Inside Corrigans pub in Rathmines last Sunday afternoon, Saibh Ni Loingsigh sits with her family. She’s surrounded by a group of friends from the neighbourhood.
Mountpleasant Avenue Upper, just up the road, used to be a battleground for cars trying to get past each other, she says. Up until a few months ago, commuters used it as a rat run to get to Ranelagh, Dundrum, and beyond.
The neighbours say the road was designed for horses and carts, not cars. The footpaths are narrow, and so is the road. Much too narrow for two lanes of traffic, with cars parked on one side. So cars would mount the footpath to drive past each other.
“I have been known to stand in the middle of the street like this,” she says, putting her arms out and signalling “stop” with her hands, “trying to get children safely across.” There are several schools around here.
Two doors over from Corrigans is a little shop that’s about to close for good. Claudia Strauss, who’s lived nearby for four years, says the area in front of the pub used to be a kind of village centre with a couple of shops.
“All the traffic destroyed the feel of Mountpleasant … [I]t wasn’t pleasant to go from one side of the road to another, so that kind of all died out really,” she says.
In trying to solve the traffic problems here, Dublin City Council brought in a temporary traffic-calming scheme that makes Mountpleasant Avenue Upper one-way. But that has pushed more traffic onto Richmond Hill – and so now councillors are looking for ways to tackle that new problem.
A New Plan
About two years ago, the neighbours – all residents of Mountpleasant Upper and offshoots Gulistan Terrace and Richmond Place – got together with the aim of making the road safer. They compiled their concerns into a report and submitted it to Dublin City Council in November 2017.
In response, the council carried out an investigation. Council engineers Neil O’Donoghue and Rossana Camargo published a report last May. Based on the evidence they collected, they proposed a three-stage plan.
First, they planned to measure traffic volume in September. Second, they installed “No Straight Ahead” at the junction of Mountpleasant Avenue Upper and Richmond Hill heading south.
This makes Mountpleasant Avenue Upper one-way going north, towards the canal. Anyone driving south on Mountpleasant Avenue Lower from city centre can no longer continue straight where the road becomes Mountpleasant Avenue Upper.
(All drivers, even residents, who want to access their houses, have to divert around. And the clearest path for that diversion is Richmond Hill.)
The third stage of the engineers’ plan is to measure the volume of cars after the trial got up and running. They plan to present a report and recommendations to the South East Area Committee when the trial is complete.
The traffic-calming trial started on 29 October and will continue until 12 April, the latest in a queue of similar schemes in the city.
With the new traffic pattern, resident Katie Hanley says she’s comfortable letting her son, who’s in sixth class, cross the road on his own to get to school. Before the trial, there was “not a chance” she would have let him do that.
The group of residents in Corrigans say some locals complain that the traffic calming makes it harder to access their houses. There is no provision in the plans for local access for residents. But this group doesn’t mind.
Hanley goes to college at DCU in the evenings. She “races home” to try and see her kids for a few minutes before bed.
The old two-way system would be more convenient for her, she says, but it only takes her a few minutes to drive around. “We all understand it’s the greater good, and it’s safety, and it’s our community.”
Later, a group of them walk up the hill and point out particularly narrow points on the footpath, and describe what things were like before the trial.
They arrive at Ni Loingsigh’s house at the top of Mountpleasant Avenue Upper, and she talks about having to signal to her neighbour, Sanam O’Shea, when the coast was clear for her three children under age six to come out of their front gate.
Ni Loingsigh says that, once, she “saw a car with a trailer mount the pavement and go between the lamppost and her front gate … [I]f those little ones had opened the gate, which they do … they were gone.”
Around the corner from the pub, on another old road, residents are not as happy with the traffic trial. The same thing happens there as used to happen on Mountpleasant – cars mount the footpath to pass each other. They worry about children playing and elderly people walking on the path.
The problem originates at the canal, where Mountpleasant Avenue Lower is the only place to turn right in the area. Traffic, which used to be able to continue straight onto Mountpleasant Upper or turn right onto Richmond Hill, must now all funnel right due to the one-way system.
One Richmond Hill resident of 26 years, says his experience of driving a car, cycling, walking, and breathing air on Richmond Hill has “markedly disimproved” since the trial began.
Local councillors say they’ve received emails from residents who are both happy and unhappy with the trial. They also broadly acknowledged that the traffic situation on Mountpleasant Avenue Upper has been a problem for a long time.
“We’ve solved one problem and created another,” says Labour Party Councillor Mary Freehill. “Things have improved for people on Mountpleasant, but things have seriously deteriorated for people on Richmond Hill.”
Fine Gael Councillor Anne Feeney echoed the sentiment and said the problems on Richmond Hill need to be resolved.
Green Party Councillor Patrick Costello said he thought the council had done something good, but “it’s had a huge knock-on effect”.
“In some ways, it’s hyperlocal because it’s one no entry road in Rathmines … At the same time, I think it speaks volumes about traffic and transport in the city as a whole. Here’s this tiny little road built before there was significant traffic, and it’s choked with cars in the morning,” he says.
He says the issue is a “microcosm” for many of the city’s other traffic problems. “We should be doubling down on cycling infrastructure and walking,” he says, as outlined in the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets.
Costello said he plans to put forward a motion at the next meeting of the council’s South East Area Committee to restrict through traffic in area around Corrigans pub, from Bessborough Parade and Richmond Place.
This change would prevent cars from using Richmond Hill to get to and from the canal. But it would also prevent Richmond residents from using Mountpleasant Avenue Lower to get to their homes, presuming no local access was permitted.
At a meeting of the South East Area Committee on Monday, several councillors mentioned a lack of engagement with residents of Richmond Hill.
Independent Councillor Ruairí McGinley asked for an update on the trial at the next committee meeting. Freehill proposed that the council’s traffic department convene a meeting of area residents in the next few weeks.
Traffic Engineer Andrew Duff said the traffic department “will continue to take feedback from residents going forward” and “no further decisions will be made until the trial is completed”.
Executive Engineer Neil O’Donoghue said the traffic department is still assessing the data and doing speed surveys.
They’re monitoring the traffic issues during peak times and are trying to determine the best plan for the area, O’Donoghue says. “If we have to talk to the residents of Richmond Hill, we will do so.”