New traffic plan sparks major row

Fresh from his now legendary comment that the modern, but perfectly ordinary, bridge in Dundrum being erected for the new luas system was “Dublin’s Golden Gate” (a comment many residents of San Francisco may take issue with), Minister Brennan has embroiled himself in a row over how best to manage Dublin’s horrendous traffic problem.

In one corner we find Owen Keegan, Dublin City Council’s (DCC) Director of Traffic, a man who is unashamedly pro-public transport and pro-pedestrian, a man who’s long term objective is to return the city centre to a state befitting the nation’s capital, and to, basically, get the city moving. In the other corner we find the reconstituted Department of Transport (DOT), and it’s Minister. Seamus Brennan has responsibility for everything from airports to road haulage, as well as our beloved Dublin Bus. Quite a large brief, and one that should have had it’s own government department for a long time. So what’s the problem, why the big fuss, why have these men suddenly come out fighting?

It started last week, when DCC announced their new traffic scheme. Here’s what their press release said :

Dublin City Council is introducing a major new directional signage system for the city. The new system will make it easier for visitors and residents to find their way to and from major national routes and regional routes and to access parking in the city centre. The system will also help to redirect unnecessary through traffic away from the city centre. This will lead to a more pleasant centre city environment and complement the major environmental improvements currently underway.

It’s that simple, they want to stop people using the city as a short cut (some chance!), and get them onto the orbital roads, just like any normal modern city. We at BUSRAGE applaud this, and so does Dublin Bus, who said on their website that “..time savings of at least 10 minutes are anticipated during peak periods because of this initiative…”. Great news, right? The DOT must of have been delighted about this new traffic busting initiative, yes? Well…

It seems that nobody at DCC thought to actually phone the DOT and tell the Minister about the plan. Of course, even if they had he would probably have been on holidays, which is where he was when he heard about it via the news, at precisely the same time as the rest of us did. He went, by all accounts, completely spare.

The Minister has publicly stated that his objection is over the signs, he says that they are “too confusing” (the poor lad), and that the plan wasn’t cleared by his department for use on public roads. As far as getting permission to do any of this, the answer to that is simple, DCC don’t need permission, responsibility for the traffic management of Dublin falls firmly within the remit of DCC and not the department.

As far as the signage goes, well it seems this area is a little grey. While it is the responsibility of the local authority to erect and manage the use of road signs, they must use signs that follow department guidelines, set out in road legislation. These new signs don’t, although DCC say that they don’t have to, since they are for a new traffic scheme and don’t fall under the terms of current legislation. This is probably true, since Owen Keegan is no slouch and probably checked this throughly before proceeding. All of this is a red herring of course, what is really going on here are a lot of ruffled feathers over at the DOT.

The DOT, we are told have “different plans” for the capital’s traffic problems, and have a “different vision” of the future of the city from the DCC. That’s all well and good, but what has the government been doing about the traffic problem in Dublin for the last 5 years? Where is this different vision? When are we going to get a glimpse at their magnificent plans? Not any time soon, you can be sure of that. Even the Lord Mayor has stuck his oar in, defending DCC and criticising Seamus Brennan for ‘interfering’ in Dublin’s affairs. Dermot Lacey said “…the Minister has failed to deliver a transport system to the city and his interference in what Dublin’s elected council was trying to do is gross and unwelcome.”

These comments bring up an interesting point about the shrewd way DCC has decided to tackle the traffic problem in Dublin, and it contrasts greatly with the way central government deal with it. While the Minister is a politician, who makes decisions based on their political merits and their popularity with voters and special interest groups (especially ones who might, perhaps, fund political parties), DCC’s Director of Traffic is a public servant, answerable to the public certainly, but through the city council, thus he has a certain degree of immunity from the political implications of his decisions. He can, for instance, decide to ban people turning from Dorset Street onto O’Connell Street without having to deal with scores of angry drivers threatening to vote him out next time around. He is in a position to make the difficult decisions that haven’t been made by countless governments for obvious political reasons.

So what’s going to happen? Well, it seems that, once again, politics and egos are going to get in the way of a good idea. DCC have been given a week to redesign to signs, since Minister Brennan feels that they are too confusing for all of us plebs to understand. On top of this, it has been agreed that before any future traffic initiatives are undertaken they will be vetted by the mandarins over at the DOT first, which brings into question why DCC even has a Director of Traffic (expect to hear the Minister say this very thing quite soon, and perhaps propose legislation to reduce his powers or abandon the post altogether).

This whole mess has cost the city €200,000, this in a time when people are worried the economy is going slowly but surely down the toilet, and local authorities are being asked to make cuts on public services. Considering that DCC has had trouble balancing it’s budget in recent years expect to see this whole mess to be live issue well into the future.

So it was all a disaster then, this plan the Minister hates, right? Well, you’d think that wouldn’t you, after all if it was any good why would the Department wants to get rid of it? Not so, in the first week of the new scheme traffic on O’Connell Street was reduced by 50%.

Surprised that the DOT are angry? Just remember this, none of this has anything to do with traffic reduction, making the city a nicer place to live etc…, this is all about Seamus Brennan and a bunch of civil servants over at the department getting their own way, and being able to massage their egos. Hope Seamus enjoys the bus ride home after work, oh, that’s right, he gets driven home. God know’s how his driver finds the way, a pleb like me finds all those signs so confusing.

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