Dublin to ban driving through its city centre

DUBLIN: This year, Dublin will become the latest European capital to bar through-traffic from its city centre.

In a bid to clear the roads and clean the air at its core, Ireland’s largest city is beginning a process of replanning central streets so that private cars and commercial trucks will be allowed access only if their final destination is downtown.

By displacing vehicles merely passing through on their way to somewhere else to beltways further out, the plan promises to both ease current traffic congestion and allow for the creation of new pedestrian streets and plazas that will make Dublin’s heart an altogether more pleasant place to linger.

The plan set a goal of a 60% traffic reduction in the urban centre.

The tools used to achieve this are fairly simple: two “bus gates” on either bank of the River Liffey will prevent private vehicles from crossing, and several streets will be reconfigured so that vehicles travelling into downtown are routed along loops that ultimately direct them back out in the same direction.

The proposal echoes vehicle restrictions underway in other European Union cities, such as Paris, Amsterdam and Lisbon.

And like city leaders elsewhere, the architects of the Dublin plan invoke the “15-minute city” concept — which aims to allow residents to access all major destinations within a 15-minute walk or bike ride — as a key goal.

But while efforts to limit car traffic in some city centres across the water in Britain have triggered angry (and conspiracy-tinged) opposition from aggrieved motorists, Dublin’s enjoys overwhelming public support so far.

More than 80% of 3,500 respondents in a public consultation published Feb. 7 said they backed the new zone, a ringing endorsement for a city that hitherto has not had a strong reputation for progressive urban policy.

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Major objections to the traffic ban have so far been scant. One was mounted by London-based Diageo, owner of the Guinness brand, who warned that the plans will disrupt the “historic” truck routes from the Guinness brewery along the River Liffey out to the port — even though beer casks were in fact transported by barge along this route until 1961.

The level of support may stem from widespread concerns about the state of many parts of Dublin.

The city centre is still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, following a downturn that, as in so many cities, was fuelled in part by a hesitant return-to-office.

While shops are busy again, inner Dublin could still do with a boost to its overall attractiveness and sense of livability. Its riverside remains a thundering rat run dominated by through-traffic, threaded across a frequently treeless city core where two-thirds of all vehicles are merely passing through.

Dublin’s distinctive street plan — some of which dates to the Viking era — is hardly optimised for mechanised transport: There are lots of blind alleys and empty cul-de-sacs leading off even major streets. This layout has also exacerbated recent public safety concerns.

Dublin has seen a recent uptick in violent crime, and it’s at the epicentre of Ireland’s severe affordable housing crisis, with rising inequality seen as a factor in the far-right riots that flared in November 2023.

In the wake of the unrest, central Dublin — while still lively — is a place where even busy streets can take on a palpable edge come nightfall. This January, safety fears led authorities to close a laneway just off the Liffey quayside (although a refurbishment plan is already in the offing).

That urban reboot had begun even before the new transport goal, namely with plans (albeit already delayed) for the city’s first metro line, linking downtown to the airport and hopefully taking some cars off the roads.

The through-traffic ban, meanwhile, should make it possible to enact some long-cherished ideas to improve public spaces — notably the creation of a public square at the handsome but congested College Green, and the pedestrianisation of Parliament Street to create a broad promenade between Dublin’s neoclassical City Hall and the river.

None of this will necessarily wean the city off its car dependency. Through-traffic may end up being displaced to inner beltways that weave through residential areas, while the city still predicts that metropolitan Dublin’s modal share overall for cars will still be 42% in 2042.

That’s a marked improvement from the 52.4% that automobiles commanded in 2016, but well behind larger cities like Amsterdam, Brussels and London.

Other positive effects cited include cuts in vehicle emissions and pollution, as well as the public health benefits from making walking and cycling notably easier.

The enthusiasm that the plans have so far generated also show what might be an important shift: Dubliners are expressing support for a cleaner, greener, more attractive city centre — and they appear to be willing to give up driving through town to get it.
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