Have you ever felt claustrophobic walking between a towering coach or Dublin Bus bus [sic] and the hedged gates of Merrion Square?
Well, the number of tourists arriving on cruise liners in Dublin Port and riding into the city centre in coaches is likely to rise, and that’s going to make the problem worse – unless something is done.
Dublin city councillor Mary Freehill, of Labour, is working on it. She tabled the following motion at Monday’s southeast area meeting:
“Buses using Merrion Square as a parking lot should be moved from there. This is a heritage square and it is not appropriate that it be used as a parking lot for buses. Please see DIT report on parking of tour buses in Dublin.”
The Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) report that Freehill was referring to is based on research undertaken by students in the BSc Spatial Planning course, in partnership with the Irish Georgian Society. More on that later.
The Dublin City Council executive responded to Freehilll’s motion in typically bureaucratic fashion: “The above request has been added to the list of Engineer’s queries for the South East Area. A report and recommendation will issue to the Councillor following examination of the matter.”
Why is this an important issue? And how do the DIT students propose we address it?
Protecting Dublin’s Heritage
“The South Georgian core is the best surviving part of Dublin’s eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Georgian City and Merrion Square is very much a focal point in that,” says Donough Cahill, executive director at the Irish Georgian Society.
For some time now, the Irish Georgian Society has been pushing the issue of bus parking along Merrion Square. Cahill feels that addressing the issue is more important than ever as “Historic Dublin” is on the tentative list of world heritage sites.
“The Georgian city forms an integral part of that proposal,” says Cahill.
As the Irish Georgian Society sees it, Merrion Square is an architecturally sensitive area, and Dublin Buses and private coaches restrict views into and out of the park, severing the square from the terraces. The buses don’t just get in the way of views. They are loud, smelly, and uncomfortable to walk beside.
Ian Lumley, Built Environment and Heritage Officer at An Taisce, agrees with Cahill, and describes certain stretches of Merrion Square as a “linear coach park. The whole experience of visiting and walking around the square is diminished because of that, as well as for the people in the buildings,” he says.
“We have this coach tour demand, and the cruise liners are now adding to that, and the consideration as to how that should be handled hasn’t taken place,” says Lumley.
When cruise liners arrive at Dublin Port, many of their passengers pile into coaches for one-day sojourns to Dublin or surrounding attractions like Glendalough. Lumley’s concerns about this are timely; it’s a growing industry and could mean more coaches parking around Dublin.
But We Need the Money!
“The revenues from coach tourism in 2013 were in excess of €300 million,” says Kevin Traynor, national director of the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland.
Traynor points out that Dublin is in sore need of a coach-parking facility.
“Coaches can only drive four and a half hours without a break,” says Traynor. “When they’re coming into Dublin, they need a setdown area to take their break.”
A recent application by the National Transport Authority for a temporary coach park near Dublin’s Convention Centre off Wapping Street has been withdrawn because the site spills outside of the Docklands Special Development Zone.
Without a coach-parking facility in the city centre, Traynor says that existing coach-parking allowances along Nassau Street and Merrion Square are critical.
Tourism on the Rise
This year is set to see a record-setting number of tourists arrive by cruise liner in Dublin. By the end of 2015, nearly 100 ships will have landed in Dublin Port, bringing an expected 200,000 visitors with them, an increase of 70,000 visitors compared to 2011’s figures.
The number of tourists arriving by cruise liner looks likely to continue to grow.
This summer, Dublin Port Company received permission from An Bord Pleanála for the Alexandra Basin Redevelopment Project. A key component of which is to construct wider births, making it easier to receive large cruise liners.
“There has to be a solution,” says Lumley, “because the pressure is going to increase.”
Enter the Students
A group of DIT students thinks they may have solved the problem.
They partnered with the Irish Georgian Society to investigate “the potential for an alternative, viable and sustainable bus layover strategy for Dublin City Centre”.
The study, supervised by Transport and Mobility Lecturer Dave O’Connor, considered a few different solutions. One involved relocating coach and Dublin Bus parking to less architecturally sensitive streets in the city centre; another considered making all routes cross-city, so that Dublin Bus buses don’t terminate at Merrion Square.
But the preferred option, according to the students, would be for the buses currently laying over along Merrion Square to change their route so that they terminate at Dublin Bus’s Ringsend depot.
Instead of passing through College Green and Nassau Street, buses would travel from Westmoreland Street to Townsend Street, through the Docklands, and terminate at the Ringsend garage.
This new routing would help relieve congestion through College Green and better serve the Docklands, otherwise known as “the area of greatest employment concentration in the city centre”.
But What About the Private Coaches?
Dublin Bus could, the students argue, allow private coaches to lay over in their Ringsend depot and charge for them parking fees. In this way, Dublin Bus could make a bit of money and private coach drivers could access high-quality rest and maintenance facilities in the city.
The council’s Roads and Traffic Department will likely need to bring stakeholders together to see if DIT’s solution, highlighted by Councillor Freehill, is feasible.
Although increasing tourism should be welcomed, it has to be managed in a way that does not harm Dublin’s built heritage, for our sake as well as theirs. After all, it is this heritage the tourists are coming to experience.
Or as the Irish Georgian Society’s Cahill put it, “the last thing we want to do is destroy what it is that makes the city so very desirable for the tourists. It would be a shame if all they can see are the coaches in which they’ve arrived to the city in.”