1 which places a two-way cycle route on the North Quays but doesn't divert vehicular traffic away from the river. At the narrowest point on Arran Quay a boardwalk (just like the one further downriver) may be required to facilitate pedestrian traffic and the narrow footpath on the right of this image would be removed and replaced by a three metre wide two-way cycle route.

None of the options presented to the public dealt with the mess of a junction that is Frank Sherwin Bridge. This is the road bridge closest to Heuston Station. Further work will be required to calm traffic and reduce the conflicts at this location for any of the four options.

At the Transportation Strategic Policy Committee which I chaired) on 10th June 2015 we agreed to note (NOT defer) the report. We also agreed to seek further information on all four options before we go through a formal Part VIII planning consultation. We're also going to arrange on on-site meeting to walk and cycle the route. We'll ask the Conservation officer,  the Parks Superintendent and the Planning Department for their views, and present the proposals to the Central Area Committee in July. That way when we meet again in September we'll be in a better position to decide on how best to pursue the project.

06 October, 2014

Moore Street's in trouble

Dublin's Moore Street is in trouble. Shops have closed, market traders are facing competition and the plans for redeveloping the street are dated, damaging and dreary. On Monday evening the City Council is being asked to agree to a land swap that will allow the project known as Dublin Central to proceed. Plans for the comprehensive redevelopment of the two hectare site on the east side of Moore Street have been approved by Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála. The Council sees this project initiated by developer Joe O'Reilly and now facilitated by NAMA as a flagship project for the city.  The sweetener to the deal is that the O'Reilly's company Chartered Land proposes to restore 14-17 Moore Street where Padraig Pearse and Easter Rising volunteers retreated to from the burning General Post Office on O'Connell Street. He hopes to restore them for an ambitious deadline of Easter 1916. However the imposition of another soul-less shopping centre is too high a price to pay for a heritage centre.

O'Reilly's plans were first lodged with the Dublin City Council back in 2008 as the Celtic Tiger breathed its last. In keeping with the spirit of the times his company Chartered Land applied for planning permission for an over-sized shopping mall. It was to be thirteen stories high with five basement levels, and featured a dubious north facing Rooftop Park. Little attention was paid to the historic houses on Moore Street that featured prominently in the events of Easter 1916. Under successful pressure from historic groups the Government intervened, and the currently approved plans allow for the sensitive restoration of 14-17 Moore Street and 8 & 9 Moore Lane. However these buildings will be heavily overshadowed by new buildings behind them. In their planning decisions the City Council and An Bord Pleanála put some manners on the scheme and reduced its height and vulgar Celtic Tiger excesses. Nonetheless the overall development still involves shoe-horning a large shopping centre into a restricted city centre site with a large basement car park.  In essence it is a shopping mall with parking for seven hundred cars.

There will only be one shop facing on to Moore Street in the approved scheme. There will be no upper floor residential units over-looking this historic street. Most of the mall will open out on to Moore Lane, where presumable some of the existing cobblestone sets will be retained to lend an air of authenticity to the new shopping mall. It rivals the ILAC centre in its ambiance and architectural expression. This lane will be open to the public but protected from the weather with a rain screen. It is unclear how this area will be policed.

The approved plans feature a massive amount of car parking despite the current construction of a Luas line along O'Connell and Parnell Street. This means many more traffic will travel through already over-crowded streets. This seems to be at odds with Government's 2010 policy on Smarter Travel, but the plans were lodged before it was published.

The need for more housing is currently a burning issue, and it seems extraordinary that the development will only have a handful of residential units. An opportunity has been lost to seriously tackle the city's housing needs. These units will be located in the centre of the block and will not provide any additional passive surveillance of Moore Street or O'Connell Street at night when the shops are closed.

On Monday city councillors are being asked to smooth the development’s passage. It is proposed to sell the Dublin City Council cleansing depot at 24-25 Moore Street to the developer. That building would win no architectural prizes but will be demolished and be replaced by a ramp to the car park similar to the charmless Chapel Lane to the rear of the ILAC Centre. Just around the corner on the south side of O'Rahilly Parade the wall where Michael Joseph O'Rahilly wrote a last letter to his wife before expiring in 1916 will be replaced with switchboards and junction boxes. The battlefield site is not being treated with the respect it deserves.

Thirty years ago when Temple Bar was threatened by plans for a central bus station, artists and others protested and ensured that the area was protected by a Framework Plan that retained most of the older buildings. The area bounded by Moore Street, O’Connell Street and Parnell Street deserves a similar plan today. Such a plan could protect older buildings and shops, and could also provide room for new homes and businesses. Modern infill buildings could compliment the best of the past. Instead of facilitating this development I am hoping that my Council colleagues will turn down the land swap on Monday night, and force the developer back to the drawing board. Almost a hundred years ago a new republic was declared on O'Connell Street. If they were alive today I suspect few of those who fought for Irish freedom would welcome another shopping mall onto the sacred ground where they breathed their last.

22 September, 2014

Reclaim the City - Moving Dublin’s Cycling Plans Forward

Reclaim the City - Moving Dublin’s Cycling Plans Forward - Time for a Radical Rethink?

Dublin Cycling Campaign Annual Lecture 2014. Ciarán Cuffe, Dublin City Councillor, ex Minister of State, and Chair of Dublin City Council Transportation SPC

Thanks to Dublin Cycling Campaign and particularly Colm Ryder and Mike McKillen. Thank Dublin City Council for the use of the hall. It is European Mobility Week and the theme is “Our Streets, Our Choice”.

I love the city. I like the mix of life; the contrasts the sunlight, the noise and the silence. I like the bell of the Luas, the smell of hops, the sun on the Spire on a winter’s morning. I like the street life, the chance encounters, and the buzz of activity.

All of this takes place in public, in public space, and the way we make, shape and manage this public space is an intensely political act. Public spaces in cities are contested spaces. My politicisation came out of that debate.

In the 1980’s the Council that I now represent was systematically destroying that city in order to save it. I don’t want to dwell on the demolition of communities in order to build dual carriageways, but we must always remember and never forget. It will take generations to undo the damage that was caused to communities in Summerhill, on Clanbrassil Street and elsewhere by Dublin City Council. The transformation of economic hubs into wide roads to facilitate car-based commuters was wrong from the start.

It’s important to realise that the battle over the streets of Dublin was not an isolated one. Around the world the same debates played out in city halls and public meetings over much of the late twentieth century. In New York Robert Moses:

“When you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat axe.”  

In doing this he displaced hundreds of thousands of residents in New York City.

While he was doing this Jane Jacobs was arguing for a more sensitive approach to renewal and transportation:

 “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

She wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961, and it never ceases to amaze me how long it took for her ideas to permeate through the corridors of power. Of course we still have urban planning heroes like Jacobs. Jan Gehl the great Danish urbanist was in town a few weeks ago. He said improvements in some areas, such as the much wider footpaths on O’Connell Street, but Dublin was still “dominated” by British traffic planning ideas that gave priority to cars.

The take-away from this evenings talk is that cycling needs to be normalised in all aspects of the city’s life. Little things make a difference. On being elected last June I was given a plethora of forms and instructions, and as I leafed through them I realised that the current narrative is to normalise driving. What’s your registration number? Here’s your car park pass; the Civic Offices car park is open for half an hour after the meeting ends. All these messages reinforce the message that driving is normal, and cycling is, different. That’s where we need to start, we need to normalise cycling.

Why cycle
That’s the urban interest that makes me see cycling as important, but there are lots of other reasons why we should be doing this:

There’s been a huge increase in obesity in recent years. 79% of people over the age of fifty are overweight or obese. Cycling regularly can help keep you fit and reduce the risks of obesity, heart disease and mental ill-health for both adults and children.

Climate Change
Cycling has a strong role to play in reducing emissions. The embodied energy in a bike is low compared to a car, and it is a highly efficient way of getting around over short and medium distances.

The costs of running a car featured in the media in recent days. The low entry level and running costs of bikes can help tackle poverty. However there are challenges. The €150 guarantee required for DublinBikes is impeding take up in marginalised communities, and needs to be reviewed.

The news is good.  The number of bicycle journeys in Dublin city increased dramatically from 2006 – 2011. The number of bicycle journeys rose by 82 per cent during the five-year period, jumping from 10 million journeys in 2006 to 18 million journeys in 2011. The number of cycling journeys increased from 2.2 per cent to 3.9 per cent of total passenger journeys.  However the national target set down by the National Cycle Policy Framework is for 10 per cent of all trips to be made by bicycle by 2020, and to do that we’ll need 20% of Dublin journeys to be made by bike. That means we have to do more, a lot more. That’s the statistics, the drier side to my talk, but the more interesting issue is the vision, the vision thing as George Bush Senior put it.

Bike to Work Scheme
The Bike to Work Scheme has helped. If tax incentives for buildings were the major surgery approach to urban renewal than tax incentives for bikes are a form of urban acupuncture that relieves stress and makes good things happen. I like the way it has got a lot of middle-aged people back on their bikes that had stopped cycling twenty years previously. The explosion of bike shops nationwide has certainly been prompted by these measures that we introduced in the last Government, but I suspect the last Government will be remembered for other initiatives, as well as this.

Dublin Port Tunnel
This major piece of infrastructure opened in 2007 and made an appreciable difference to traffic safety by taking heavy trucks of city centre streets.

Free flow tolling on the M50 and the addition of an extra lane improved the bypass function of this road infrastructure. However I am concerned that the provision of extra road capacity will encourage car driving, and more worryingly lead to more development further away from Dublin in the periphery.

I want to be careful how I phrase this one, lest I be accused of favouring prolonged recessions, I don’t, but I do note that the bike is a great way of getting around if you’re strapped for cash, and I suspect the last seven years have encouraged cycling.

30 kph speed limit
We all know about the dramatic improvement in safety resulting from lower speed limits, but just imagine the increased safety if the existing speed limits were enforced. I’ll come back this issue later on, because I don’t feel that the city council can pass this on the Guards as a responsibility. We too have a role to play.

Dublin Bikes
I’m delighted at the success of this municipal bike scheme. Some of you may know that I gave the idea of a Free Bikes scheme a shot back in 1997, but the then City manager said it would never catch on. I applaud the City Council and Cllr. Montague in particular for making this a success. But, I am critical of the reliance on advertising hoardings and sugar drink companies to subsidise the project, it is the equivalent of running cake sales to pay for the running costs of Motorway network, and it is wrong to have to rely on consumerism and sugar to get people around in a health fashion. The sooner we can wean ourselves of these funding sources and receive direct funding from Central Government the better.

Plans, Programmes, Manuals
Finally, we have the guidance, the plans, policies and manuals to make the good stuff happen.  I’m not saying that they’re perfect, but I certainly feel that for many years there was view that more guidance was needed before we could put top quality cycling infrastructure in place. The downside of all of this is that we now realise the weaknesses of much of what was provided in the last twenty years and we have to now go back and revisit them. It’s the painting the ‘Firth of Forth’ Bridge problem. We have the National Cycle Policy Framework, the National Cycling Manual; we have Smarter Travel, and national transport policy that commits us to improving cycling. We also have the Dublin City Council Cycling Action Plan 2010-2015.


Mission Statements
The Mission Statements reveal a lot about an organisation. I am concerned that the environment has slipped down the priority list on the mission statements from the Department of Transport. I am also concerned about the objectives of the National Roads Authority, and I don’t believe that they mainstream environmental concerns, nor are they referenced in their primary legislation. I’m showing my age here, but I did express concern back in 1993 when the legislation was being debated. It is still a concern.

Plans and decisions of other organisations
I said that we have the plans and programs to deliver sustainable solutions. The problem is that we also have a lot of other plans in the back drawer for unsustainable solutions. These tend to emanate from the NRA, and are approved by An Bord Pleanála
The plans for additional car capacity on the Naas Road are flawed, as is their approval by Bord Pleanála. This will lead to more car traffic from further and further away. The free flowing project at Newlands Cross will drive car commuters from beyond the River Shannon. This is unsustainable and wrong. Why is this an issue for cyclists? Well it is an issue because it will drive demand for car parking and road space in Dublin City. It will increase congestion and the demand for car parking will lead to further urban decay in the city centre and in the North Inner City which I represent.

Does Free-Flowing Car Traffic Reduce Fuel Consumption and Air Pollution? 
In  Cities and Automobile Dependence (1989) Kenworthy and Newman,argue from their worldwide survey of cities that the goal of “free-flowing” traffic (through such strategies as road widening) actually results in MORE fuel consumption and air pollution.

Michael Phillips has said “Whatever transport future the city has will not involve more cars” and yet the City Council in 2010 granted permission for the Dublin Central Development with 700 car parking spaces, right beside a proposed Luas stop. In recent years the Bord recently granted permission to the Kerry Group for a large car based campus on a greenfield site beyond the M50. That may not affect cyclists directly in Dublin’s city centre, but it may affect the choices that parents make in Celbridge on whether or not to let their children cycle to school. We need to plan for consolidation of our cities and towns, and a reduction in car journeys. In many instances this is not happening.

We need joined up policy making and decisions.

The highlighter problem
The gun Lobby in the USA tends to blame shooting sprees on criminals, not on guns. The Road Safety Authority over-emphasises the dangers of cycling and walking, and want us all to wear bright clothing, hi-viz vests and helmets. They appear to be blaming cycle accidents on cyclist and don’t sufficiently acknowledge the role of car and other vehicle drivers. As an organisation it needs to focus on driver behaviour rather than on making cyclists look like a highlighter pen. In commenting on a spike in pedestrian deaths they neglected to place sufficient emphasis on car driver behaviour, particularly as we know that in some instances a majority of car drivers are breaking the speed limit. If we want to encourage people to cycle on country roads they shouldn’t have to look like a lit-up Christmas tree. There is a blind spot to cycling and environmental concerns.

An Garda Síochána
Greater attention needs to be paid to enforcing speed limits and bike theft. Neither are being treated with the attention that they deserve. I have also spoken in the past about Garda Vehicles parking illegally, on bus lanes. This appears to have improved and I welcome this.

City Council
This is where it gets interesting, and I am aware of my responsibilities as the incoming chair of the Transport Strategic Policy Committee on the City Council.  I am also aware that I can’t go it alone and have to gain consensus with both my council colleagues and the officials within the Council to effect change.

I still believe that we focus unduly on the need of car-based commuters in the city. I believe that the introduction of bus and or cycle lanes on the South Quays has been delayed by a perceived need to flush the city of these cars every evening. I question this.

I believe multi-lane one-way streets are city killers. They prioritise the movement of vehicles at the expense of the economic and social life of the city. I believe cyclists should also be allowed travel both ways on way streets as they can in Brussels and other cities.

I believe left turn filter lanes are an abomination in the city centre. They are problematic for cyclists and pedestrians alike and need to be reconsidered and removed wherever possible.

Our traffic signalling needs to be reconsidered. Signals are programmed using SCATS Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System. It tries to find the best phasing (i.e. cycle times, phase splits and offsets) for the current traffic situation (for individual intersections as well as for the whole network). However in doing so it tends to priorities the movement of convoys of cars through the city, a bit like a freight train. This needs to be reconsidered. The length of cycle time is in many cases too long and encourages law-breaking. This needs to be reconsidered.

Big Projects and modest interventions
Bruce Katz from Washington’s Brookings Institute stated recently in a talk that he gave at the Dalkey Arts Festival that ‘walkability, cyclability and liveability are the future’.  Walking and cycling certainly make better economic use of valuable city space and should be encouraged for this alone.

To this correctly we need to have the big picture, but we also need to get the small stuff right such as the cycle lanes on the Rosie Hackett Bridge. Whatever happened to the northbound cycle lane on that new bridge? We also need the contra-flow cycle lane that has been planned for upper Camden Street for many years. Contra-flow cycle lanes are important.

A Liffey Boulevard from the Phoenix Park to Dublin bay is long overdue and will be an attraction for Dubliners and tourists alike. Look at how the rejuvenation of the riverside in Bordeaux has transformed that city.

Vision and Ambition
I want to see more civic officials on bikes and less parking underneath this building here on Wood Quay. Let’s have more bikes stands at the civic offices and city hall.

Cycling officer
I want to bring back a Cycling Officer for Dublin. Ciaran Fallon did Trojan work and we need someone who can fly the flag for cycling. That job may include walking, Communication and Education, and if it needs ministerial sanction I will write to Ministers Kelly and Donohoe.

Twenty years ago we had a row about giving over one of the two lanes on a two lane road to a Quality Bus Corridor. Today we’re having the same debate about giving one lane of a two lane road to cycling. I suspect history will be on our side. If we’re scared silly of making these changes then let’s do it on a temporary basis. That’s what was done with the Pedestrianisation of Grafton Street back in the 1980s. It was trialled for 6 months and the feedback was good so it was made permanent.

Cost benefit analyses (CBA) attest to the fact that investments in cycling outweigh the costs to a far greater extent than investment in other modes.
We’ve also got to think of the needs vulnerable cyclists such as women, children and migrants, and listen to their concerns when it comes to cycling infrastructure

So, The Radical Re-think?

Interesting times lie ahead and we need to build on the achievements to date. On Dublin City Council I intend reconstituting the public transport and the cycling fora, but I will add pedestrian facilities to terms of reference of the cycling forum.

I will work closely with my colleague Andrew Montague and like-minded elected representatives on all sides of the political divide.

Let your city councillors and officials know how you feel. Don’t forget the Department of Transport consultation on ‘Investing in our transport future” You have four weeks to make a submission. Read the issue papers and get involved.

Let’s choose a city that’s More Jan Gehl and Jane Jacobs,   and less Robert Moses.

Thank You.