Drumcondra resident Lyndsey Kenny, heading towards Griffith Park with young son in tow, crosses over Walsh Road.
Nearby is the main Drumcondra Road and Home Farm Road, two of the busiest in the area for traffic.
“I would never have used Drumcondra Road. I would go out of my way to [avoid it],” she says. “Now it is just making things so much worse.”
“It” is a traffic-calming trial in the area, initiated by Dublin City Council on 21 August. The trial is due to be completed in May.
As part of it, recently placed bollards – at Millmount Avenue and Millbourne Avenue – now block vehicle traffic from passing between these streets and Walsh Road and Ferguson Road.
It means there’s no short-cut anymore between the busy Drumcondra Road and Home Farm Road, through these residential streets. So the council’s hope is that it will reduce chronic traffic issues in these neighbourhoods.
For the past 10 years, both public representatives and local residents have repeatedly asked Dublin City Council to deal with the traffic problems in the area, according to a council fact sheet on the traffic-calming trial.
But now that the council has acted, some residents and local representatives are questioning how it has gone about things.
On Friday afternoon, kids climbed obstacles in the Griffith Park playground. It’s quiet, save for the nearby Tolka River. But it wasn’t always so.
Rat running, speeding, damage to cars and the creation of a “hostile environment” for other road users and pedestrians have caused issues on these roads for some time, the council says.
It argues that by blocking vehicular passage through these residential roads, rat-running will be reduced, and that it will encourage more people to choose to walk or cycle around the neighbourhood and to nearby schools, by making the experience safer, more pleasant.
Kenny, her hood up because of the showers, is unsure of this plan.
“It’s just really frustrating. I think they had this idea to stop people from coming down here,” she says, gesturing towards Walsh Road and Ferguson Road. “But they didn’t think of the implications for the residents and nearby roads.”
Kenny says she now has to leave much earlier in the morning because these shortcuts are no longer an option. She’s now forced onto busier roads for longer, she says.
Social Democrat Councillor Gary Gannon says he thinks the council hasn’t thought through all the consequences of putting in the bollards. “I think they went for the most extreme restriction and it’s having consequences far behind Walsh Road and Ferguson Road,” he says.
That includes increased traffic on already busy roads.
But in a response to a question from Gannon, council management stated that there’s no plan to do a traffic study of the Drumcondra area overall.
There were information sessions held about this planned traffic-calming trial before it began.
But the council’s logic for it only fully came to light and was made available to residents once he, and others, started pressuring it for information back in August, Gannon says.
“Where there’s an absence of transparency, there’s an absence of trust,” he says. “There’s been a real lack of trust in this process.”
One of the main issues some residents felt unclear about was how the council was going to measure the success of the ongoing trial. “They put it into place in August before the schools went back,” says Kenny. “The traffic wasn’t so bad at that time.”
She’d like to know how exactly the council plan to monitor the situation. “Are they there in the mornings? Are they there in evenings when people are still coming up to that roundabout, asking ‘Where am I supposed to go?’ and ending up on Drumcondra Road with everybody else?”
This information hasn’t been forthcoming, she feels.
Winners and Losers
Measures like installing the bollards are the best way to deal with traffic congestion, says Labour Councillor Andrew Montague.
However, they will, inevitably, have knock-on effects elsewhere in Drumcondra, he says.
Some motorists will have to drive further, and for longer, to reach their destination – for example, someone who lived on Millmount Avenue and wanted to drive to Walsh Road, instead of making a short trip from one to the other, would have to drive a large horseshoe shape.
But the changes also mean parents in the area might turn to cycling and walking more, Montague says.
“That’s probably the best way that we have of dealing with congestion – giving people a viable alternative,” he says. “There are winners and losers in this.”
One such winner is Leslie Halligan, crossing the junction of Millmount Avenue and Ferguson Road. She says she’d be in “a minority” of local residents in favour of the recent road closures.
“But it’s much, much quieter. It’s calmer. It’s safer for my kids, for elderly people,” she says. “But I think a lot of my neighbours weren’t keen on it. They felt that the decision was foisted upon them.”
People will eventually realise the benefits, Halligan argues. “They’re little roads. I walk usually but the odd time I do take a car. I can now just drive up Walsh, whereas before I’d literally have to pull in behind [parked] cars constantly.”
The measure of success for the trial is whether cyclist and pedestrian safety improves in the area, and whether the closures reduce rat running, according to the council.
Now with over 300 followers, the Facebook group StoptheroadclosureD9 has since late July, been raising concerns about the council’s handling of the situation, opposing the measures introduced, and questioning the council’s monitoring of the trial’s success.
“It’s a quick fix with no forward thinking,” wrote Jules Conway on the page on 25 August.
Another poster, Martina Rehill, felt that “this road closure is costing the wider community a huge expense in terms of additional driving time and childcare costs. Absolutely crazy”, she wrote on 5 September.
Rather than putting in the bollards, the council could have tried something else, says Gannon, such as limiting the times that cars could pass through the roads. “But instead I think what the council have done here is they’ve taken a sledgehammer to a nut,” he says.
Labour’s Montague says that improving road capacity for cars, even on residential roads, does not work. “These kinds of initiatives are the only answers that we have,” he says. “Improving capacity for walking and cycling is the way to go.”