Rose Barrett and Rachel Cunningham
College Green Plaza in Dublin city centre this week became a totally free car zone as ‘Bus Gate’ began operating on a 24/7 basis.
Dublin City Council claims the new car free zone which began on Monday last will mean a better public service for the estimated two million users, along with benefits for cyclists and pedestrians.
It will, however, mean that car users – 27,000 per week – will have to find alternative routes as the initiative is now operating seven days a week, and all year round.
Claire French, Senior Executive Engineer with DCC stated there has been many significant changes since the original bus gate was introduced in 2009. She noted that since then, an improved Luas Cross City was introduced, the number of traffic lanes was reduced, 24-hour bus routes were added, etc.
“We need to remove private cars to give priority back to public transport and cyclists,” she told RTÉ News on One. “However, anyone who needs to get anywhere on the south side or the north side of the city who used to go through the Bus Gate can still get to those places just by a slightly different route.”
Previously, the bus gate system in operation around the landmark plaza area via College Green ran only from 7am to 7pm but now, the system has been implemented 24 hours a day, seven days a week. DCC staff were on hand earlier this week to advise motorists unaware of the bus corridor change of alternative routes.
So far, there has been mixed reaction, with some business owners lamenting the car ban and reduction of taxi spaces, claiming it will adversely impact their interests. Next weekend will see whether or not DCC’s new initiative will be embraced and implemented without traffic chaos.
The CEO of Dublin Town, Richard Guiney, has called for an increase in consultation with businesses in the capital, as pockets of the city are being pedestrianised. “Change is going to happen, there are going to be a lot less vehicles moving through the city, that’s a given,” he told the Dublin Gazette.
Last year, a study by Bionic ranked Dublin within the top five global cities going green at an impressive rate, just behind Auckland, Stockholm, Lyon and Copenhagen.
“I think we have the possibility of creating a much more welcoming environment. The city is a sustainable model but we can make it more sustainable and more attractive and welcoming as a destination.
“We track public sentiment and it concerns me to note that support is reducing for sustainability measures. That’s really worrying at a very early stage in the process.
“I think policy-makers and decision-makers need to engage with the public and, indeed, the business community that we represent,” said Mr Guiney.
The CEO previously criticised the temporary pedestrianisation of Capel Street for its failure to consider local business requirements, such as deliveries and waste services.
To avoid the repetition of such mistakes, Mr Guiney said that consultation is needed with businesses.
“What we would like is to workshop as we progress pedestrianisation. College Green isn’t a major issue in terms of pedestrianisation, it was effectively a bus corridor,” he commented.
“However, as we transition to a low vehicle environment, we need to plan how to prioritise access and the kind of vehicles that will be required for businesses.
“We could explore options like shared deliveries to and from premises, through depots and deposit points, so that there are fewer vehicles entering the city centre, overall.
“There could also be more encouragement for people to use sustainable transport out of the city.
“I’m very conscious that one per cent of people who come into the city to shop would use a bicycle, whereas commuters are closer to seven per cent and will probably rise to 10 per cent over the next few years.
“We need to make choices like that a lot easier and that can only be achieved by sharing our resources and ideas and I don’t think we’ve done that enough in Dublin.”
Earlier this month, a Dublin Town seminar heard that enhanced government support and a rapid shift in business thinking could help Dublin to become one of the most sustainable cities in Europe.
The event heard calls for greater strategic support for businesses and shared the best practice of cities leading the world in energy efficiency and carbon reduction.
Dublin Town, which works with its 2,500 members to create a better city experience for everyone, said a rapid shift in thinking by city businesses is already driving responsible corporate and customer behaviour.
“Sustainability has become increasingly critical for city centre businesses to remain competitive,” said Mr Guiney.
“But driving sustainability requires organisations to transform every division of their business.
“And while sustainability should be an integral part of developing corporate strategy, it can only truly be achieved with clear strategic guidance and state support.”
Stephen Browne, Dublin Chamber’s Head of Public Affairs, however, gave a cautious welcome to the new car-free zone implementation.
“We in Dublin Chamber support measures that make the city centre a more liveable, functional, and easy place to do business.
“The introduction of Bus Gates at College Green is part of the roll out of Busconnects, which aims to increase the frequency and capacity of our bus services. We believe that these measures will help commuters and workers access the city centre. The balance of access is also important to enable deliveries to enter places of business and this must be a major consideration to ensure that the new measures work for everyone.”
Along with becoming a car-free zone, Brendan O’Brien, Head of Traffic and Transport at DCC, stated the changes will benefit half a million pedestrians and the 2m public transport users, along with driving the council’s climate change policy and supporting cyclists.
Last month, he noted that 97 per cent of journeys via College Green were by sustainable transport modes. In terms of cars that passed by College Green, 30 per cent were illegally entering through the bus gate times, and that problem he hoped would end with the complete cessation of cars around the popular plaza.
Enhancement works will see large electric signage removed, along with plastic bollards with more seating and planters provided making the plaza a more pedestrian friendly area. Foster Place will have reduced taxi parking spaces and more seating, to be implemented in June.
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