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The Francis Street nightmare is coming to an end. Or is it?  

It looks like the nightmare is coming to an end. I have been travelling across Francis Street in Dublin 8 for 6 years and in all that time there has not been one day free of roadworks or construction on that small one way-street. 

As the final piece of the footpath appears to be set in place, there may be some relief for the residents of the street at last.

It is incredible to think of the number of workdays spend on this ongoing work. It is not something that has been planned. Between construction of hotels, staycity apartments, refurbishing of buildings, construction of Dublin Bike stations, repair and upgrade of water, gas, electric mains along and through the middle of the road as well as tapping into the services anew for different buildings, repairing, relaying and adjusting the footpaths, there has not been a day free of orange-jacket workers on the street.

The residents are due a break. As are the commuters. For six years, the surface of the road has felt like it has been bombed. Craters and potholes along with badly backfilled service crossings meant the street was more reminiscent of Baghdad than the capital city of one of Europe’s richest cities.

Speaking to two residents on my daily cycle through Francis Street, I asked whether they will be happy when all the works are finished.

‘I won’t hold my breath. They have been nearly finished a few times before. It won’t stop here. Something new will come’.

Another, made a very pertinent observation: ‘They have spent a fortune widening the footpaths and resurfacing the road. But they won’t be finished. There is no cycle-lane. The city is putting cycle lanes everywhere but there are none here. They will be back to do that’.

Indeed, cycle lanes are the pet project of Dublin City Council and it is surprising, if not shocking, that no cycle lane has been incorporated into the redevelopment of the street. Each day I cycle to work, myself and others are forced onto the footpaths as the drivable width of the street is little more than that of a car. The widened footpaths, recently installed along the length of the street on both sides, squeeze the single lane traffic into a narrow lane. There is little space for cyclist either side.

With cycle lanes being installed across the city and driving lanes being closed off by the council, it is unlikely this oversight will last long.

Or it might. With only single lane traffic, adding a new cycle lane to Francis Street will serve little purpose in contributing to Dublin City Council’s stated aim of immiserating drivers to the extent that they feel they have no choice but to abandon their cars and take up public transport or join the cycle race.

True, a cycle lane will help cyclists. But Dublin City Council has not really been pursuing a carrot and stick approach to reducing traffic in the city. It has mainly been the stick.

This is evident in some of its endeavours around Christchurch and Patrick Street. Car lanes have been closed off by yet more plastic bollards. This hasn’t been done for the benefit of better, or more smoother, traffic management, nor to make space for cycle lanes that were already in existence, but simply to force traffic into single lanes; to slow it down; to make the journeys longer and more stressful.

Pity the fool that attempts to drive across the city on a wet weekday afternoon. Traffic is at a standstill. The recent move to reduce traffic exiting the city along the quays to two lanes – one for buses and taxis, and cutting the regular lanes from two to one, has made the journey out of the city a battle. Traffic backs up at traffic lights from one to the next. You may move 200 metres in ten minutes if you are lucky.

Look across the river to the incoming traffic. There is a dual-lane cycle path as you make your way past the Aisling Hotel. Both lanes going in the same direction. It sounds like a good idea. More space for cyclists. Yet, the dual lane reduces down to a single lane quite quickly, as bike traffic gets heavier. It makes no sense.

Then there is the infamous cycle-lane switchover. At the bottom of Church Street, the cycle lane abruptly ends on the left and starts on the right. If you are cycling into the city and meet a red light, all good and well. Traffic stops and you cross the road to the right hand side. If you meet a green light, which is the majority of the time, you are nobbled. Your choice is to continue without a cycle lane on the left or attempt to dodge traffic and drift from the left to right to the relative safety of the cycle lane protected beautifully by very large flower pots, running parallel to a pedestrian lane, that runs alongside an actual footpath.

It makes no sense. But there it is. It fulfils the priority of objective of taking up space with flower pots, plastic bollards and redundant cycle lanes and pedestrian paths, that could have been used to facilitate the free-flow of traffic.

Eamon Ryan has outlined plans “to do a whole city centre reorganistion” of Dublin’s traffic systems. He made the comment as he announced €290m in new funding to support 1,200 active travel projects throughout Ireland on Wednesday morning. A total of 387 projects are planned across Dublin this year. They include a mix of segregated cycle lands, widening footpaths, new walking and cycling bridges, and pedestrian crossings.

Anyone who has experienced some of the projects in Dublin City to date will wait with trepidation for the impact of these. The stated aim is to reduce congestion for the climate but the reality is that Dublin is now the 12th worst city in the world for congestion and that these ‘projects’ are actively contributing to that congestion.

The stated aim may be to ‘make the city work’ but the granular details are aimed simply at making it harder to drive in the city. Comfort and ease of access are secondary considerations to reducing emissions (private transport) and certainly the stick is being imposed at a faster rate than any carrot is being offered.

Dublin City’s 2022-28 Development Plan makes this clear. A ‘modal shift’ of how people move around the city is being sought, with the aim of making harder for people to drive and to park in the city, including the aim of progressively eliminating all free on-street parking in the city and removal of paid parking spaces as well.

These changes are all within the remit of Dublin City Council. But that is where its remit ends. It doesn’t have the authority to offer the carrots through large infrastructure projects that can make travel in the city easier and more accessible. That falls to others such as the National Transport Authority.

The Greater Dublin Area (GDA) Transport Strategy provides framework for further investment in services and infrastructure. Extending the Dart, the long-promised Metro, Bus Connect and the design (not build) of 8 new Luas lines by 2042, all offer exciting ideas but are long-term plans that may (but are not guaranteed) provide the type of urban transport system that Dublin needs to reduce the number of cars in the city. But that promise is a long-time into the future.

So, the City Council continues to chip away at your life, making it increasingly difficult to get around the city, forcing you into longer and longer journeys, while being unable to offer you positive alternatives. Congestion goes up and the narrative is reinforced: we need to reduce traffic. So more plastic bollards get put up.

During Covid, 9km of new cycle lanes, we were told, were introduced in the Phoenix Park. Indeed, this is true. All the parking space up and down Chesterfield Avenue was converted to cycle lanes. And the 9km of existing cycle lanes two metres away was converted to footpaths: with existing footpaths a further two metres away. Yet, the OPW considered this a ‘success’ and boasted on radio of the ‘9km of new cycle lanes’.. I think the proper term is ‘blowing smoke up …’

Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor, who sits on the council’s transport committee, said that she wanted was to see a 500 percent increase in the number of children cycling to school in 2028. Unrealistic as this is, it is dangerous as well for many reasons.

Cycling in the city has turned into a free-for-all and this is exacerbated by the lack of regulation for e-bikes and e-scooters but also the increasing disregard for both the rules and basic decorum by people using two wheels.

Children are unaware that they should cycle on the left hand side of the road. The footpath is considered to be a natural avenue for cyclists, e-scooters and e-bikes and any disagreement with such is greeted with angry confrontation.

Francis Street, a one-way street, was the perfect opportunity to introduce a cycle lane running in parallel with the traffic, but without any benefits for immiserating drivers, it seems to have been overlooked, and so, cyclists, e-bikes, scooters will choose between sitting in traffic behind already frazzled drivers or mounting the widened footpaths to share this new amenity with pedestrians.

One nightmare may be over but another is probably just beginning. Or, someone will rip up the newly laid footpaths and put in a cycle-lane as they should have in the beginning. Bedecked with red and white ugly plastic bollards. That will add another couple of years to the never-ending construction.


David Reynolds

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