Car Free Day neutered once again by Dublin City Council

You’d be forgiven for not knowing that September 22nd was European Car Free Day, for there is barely any sign of it in the city. Once again Dublin City Council are ignoring calls to give the day the support it deserves, and instead insist on making Dublin a participating city in name only. This pandering to the car lobby by the city fathers is no surprise to us, even when the European Commission directed participating cities to provide more space devoid of car traffic for this years event, and to make more of an effort publicising it.

The City Council’s efforts in this regard are a joke, closing only four streets, two of which are currently building sites. From 9am to 6pm Middle & Upper Abbey Street are being declared car free zones, but of course they are already virtually car free zones (due to Luas works), with only a small amount of bus traffic eastbound on Upr Abbey St. and traffic coming out of the Arnott’s car park on Middle Abbey St. And guess what, cars will still be allowed to use Middle Abbey Street for the entire of Car Free Day if they are leaving the car park, something which immediately puts the road out of bounds for us pedestrians.

There are plans afoot for on demand pedestrian crossings at many “key traffic lights”, although we have been unable to discover which ones these are. This sounds like a good idea, although we doubt if this would ever be extended throughout the rest of the year.

Also car free on the day will be Parliament Street & St. Andrew Street. St. Andrew Street is treated by many pedestrians as a half-pedestrian street anyway, as cars usually amble through there at a relatively slow speed. Meanwhile, we are promised that Parliament Street will have “…information stands, bicycle displays and music”.

So all in all a disgraceful display of ignorance on behalf of the city council. We don’t need bicycle displays on a street cut off to traffic, as some kind of freakshow. The council should be investing heavily in providing roadspace for cyclists throughout the city and promoting it as a regular means of transport, not sticking it next to some street theatre and music as if it is some kind of entertainment and not a real alternative to car use.

The attitude displayed in Dublin is totally out of step with the rest of Europe, just look at the official website. Started by the French in 1998 and adopted by the EU two years later, the ethos of Car Free Day has been taken on board by much of the rest of Europe, but then, of course, they don’t have our “local concerns”.

For some reason, the city fathers have never been fans of it, usually buckling to pressure from the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, since most, if not all, of it’s members drive to work this is hardly surprising. As we have reported in the past, Car Free Day is a day the council like to sweep under the carpet, just look at their website (if it doesn’t crash your browser with java applets and god knows what else), no mention of car free day, but what do we see: a link to “Traffic Updates”. Bearing in mind their recent attitude to the placement of bus stops and termini this clearly shows the prevailing mindset down on Wood Quay: sod the buses, sod the bikes, cars are for winners. If you want somebody to blame for the doubling of car ownership in Ireland over the last ten years (there are 1.5 Million vehicles in use in the country) we can lay the blame squarely at the doorstep of our politicians.

But sure if we didn’t take the car, what would we do…?

Of course the car lobby, led by the likes of the AA, complain that there is not enough public transport for people to use. We’ve been complaining about that for nearly 3 years, and guess what: things have improved in Dublin, there are more buses on our streets and there are more QBCs. For many motorists there is no longer an excuse to drive into the city, the buses are there to be used. The reality is that many car drivers would like to see other people take the bus, so that they can drive into the city with ease. Nothing short of banning cars from the centre of Dublin is going to change this.

We’ve say it before and we’ll say it again, driving a car into the city is a privilege, not a right. Cars, invariably four seater vehicles, containing one passenger (i.e. the driver) take up much roadspace, so much so in fact that one bus can replace more than 60 cars. More could be done to encourage people out of their cars, like showing how quick their journey to work might be if they took the bus or train, a perfect reason to close most of the city to cars for at least a day, and letting them travel in with the rest of us plebs.

Unfortunately, another opportunity is being lost, as Dublin Bus have scrapped plans for 6 hours of fare free travel on the bus for the day, and are instead offering free travel between 10am and 1pm. It seems that there is no funding available to widen this throughout the rest of the day. This is idiotic thinking, yet another case of management and traffic planners being unable to see beyond the length of their nose, after all the city’s traffic problems cost the company an estimated €1M per week, surely they would generate revenue in the medium to long term if they just got a few thousand motorists out of their cars and onto the buses. Some leadership from the DOT and Minister “Licensed Driver” Brennan would have been nice, but then he’s probably too eager to try out his newly renewed driving skills to take the bus for a day anyway.

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