It’s 8am as a car shoots up Dowth Avenue, a residential street off the main Cabra Road.
Yet, on either end of the avenue, two 30 km/h signs alert motorists that they’re now in a slow zone, introduced by Dublin City Council back in May.
“I’d definitely say the majority of people go below 30, though,” says Harry the fishmonger, setting up for the day. “But I wouldn’t say the 30 kilometre zone has changed that.”
He puts it down to changes in driver behaviour in recent years. And yet there are always exceptions.
Part of the problem is that at the Fassaugh Road end of Dowth Avenue, a set of traffic lights means motorists tend to speed to beat the light. “If they’re speed merchants, and they see the green light, they’re going to go for it,” he says.
Since then there’s been increased campaigning for slow zones across the city. And twice this year the council has expanded 30 km/h zones into different residential areas. They’re now planning another, further expansion of these.
So have these slow zones made much difference for residents and motorists? Not until there’s increased awareness will the differences show, some say.
March to May
The 30 km/h zones were expanded outwards from the city centre on 31 March this year.
Areas including Smithfield, Kilmainham, and Dolphin’s Barn were among the first to have the legal speed limit on their residential streets reduced to 30 km/h.
Then, on 31 May, the council expanded the initiative into areas including Phibsboro, Cabra, Drimnagh, and Crumlin.
This map shows the areas in which the 30 km/h speed limit is in place. Large, arterial roads are excluded.
Now the council is eyeing a further expansion in 2018. But they’ve first to see how it’s all going.
While some residents have voiced concerns about whether the existing 30km/h zones are working, others eagerly await the day their roads finally get slowed down.
Oxmantown to Crumlin
Monday afternoon, sun’s out. Standing at the front door of her house on Oxmantown Road Aisling Healy watches another car pass by, heading towards Stoneybatter.
Since the speed limit on her road was reduced to 30km/h in March, she’s seen little difference in the speed of passing vehicles. “I feel a lot of people don’t realise it’s a 30 area and they don’t really care,” she says.
With one young son, Healy’s ever-cautious. “How am I supposed to play my football?” her son asks, popping his head around the door, retreating just as fast.
Part of the issue with Oxmantown Road, says Healy, is its length – 30 km/h signs are only posted at either end, and motorists forget.
But Healy has an idea. She wants, along with her neighbours, to prop up homemade 30 km/h signs alongside their parked cars “as a reminder”.
Elsewhere, similar trends have emerged.
Over in Crumlin, parts of which are now 30 km/h, Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne has noticed that signs can only go so far. “I’ve noticed over the last couple of weeks that less and less drivers are paying attention to them,” he says.
That might be a symptom of more cars on the road in recent weeks as summer comes to a close, however, he says.
But the nature of 30 km/h streets can be tricky, too, says Dunne. “If you come off the Crumlin Road or the Lower Kimmage Road you’re immediately in a 30 zone area.”
In other words, motorists might be surprised to see the 30km/h sign and take a minute to slow down.
Despite the difficulties with existing 30km/h zones, as the council gears up for the next expansion, some residents want to know how their area can be included – how the council decides which areas are worthy.
Firstly, it’s about demand, says Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe, who heads up the council’s transportation committee. The more people from an area push for a 30 km/h zone, the more likely it is to become one.
Secondly, it’s practicality. “30 km/h is not feasible on some higher-speed commuter routes,” says Cuffe.
There will be further consultation later this year, before the council pushes ahead with expansion, he says. That’s the time for residents to make submissions to the council in relation to these zones, what could be changed, what areas could benefit from a 30 km/h speed limit.
Ian Carty wants in on that when it rolls around. As a resident of Clareville Road in Harold’s Cross, Carty wants to see his area become a slow zone.
“The area’s so dangerous. There’s cars flying by,” he says. “We’ve speed bumps and they’re worn down.”
Whatever the success so far of 30 km/h zones elsewhere in Dublin, they’re an initiative it’s hard to argue against, he says.
“It’s for primarily safety. That’s the main issue we have,” says Carty. “There’s a lot of young families on the road now.”
A Lack of Awareness
Before further expansion, the council need to raise the awareness levels with regards the current 30 km/h zones, says Colm Ryder of the Dublin Cycling Campaign and the Love 30 campaign.
“We’re disappointed with the level of awareness [raising] on the council’s part,” he says.
As Ryder sees it, there’s been a distinct lack of campaigning since the speed reductions were first introduced back in March, and yet increased awareness about 30 km/h zones in Dublin is to the benefit of all, he says.
“If Dublin city does it and gets it right it becomes a model for the rest of the country,” says Ryder. Signs can only go so far. More is needed, in other words.
It’s very much up to the council on that front, according to the Road Safety Authority. “At a local level and for any local authority initiatives, the local authority is responsible for communicating these messages be it through signage or other means,” said an RSA spokesperson.
This raises questions, says Ryder, about whether the council are doing enough. “I think the realisation of it is not very strong overall,” he says. “We’re having an argument with the city council in relation to their PR on all of this.”
One of the guidelines laid out by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport back in 2015 in relation to 30 km/h zones was that they would be “self-enforcing”.
This basically means that Garda enforcement is not generally required for compliance with the speed limit, in this case 30 km/h.
Areas or zones may be self-enforcing where the roads are designed in such a way that motorists are unlikely to exceed the speed limit, according to the department press office.
“Where a road is not so designed then sometimes it is possible to retrofit traffic calming measures to achieve a better match between vehicle speeds and the speed limit,” according to a spokesperson.
There is something to that, says Jason Taylor, urban designer and co-author of the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (DMURS). The designs of many of the roads and streets in Dublin city are conducive to 30 km/h zones.
“They don’t need enforcement because the street environment can tell the driver to drive cautiously,” says Taylor. “If there’s junctions, if cars can pull out, if there’s cars parked, people might get in and out … so people instinctively drive slower.”
But there will always be exceptions. The only way, says Taylor, to properly know whether 30 km/h speed limits are being obeyed, is to “get out there with speed cameras”, he says.
That’s something that Dublin City Council’s planning to do.
Over the next four to six weeks the council is undertaking a review that will include speed surveys, noise- and air-quality monitoring, and a behaviour-and-attitude survey, according to the council’s press office.
Once Dublin City Council has completed its review of the current 30 km/h slow zones, its finalised report “will be used regarding the introduction of further areas to be considered for public consultation in early 2018,” according to the press office.
National guidelines, notes DMURS co-author Taylor, say that if speed limits aren’t being obeyed, then physical intervention is the next step. “That’s the way it should be approached,” he says.
It’s early days, but the Green Party’s Cuffe says that physical interventions, like road narrowing for instance, are dependent on central-government funding. “If [Transport Minister Shane] Ross gave us more funding, we could invest in physical measures like road narrowing,” he says.
As it stands, he is hoping that “An Garda Síochána will give speeding enforcement a big push now that the schools are back”, he says.