A new group has been formed whose campaign, if successful, will hold Dublin back and make the city centre a less successful place. It will be bad for the city economy and will make it less attractive for Dubliners and visitors alike.
Bizarrely, the group is comprised of some of the city’s biggest retailers.
The group calling themselves the “Dublin City Traders’ Alliance” (DCTA) has been set up, apparently as a single-issue lobby group, to oppose plans by Dublin City Council to pedestrianize College Green.
The group is not representative of the Dublin business community. Far from it.
Shortly after the College Green Plaza proposals were unveiled, both Dublin Chambers, the largest commercial representative group in the city, and DublinTown, the city-centre business-improvement group representing more than 2,000 retailers, immediately indicated broad support for the plans.
In opposition to Chambers, DublinTown and many other heritage and urban advocacy groups, the DCTA believes that pedestrianizing College Green and creating a civic plaza to compete with the best of Europe’s capital cities is the wrong thing to do.
So determined are they in their conviction that they have committed to taking “all steps necessary” to prevent it happening and have already lobbied the city council and councillors.
It is unclear what their case could possibly be based on.
A volume of evidence, not to speak of common sense and a myriad of precedents from comparator cities, exists to strongly assert that the city council’s plan to make College Green into a public plaza for the city to be proud of is not only commendable but long overdue.
By now three extensive surveys have been conducted: by DIT Environment & Planning (anindependent academic study in which this author was involved), Millward Brown, and Red C. Each study surveyed more than 1,000 shoppers and the results are emphatic.
By far the most retail business and revenue is brought into the city by public transport. On aggregate, in second place are pedestrians. The fastest growing mode is cycling, something we can see clearly from annual canal cordon counts coordinated by the National Transport Authority.
The Red C study, commissioned by another car-parking lobby group, infamously tried to skew the results by focussing on “high value shoppers”. Yet even among this select group, 54 percent of total spend was from public-transport users.
The bizarre and badly conducted study excluded students, café users, tourists, and workers. What city would not want tourists, café dwellers, students, and working people who work to frequent their streets?
The city council really needs to be careful who it listens to.
Cian Ginty of irishcycle.com has adroitly identified a link connecting the members of the group: they all own, operate, or are linked to city-centre multi-storey car parks. So their motives are questionable – are they more interested in promoting city-centre retail and commerce, or in keeping their car parks full?
If it’s the latter, then their logic is counter-intuitive and self-defeating.
Cars bring people to the city centre too, yes, and it is clear that car shoppers have a higher per-trip spend. Yet the problem is that if you promote car access, the overall number of people who can access the shopping areas goes down.
Would the retailers not be better off if they spent their time thinking about how to increase spend from other modes? Make the city a nicer place, where people will want to stay longer? Too radical a suggestion for some perhaps.
But not too radical at all. It’s called traffic management and has been done successfully in many other cities. Dublin’s city-centre transport strategy is not to eliminate car access, but to eliminate through-trips.
Through-trips have no business in a city centre. Hell, they don’t even stop off in multi-storey car parks.
Most of Dublin’s peer cities in continental Europe eliminated through-trips via effective traffic-management strategies back in the ’70s and ’80s. We are only 40-odd years behind in implementing such a plan really.
One of the earliest cities to implement the “quadrant strategy” envisaged for Dublin City was Groningen, in the Netherlands, a tale elegantly illustrated in a popular video from Streetfilms.org.
Anyone who isn’t convinced needs to read Janette Sadik-Khan’s brilliant book Streetfight – Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Sadik-Khan was no less than Transport Commissioner of New York (and some would say the greatest commissioner the city has ever seen).
She worked under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the get-up-and-go, business-focussed mayor, credited with restoring the city’s previously ailing economic fortunes. Bloomberg’s catch-cry was, “In God we trust, everyone else bring data.”
Sadik-Khan used the facts to show that making streets accessible and friendly for people was good for cities and good for business. Again and again she transformed streets and spaces, often in the eye-teeth of opposition from vested interests, by reaching out to communities and showing the evidence (some of which she even gleaned from Dublin and other European cities).
Sadik-Khan’s crowning achievement was the transformation of Times Square and Broadway. So traffic-choked were these world-renowned spaces it seemed offensive to logic to even suggest they could be any other way. With imagination, design, use of bare facts, and some wacky-coloured beach chairs, Times Square was transformed into a creative public place for everybody to enjoy.
Sadik-Khan was able to show that traffic – even car traffic – worked better in the environs, business went up and the area had massively more footfall. “If you can change the street, you can change the world,” advocates Sadik-Khan.
Dublin needs a real public transport network and the city centre has to become a more pedestrian- and cycle-friendly place. Dublin City needs to listen to its people, be brave and invest in good planning and design.