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Bad News for the College Green Plaza

Dublin City had planned to pedestrianise the College Green area from the TCD front to approx. where H&M and Starbucks are and turn this new City Centre Plaza into a public amenity. (An article is here.) It would have been the first and only City Centre event space and in my opinion it is the perfect location for a PROPER Christmas Market in Dublin.

But the planning authority, An Bord Pleanala, was not in favour of it because it would have a negative effect on traffic and would cause unacceptable conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians.

At the moment College Green can only be used by buses and taxis and getting taxis out of this area would – in my opinion – be a good thing.

By the way: The only chance a Christmas Market has in Dublin if it a) is in a central location and b) is organised and run by Dublin City, NOT an event management company and definitely not by DublinTown.

The next steps that Dublin City will take regarding this, have not been revealed yet.

College Green Plaza – It will kill us!!!

As human beings, we love stability and routine and we hate change. In its effort to protect us, our brain is interpreting change and uncertainty as danger and does everything possible to bring is back to the routine again. That is one of the reasons why changing your life or aspects of your life is so challenging.

But as we should know, there is nothing more reliable than that change will occur. So it often makes more sense to focus on how change can benefit us than to focus on resisting change.

The opponents of the College Green Plaza, however, are resisting as much as possible and at times in hilarious or ridiculous ways.

The An Bord Pleanala hearings are taking place at the moment. An Bord Pleanala is the Irish planning authority and they have to agree to Dublin City’s plans for turning the College Green Plaza into a pedestrianised area and to ban all sorts of traffic and before they make a decision, they have to give all interested parties an opportunity to express their concerns.

I remember when many years ago it was suggested to introduce a “Lotto” game in Ireland. People were OUTRAGED and saw civilisation to come to a certain end if that Lotto thing ever was allowed. The prediction was that all the unemployed and the pensioners would spend EVERY single penny on Lotto tickets and widespread poverty would be an absolute certainty. It was – as we know now total and utter nonsense. And since then the National Lottery, has introduced more and more and more different types of lottery games and society still functions.

BUT, it will all change when the College Green Plaza is pedestrianised. Because that will now finally end civilisation as we know it….at least if you listen to the opponents.

Before I give you some examples of the hilarious and ridiculous arguments the NO side is bringing up, allow me to tell you that I am not the biggest fan of the College Green Plaza plans. I have a car and use it often for work but also for transporting goods and people to events and to hobby locations and Dublin has a “problem” that you will encounter whenever you drive from South Side to the North Side and vice versa. That “problem” is that darn river that limits the crossing points and causes plenty of traffic bottle necks. Sure, all this is not helped by Dublin City’s traffic rules which are in part intended to manage the limited space for traffic and in other parts there to make it as difficult as possible to experience a smooth ride in Dublin traffic so that we all hopefully leave the car at home.

My preferred North-South route was through O’Connell Street, across O’Connell Bridge and then towards College Green, passing by Grafton Street and then onwards to Merrion Square. But a few years ago we were not allowed to drive down O’Connell Street anymore. then the euphemistically named “Bus Gate”, which is was more correctly a timed street closure for cars at College Green was introduced and with the LUAS from Stephen’s Green to O’Connell Street, College Green became completely impassable for cars. So bit by bit by bit we had to get used to new routes and get used to the fact that College Green will just not be available anymore at all.

It was different for busses and taxis. They still used the College Green route, but now face a closure, which they resist for numerous reasons. The Dublin traders also don’t want change as they are worried, that change will push people out of the City Centre to do their shopping in the Blanchardstowns and Liffey Valleys etc. Understandable in parts, but imagine, Grafton Street was once a street that was used by bi-directional car traffic and despite the pedestrianisation of Grafton Street people still come to the city centre.

So what are these crazy concerns that town planners and city traders have?

Town Planner Tom Phillips who represents the retailers thinks that people will go to Dundrum etc if the key traffic artery is cut off. He has a point, but he seemingly didn’t realise that that key artery has already been essentially cut years ago and that the LUAS put the nail in the coffin. The pedestrianisation is not changing anything anymore and it is somewhat unlikely that the LUAS will be banned from College Green. He also would have most like used the same argument against the pedestrianisation of Grafton Street!! He also claims that a College Green Plaza will bring a risk of terrorism!! Where that is suddenly coming from he doesn’t explain and it sounds like total nonsense.

Representatives of car park owners in the city centre want compensation for people not parking there anymore. Dohh!!! That is the whole idea. Dublin City wants to keep cars out of the city. I suggest the car park owners knock down the car parks if nobody is using them anymore and turn them into apartments. That helps with another crisis and will probably make them a lot more money,

The Taxi drivers tried to use the “disabled people” card. They claimed that the proposed changes would affect vulnerable people who needed taxis. I think they have a point, BUT should that now give them also permission to drive up and down Grafton Street? And if not, why is that argument valid for College Green, but not for Grafton Street and Henry Street etc?

People with disabilities were concerned that proposed two way cycle tracks would cause a danger for people with disabilities and older people. Actually, cyclists in Dublin (the ones that ignore traffic lights) are a danger to everyone, not only people with disabilities and age. But I still think that that danger is slightly lower than the danger that cars do or can cause. I can’t comment on their other concern about the lack of a street kerb, something that seemingly causes a problem for guide dogs.

The Wednesday hearing is described in the Irish Times here.

But it continued! On Thursday then Parliament Street became an issue. Dublin Bus wants to be able to use Parliament Street (from Liffey to City Hall) in both directions to make up for the unavailability of College Green and it was said that 1600 busses would move through the streets per day. And now the locals there had an issue. A Dr Imelda Shanahan said that the fact that 1600 busses would need to go through Parliament Street would lead to breaches in air quality standards that will continue long into the future. Wait! The use of Parliament Street will do that? We have to assume that the same number of busses are currently going through College Green, so NOTHING will change to air quality good or bad, the same situation will just be relocated. So if there are breaches there now, these breaches will still be there….just in a different street!?

Consulting architect Des McMahon correctly described that the street would be more a bus corridor than an inner city street. So Parliament Street would just become what College Green is now. Not great, but not the biggest deal either in a city wide picture. (I understand that locals feel differently.)

The Irish Times report about the Thursday hearing is here.

In my opinion, the traffic situation caused by the LUAS is really bad, but I was in front of Trinity College last week and unless Taxis and Busses will be completely banned from there, chaos will rule in that part of the city. There are just sooo many busses going through and that flippin LUAS doesn’t help things.

Since we had to put up with the street closure at College Green for a while I started to imagine how that new plaza could be used and I found lots of great uses for it. For markets and events etc. It would create what Dublin is lacking sorely: a City Centre plaza for central events. Smithfield totally failed and you can see why and there is NO other plaza available for weekly markets, for busking and open air music. There is a serious problem though: Dublin City will probably do their best to restrict the use of this plaza sooo much that it will be empty most of the time. So I think Dublin City should stop trying to bully us into accepting the plaza and should start trying to convince us that it is a great enhancement for city life. Tell us what you plan to have there. We don’t need an empty, car free place. But we do need an central inner city event space.

Traders will be still worried, because they HATE inner city markets. They don’t see that the vibrancy and the fact that it attracts lots more people to go there will automatically have a positive effect on inner city trade. Instead they are ALWAYS worried stiff that a food stall or a product stall on a market will take business AWAY from them. Short sightedness still rules!

College Green Plaza – The Good and the Bad

Already more than 2 weeks ago the Irish Times reported about the new layout and timescales of the creation of the College Green plaza. I had planned to write about it here before, but only now got the time. Anyway, the creation will take at least another 5 months until it has planning permission and then another 18 months until it is finished. So there is still plenty of time to discuss it’s good and bad sides.

As a car driver I am not completely thrilled with the increasing pedestrianisation of Dublin, but as a Dublin Bike cyclist, pedestrian and as an Electric Unicycle user (ask if you want to know! ;-) ), more car free areas make sense to me. So I am always a little conflicted when it comes to changes like that.

However, as long as the changes are good, we will all get used to it and will gain from it. So, are the changes good?

1) I think having a central civil plaza in Dublin is a great development and much needed.

2) It will HAVE to be available for events (e.g. regular flea or food market, gigs, street performance and busking). Unfortunately Dublin City has in the past been more a spoil sport than a supporter, but here is an opportunity to do better!

3) Ban ALL cars from the plaza! Obviously the LUAS will have to go through it and that’s not a problem and as long as they use the same lane, Busses could also go through, but MAKE SURE that there will be NO taxis! It just doesn’t make sense to have a pedestrianised plaza and then allow taxis to compete with each other for business or to have a situation where they suddenly stop to pick up people and therefore interfere with LUAS and busses.

4) I read about “32 water jets” and was concerned that a fountain will be built there. This would immediately reduce the flexibility the plaza will provide. But on closer inspection it looks like 32 water jets built into the street level surface. So there is no fountain, but the water will come directly out of the “floor”. Nothing new or unique, many cities have similar fountains, but there is nothing wrong with that.

5) Unfortunately the existing trees will all be cut down. Not something I like the idea of. Yes, new trees will be planted, but that doesn’t replace 1:1 an existing tree. I do understand though why the current trees are in the way. To make maximum use of the plaza you have to get rid of use-limiting features in the wrong places.

6) 18 months of more digging in Dublin doesn’t sound great, but hopefully the result will be worth it

7) If there is a nice civil plaza, it would be great to sit there and enjoy the place during weather like we had this week. But benches or concrete blocks or other street furniture to sit on will automatically reduce the versatility of the plaza. So as a result, you can’t really provide anything that will make the plaza more “homely”.

So all in all, it seems to be a good idea, that makes a lot of sense. But my non-negotiable requirement would be that the car ban is absolute and includes taxis and my other requirement would be that use of the plaza will be regulated already now and will explicitly permit all types of busking and street performance.

What do you think about the proposed design?

 
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