The preferred option for the new Liffey Cycle Route along the quays, which emerged from four options during the spring’s public consultation, is facing opposition.
And it’s not from the car lobby or city-centre business groups.
Instead, the opposition to the so-called “Option 3” is coming from a group of local residents who consider themselves “city-lovers” and advocates for inner-city apartment living.
That’s because, the way they see it, the route is more of a road-widening scheme – which will come at the expense of their parks, square and streets – than a cycle route. Most of the dissidents come from the apartment buildings and businesses along Benburb Street between Croppies Acre and Smithfield.
“I think it would obliterate the area,” says Elizabeth O’Brien, a concerned local homeowner on Benburb Street. She moved to the area in 2005 so she could walk to work. “I like to walk everywhere,” she says.
As O’Brien sees it, the Benburb Street area was neglected until five or ten years back, when businesses started to open up there. Since then, it’s become more lively. There’s a buzz on the street.
But residents fear that the redirection of eastbound bus traffic from the quays to Benburb Street that would be part of Option 3 would kill off any progress that has been made over the years.
There are still questions about whether it could affect a major new development in the neighbourhood.
A couple of months ago, it emerged that Dublin City Council’s plans to reroute buses down Benburb Street hit a major roadblock when construction for a mixed-use development began at a site just south of Smithfield Square, which they needed for a bus lane.
“There’s a building missing from Smithfield and we’re it – we complete the square,” says Gary O’Hare, an avid cyclist and director at KMD Architecture, the firm that designed the building in question. “Our building is just in the recommended guidance of distance from the Luas Line,” he explains.
O’Hare believes the building they designed on behalf of Dublin Loft Company embodies many of the goals that Dublin City Council is pursuing with regards to urban living. It is an infill development that provides the city with much-needed housing and commercial space in an area well serviced by transportation and amenities.
He finds it hard to imagine how he would react to a compulsory purchase order after the work he and his colleagues put into the plan, if the council decided to take such an action.
Dublin City Council maintains that a compulsory purchase order is not on the table. “The issue of a compulsory purchase order in respect of Option 3 has not been considered and it would indicate that we had already chosen this option, which is not the case,” says Dublin City Council Press Officer Alan Breen.
“Dublin City Council would have to modify Option 3 to accommodate a proposed development along the route,” Breen says, but “all 4 options are still under consideration”.
The press office added: “In the coverage so far, it has been portrayed that the city council has decided on Option 3 as a fait accompli which is quite simply incorrect.”
Aren’t We Stakeholders?
When Elizabeth O’Brien got her hands on a copy of the Stakeholder Engagement Summary Report, published last May, she couldn’t understand why representatives of her community were not included in any of the three stakeholder meetings with Dublin City Council and their consultants ROD-AECOM.
“They either ignored the fact that the residents were there or completely forgot about them,” she says. “Either way, it is horrendous.”
“Maybe because it was advertised as a cycle way, it was seen as a light intervention,” offers KMD Architecture’s O’Hare. But he says that the buses and their new route through Smithfield “won’t have a soft touch”.
O’Brien has gone as far as filing a freedom-of-information request to ask a few questions about the consultation process, like, “Who decided who would be invited to the stakeholder meetings?”
As she and her neighbours see it, they needed to start their own campaign to make sure that Dublin City Council can’t push through Option 3 and ignore their input.
The Community Gets Organised
Recently, community members from the apartment blocks around Benburb Street have formed a group called “Save our Community D7” to fight the implementation of the favoured Option 3 for the Liffey Cycle Route
The group is motivated by the concerns already listed by O’Brien, as well as a worry that Option 3 would diminish the area’s green space. The council’s draft design for Option 3 shows traffic being routed straight through Croppies Park and taking a portion of Croppies Acre, a burial site for 1798 rebels.
The DCC Press Office says, in relation to the community’s fears, that “regardless of whatever option is chosen, it is still subject to the statutory planning process which includes a public consultation phase. We will be obliged at this point to engage with all the relevant stakeholders including all those affected along the proposed route and various interest groups representing residents, business, heritage etc.”
What About the Graves?
Using part of the Croppies Acre for new road space offends more than just the local community.
The National Graves Association (NGA), whose stated objective is to “maintain fittingly the graves and memorials of our patriot dead of every generation”, has said it’s troubled by the plan.
“It’d be like taking part of any graveyard that still has interred bodies in it, let alone patriot ones, and just building a road over it,” says Sean Whelan, chairman of the NGA. “It would be absolute desecration of that burial site.”
The whole site should be preserved and renovated,” says Whelan. “It should be kept in a condition befitting of the people that are buried there. It [currently] isn’t and now they are proposing to do even worse.”
“We have no problems whatsoever with cycle routes,” stresses Whelan. “Personally I’m all for them, but we have a huge problem with desecrating a major burial site, particularly one that is as historically important as this one.”
As Dublin City Council tells it, the park is actually due a makeover soon. The lands are in the process of being transferred to the council from the Office of Public Works.
“Dublin City Council is proposing to construct footpaths and pavements to facilitate safe pedestrian and disabled access into and around the space in September which will enable it to be opened as a public park later this year,” said a city council press officer in an email.
That will happen regardless of what decision is made on the Liffey Cycle Route, the press office said.
Nevertheless, Whelan says the NGA is planning to oppose Option 3 at every level they can. “We’re waiting to see how far they go with it first,” he says, “personally I don’t think this is a goer at all.”
With Sinn Fein in the driver’s seat at City Hall, Whelan doesn’t see the Liffey Cycle Route garnering the political support it would need to win the council’s blessing.
The Sinn Fein Factor
And Sinn Fein have switched on to the issue.
Janice Boylan, Sinn Fein councillor for Dublin’s North Inner City, recently met with concerned local residents. Ahead of the September meeting of Dublin City Council’s transport subcommittee, she and Sinn Fein colleagues plan to meet to discuss what stance to take in relation to the route.
This “doesn’t look like a cycle route. It looks like another big road that’s going to take in [part of] the Croppies Acre site and disrupt the traffic and community in the area,” she said, while voicing support for improving cycle routes in the city.
Green space is dear to the Northwest Inner City, says Boylan. “I think any plan that diminishes the size of the green area is the wrong plan for the city.”
Athough Boylan says the official Sinn Fein stance will not be determined until this Thursday’s meeting, the councillor offers that, in its current form “it doesn’t look like it’s going to serve our community and our business people very well, so I wouldn’t be in favour of it. (…) I’m sure we can come up with a better plan.”
Green Party Councillor Ciaran Cuffe, also representing Dublin’s North Inner City, thinks the eventual route “may be some compromise between the four possible route options.”
Cuffe and his transport subcommittee colleagues will walk the route this week before they have to endorse one.
“The hope is we will approve an option [at the September 15 transport subcommittee meeting] that will go out to detailed design and public consultation,” says Cuffe. “I’m hoping that that can happen this month.”
[UPDATE: On 2 Sept at 17.20, this article was updated to include information from Dublin City Council about the planned makeover and reopening of the park.]