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Opinion: With more of us living in cities, we have to plan for real quality of life

I want my city to serve its local communities – that means introducing proper cycle lanes and options for pedestrians.

Ciarán Cuffe Chair, Dublin City Council’s Transportation Strategic Policy Committee

START TALKING TRAFFIC and transport and, before you know it, you’ll have a row on your hands. Whether it be Dublin City Council’s plans for a cycle lane along the Liffey Quays, or the AA’s proposal for on-the-spot fines for pedestrians, there’s bound to be disagreement and controversy. As someone who walks, cycles, drives and takes the bus, I tend to see merit in everyone’s point of view.

One way of resolving these arguments is to sit down and decide on the type of city that we want for the next generation. Twenty years ago, the Dublin Transportation Initiative did just that. They drafted a vision statement that saw Dublin as “a leading European city” and wanted “A living city – region on a human scale, accessible to all: at its heart, a city to serve its people and communities and to meet their aspirations for an improving quality of life” .

That vision guided the construction of Quality Bus Corridors, the completion of the M50 motorway and the Dublin Port Tunnel, light rail lines, and improvements for cyclists and pedestrians. In 2014 we now need to look ahead to the next 20 years and plan accordingly.

Increase in inner-city living

In recent years there has been a massive increase in inner-city living. However, there’s also been an increase in long-distance car commuting. Concerns about climate change and the impact of recession must inform our transport priorities, so we need infrastructure that doesn’t cost the earth and that improves people’s quality of life. Park and Ride facilities, and reliable public transport between the suburbs and the city centre, are part of the solution, as are cycling and pedestrian facilities.

Fred Kent, an American writer, said: “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places”. That explains why Bordeaux transformed their traffic-dominated riverside a decade ago and made it into a magical tourist attraction with walking and cycle paths. Copenhagen and Amsterdam constantly improve their public spaces and are cited as living cities, and we need to follow their lead in Dublin.

Improving walking and cycling facilities

In traditional traffic plans, walking and cycling rarely received the attention they deserved. They were hard to model on computers and were seen as somehow being less of a priority than providing for cars. Yet it is often the most vulnerable in society: older people, children, immigrants and the less well-off, who walk and cycle. This is another reason to improve walking and cycling facilities.

Some years ago when I suggested to the city engineer that we should have a bus lane on the South Quays he said that the real priority was getting all the cars out of the city during the evening rush hour and that it couldn’t be done. That thinking needs to be challenged. It comes from working in the Civic Offices that sit atop a basement with multiple levels of employee car parking, and in an institution that happily demolished inner-city communities to build urban highways up until the 1990s. Thankfully that way of thinking is now changing. A cross-city Luas line is being built between Cabra and Stephen’s Green that will link the red and green Luas lines, the Dublinbikes scheme is expanding, and the car is no longer king of the transport equation.

The revitalisation of Dublin

The proposal for a two-way cycleway on the North Quays is part of that transformation that the Green Party supports. The Quays are the frontispiece to the city and the nation. They can be a major part of selling Dublin to tourists if we widen footpaths, plant more trees, and put in decent cycle facilities just like the Grand Canal cycle route.

This ambitious proposal needs to be carefully planned, there needs to be buy-in from city businesses and residents, and the consultation process is crucial. The revitalisation of Dublin will stall if we allow cars to continue to dominate the Quays. I look forward to cycling with my children on a safe cycle boulevard that stretches from the Phoenix Park to Dublin Bay. I believe such a facility will attract tourism, boost city-centre shopping and make Dublin a better place to live.

Ciarán Cuffe lectures in the School of Spatial Planning and Transport Engineering at the Dublin Institute of Technology and is a Green Party Councillor for Dublin’s North inner city.

Read: Dublin Bikes scheme signs €2 million sponsorship deal with Coke Zero

Read: There is a ‘real turf war’ going on between cyclists and drivers in Dublin

About the author:

Ciarán Cuffe  / Chair, Dublin City Council’s Transportation Strategic Policy Committee

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