In spite of some clear teething problems, the Luas Cross City has opened, to deserved fanfare and acclaim. It’s an exciting time for the city, which might as well be waking up to an early Christmas present.
It’s not yet fully evident what happened on day one, but having buses backed up on the North Quays, O’Connell Street and Westmoreland Street clearly wasn’t the plan. Some tram announcements and communications mentioned problems with signals. But signals are as much a part of the system as the ticket machines or tram vehicles themselves.
Teething problems do happen and these things should get sorted out. But without testing the nerves and patience of thousands of businesses who have already endured five long years of construction, noise and disruption.
If they are not resolved, questions will be asked about whether the agencies had done full-service testing prior to the go-live date (as would expected for such a large investment and sensitive receiving-environment).
The transport agencies also seem to have been ambitious in running 100 percent of services through the city centre on day one. Perhaps if every second tram turned back at Stephen’s Green, with the remainder going the full distance to Broombridge, things might have got off to a smoother start.
It will need to be sorted very quickly, as travellers make their choices early and travel patterns are difficult to change once established.
Birthday problems aside, the question on most people’s lips is: will it make a difference?
The new cross-city tram line most certainly improves access to the city centre. The fact that the two lines – policy since 1994 and constructed in 2005 – are finally joined up is more than just symbolic.
The more the network is connected, the more opportunities we all have to live our lives.
Anyone on the southside want to study in Maynooth? Now there’s a chance to connect with the Arrow at Broombridge and a decent chance of getting a seat while at it.
People from west Dublin might think the shops on Grafton Street a good deal handier than before. The municipal suburbs of Cabra have never been so well connected to the city.
But the biggest potential boon to the city derives not from the cross-city tram service itself. (In the grand scheme of things the extended Luas adds not that much extra capacity to the network.)
The biggest impact of the Luas Cross City project will be the additional traffic-management measures brought in to ensure that it operates efficiently. These traffic-management measures benefit the rest of the public-transport network too.
We know this because the results are already demonstrated. While the Luas has arguably taken decades to plan and implement, a bus-priority measure on the North Quays reduced average journey times for travellers by 3-5 minutes for every single trip.
Journey-time reliability, so important to every traveller, was improved immeasurably too. This modest-appearing measure will benefit many more people than will board the new €368 million Luas scheme.
Neither was this an easy thing to achieve. Legal challenges were threatened and “traffic chaos” was predicted. All the powers of the local authority were likely contrived to make this traffic change happen in the required timeframe. In the end, the council acquiesced to intensive lobbying and a curtailed measure was implemented, but which improved public transport reliability nonetheless.
Now that the Luas Cross City is operating, will Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority (NTA) continue to focus on continual traffic management and improvements to the city centre transport system? It is vital that they do.
But there are reasons to be concerned. Pressure is already mounting to dispense with plans to pedestrianise College Green and create a civic plaza. It would be rash to do this just because of problems experienced over a few days of operating an entirely new service.
The north and south quays bus-priority measures were conceived and completed in months and at a fraction of the cost of the Luas Cross City. Other measures, such as priority measures on Winetavern Street, have not been implemented at all.
These also formed part of the Dublin City Centre Transportation Strategy, the main imperative of which was to ensure Luas Cross City worked. But the real imperative must be for the whole city to work, and to create an attractive place to live and work.
The levels of investment that were poured into a single cross-city tram line now need to be invested in the city-wide bus network. Bus Connects is a project that purports to do this and it is good news that the government has emphasised it, even as the Luas Cross City was being launched. It would be better to focus on this investment than to consider extensions to the tram and urban rail network for now.
Other projects like the Liffey Cycle Route should also not be neglected, now that the Luas Cross City is in place. If done properly, this scheme can act as an additional car-restraint measure, as well as increasing safety for cyclists, whose numbers are increasing.
It might be hard to conceive of such measures working while the status quo is congestion and traffic delays. But the need to provide for regenerated, healthy streets, especially in our inner-city communities, is now more pressing than ever.
To do this successfully, the NTA, along with Dublin City Council, need to invest in increased community liaison and good environmental street design.
That brings us to the biggest impact of all which emanates from the Luas Cross City: simply the motivation for all of us to reimagine the city.
The magic of public transport is that it can open up places in the public consciousness. Broadstone, Grangegorman and Broombridge will become places in the imagination of Dubliners, just as Fatima, Museum and Charlemont did after the tram service first arrived on the streets.
The reality is that Dublin is only now starting to get the public-transport priority the city needs. The NTA needs to press on with the full toolkit of city-centre traffic management measures.
Providing quality services to suburbs like Cabra and Phibsborough changes the city in immeasurable ways. Imagine if the whole city was connected properly in this way.