Dublin City Council is finally doing something bold with College Green. The space in front of Trinity College and the old Houses of Parliament has been a disaster of public space: a contemptuous surrender to the orthodoxies of a transport system centred around the private car. I sent in a few comments, prompted by Irish Cycle’s appeal to people to demand that the bike facilities don’t get degraded, as they always seem to be.
So to everyone’s surprise, Dublin City Council has proposed something quite bold. Possibly they couldn’t have done otherwise — the place is in permanent gridlock and the new tramlines have squeezed out the space for buses, let alone cars. So they’ve suggested taking all cars out of the Green, and for good measure those scraggly old London plane trees that were planted there in the 1960s as an ineffectual gesture of apology towards the choking pollution of the place. Still, they could do better. Here’s what I suggested.
First, the pedestrian priority at the intersections should be guaranteed by non-signalled zebra crossings. In this part of Dublin there is no need for pedestrians ever to cede priority to other modes, except trams. Zebra crossings should be placed along the desire lines at all junctions where buses, cars and cyclists are present. The “courtesy crossings” common in the side streets in this area should be modified with zebra crossing markings to make it clear that pedestrians have priority. Signalled crossings should not be considered except for very wide junctions where there is a very high volume of traffic. There is no need for Belisha Beacons, zig-zag approach lines or any other clutter — these seem to be de rigeur in the UK but there’s no reason for Ireland to imitate the dominant trends of British street planning; instead, look to the elegant zebra-crossing designs found in Belgium, Switzerland, Scandinavia etc. for best practices that could be applied.
Second, it is essential that the new public space include exemplary bicycle facilities. I know that the final design of a bicycle path has not yet been specified in the plans but I hope that the final proposal will clearly indicate a kerb-segregated cycle paths through the Green, on all the approaching streets and at junctions. The design should follow the best practices found internationally, e.g. the Netherlands. This should include a segregated cycle path east-west at one side of the College Green Plaza. It must be emphasised that a shared-space will not be sufficient for cyclists or pedestrians. A cycle track consisting of paint would be pointless. Where necessary, there should be contra-flow separated cycle tracks, e.g. on the streets south of Dame Street (St Andrew’s St, Trinity St, Church Lane, Stephen Street Lower, and any other one-way streets in the vicinity). There also needs to be adequate bicycle parking — simple inverted-U racks, clustered close to likely destinations, as well as off-street longer-term secure parking. Enforcement of these facilities will be essential and there should be a physical separate separation through attractive short metal bollards to prevent cars and vans from parking on contra-flow lanes, as they do incessantly on the contra-flow lane Suffolk Street. There’s no need for the ugly fluorescent warning signage normally seen alongside such facilities in Dublin.
Third, the provision for a bus turnaround arrangement to the west of College Green should be reconsidered. It is very welcome that you have rerouted some of the bus routes away from College Green: it’s absurd to route so many overlapping routes through this bottleneck, which is presumably an artefact of old bus or tram lines. It’s disappointing, therefore, to see that Dublin City Council is considering some kind of elongated bus roundabout. This, apparently, is “to allow a number of routes to move their terminuses to Dame Street”. But why do buses need to have their terminus in the centre of Dublin? They should go through the city, picking up or dropping people off where they wish. The idea of there being a “central” destination is an arrogant assumption. Instead, we should be building an integrated public transport network where bus and tram and train routes are all interlinked in a dense, multi-directional network, providing multiple options to connect any two points on the network.
To give over so much of the new public space — from the map that DCC provides, it looks like almost as much as the whole of College Green — to this unnecessary “bus turnaround” would be an egregious waste of space. The pedestrian space should be extended all the way to City Hall and ideally all the way to Christ Church. The buses do not need to make an east-west turn here — they should retain their north-south route over Parliament Street or parallel, and buses approaching from the west should turn north or south before this point. Passengers wishing to move to an east-west orientation should change route before this point.
Who knows what they’ll finally propose. But at least they’re asking…