Nicko Mooney says that there was a fire a couple of years back across the road from where he lives at Portland Place, near Croke Park.
But when the fire engine came, there were cars parked on both sides of the street, so it couldn’t turn where it needed.
“They got up to the corner there,” he says, pointing to the corner of Sherrard Street Lower and Portland Place. “And then they couldn’t get down the street to put the fire out. That was serious alright.”
His street needs double yellow lines around the corners to allow emergency services to access it, he says. It’s not the first time he’s brought it up.
(Dublin City Council Press Office didn’t respond to a query sent Tuesday, asking if it could confirm the incident.)
In a way, this isn’t news.
Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon says that yellow lines for Portland Place was one of the first requests he put forward after being elected as a councillor. That was in May 2014.
He thinks that request has nudged along to the final stage of a long process, but it has taken its time.
“This is happening at a snail’s pace,” says Gannon. “There is a major backlog, when we make requests (…) it takes more than two and a half years to come to fruition.”
Gannon says he doesn’t think he will run in the local elections again, unless the system changes. It’s “impossible” to get things done, he said.
It’s a citywide problem, not just in the council’s Central Area, which includes Portland Place.
From 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017, there were 13,444 service requests sent to the Road Maintenance Services division from all over the city. That’s according to an email to councillors from Dublin City Council Staff Officer Fiona O’Brien.
In that same period, 4,145 requests were made from the council’s South-East Area, of which 1,497 had been sorted, and 2,648 were still to deal with, the email said.
It’s unclear how that fits with what council engineer Rossana Camargo told councillors in the South-East Area at a recent meeting – that there were 380 outstanding traffic items in the area.
(It could be that the lower number relates specifically to queries raised by councillors, rather than all queries.)
But it’s still a lot. So many that the South-East Area has special regular meetings to deal with traffic issues, following campaigning by Labour Councillor Mary Freehill.
“The bottom line here is there that there is a very serious shortage of staff, both engineers and administrators,” says Freehill. She wants to know whether the empty posts have been advertised.
At one of these recent traffic meetings, it was agreed that councillors would each prioritise two of her or his traffic questions.
When this came up at the local area meeting before a larger group, some councillors were not impressed with the idea.
“Our questions every month are our priorities, and I think this undermines the question-and-motion structure,” said Fianna Fáil Councillor Claire O’Connor at the meeting.
Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey said it would be difficult to choose between something that is very important for an individual, and something else that effects the overall traffic in the city.
“How do you choose between a disabled parking bay outside Mrs Murphy’s door, which is very important for Mrs Murphy, and a set of traffic lights at the top of Herbert Park, which affects a lot of people?” said Lacey.
Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn, says he would happily prioritise two traffic issues, if the entire city centre including Camden Street could count as one of them.
How Does It Work?
Councillor Lacey says that traffic requests typically include disabled parking bays, stop signs, zebra crossings, ramps, traffic lights, pay-and-display points, and yellow lines.
“Every one of those has to go through a really cumbersome system,” he says.
It’s a five-stage process that starts when a councillor submits a request, a question, or a motion. This goes to the Traffic Advisory Group, which includes engineers and administrative staff from the council, as well as representatives of the Garda, the ambulance service, and Dublin Bus.
An engineer assesses the request and reports back to the Traffic Advisory Group, says Lacey. The group then comes up with its recommendation and kicks that on to the councillors in the local area for approval, he says.
It’s not finished there though. That approved change can then be sent back to the Garda for final sign-off, says Lacey. It’s a long process.
Once the decision is approved, “if the funding and staff are available, then it commences”, says Councillor Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party. The whole process is “deeply frustrating”, he says.
How Many Staff?
It’s unclear how many employees the council has to deal with these traffic requests. Dublin City Council Press Office didn’t respond to a query on 12 April about this.
But overall staff numbers have declined over the years. Lacey says he asked about staffing last year. “In 1993, when I started in the council there were roughly 2,000 more staff than there are now,” he says.
Gannon says that when councillors cannot get simple issues resolved for the communities they represent, it undermines confidence in local government.
Councillor Flynn wants to know how many council staff, if any, have been seconded from the traffic department of the South-East Area to the Luas Cross City works. Councillors on the South-East Area Committee are waiting for an answer to that.
In the meantime, Cuffe says that the failure to resolve these issues contributes to the traffic problems in the city: “It means that streets get blocked up and older people cannot get across the road to go to the church or to the shops.”