Currently there are around 300 poles in Dublin city that have no obvious purpose, according to a survey by Dublin City Council in March. They’re bare, holding no signs, no speed limits, or even directions.
The empty polls are part of Dublin’s street clutter problem, according to Michael Banim a Transport and Mobility masters student in Technological University Dublin (TUD).
“Often you’ll see three signposts beside each other when they could be amalgamated on to one,” says Banim.
Banim and others want to see the amount of street clutter reduced in Dublin city, he says.
As of yet, it remains unclear if Dublin City Council will meet their target to reduce street clutter as set out in the Dublin City Development Plan 2016 - 2022, but other counties, such as Cork may provide a useful blueprint.
We Need to Talk about Clutter
Banim says he thinks that City Quay, Lombard Street, College Green, and Abbey Street are among the areas that are worse affected with street clutter.
“For starters, it affects our footpaths which is unfair. Consider the amount of space pedestrians get on footpaths in Dublin. It’s very little.”
Street clutter also particularly impacts people with disabilities.
Michéal Kelliher is deaf and an activist for the deaf community. He says that he’s familiar with the problem of street clutter.
Street clutter is an obstacle when you are trying to communicate via sign language and walk at the same time, he says.
“We occasionally hit poles or bins while walking and signing at the same time,” says Kelliher.
Nonplussed about Signage
The problem of street clutter is also not just limited to pedestrians.
“There is absolutely too much signage. It makes it very difficult to read the signs when you are driving,” says taxi driver, Brendan Fox.
Fox often sees people going the wrong way on a one-way street or making a left or right turn when they shouldn’t, he says. “You always see it on the quays, College Green or on George’s Street.”
Banim says there are a lot of agencies involved in transport infrastructure in the city.
These include Dublin City Council, the National Transport Authority (NTA), Transport Infrastructure Ireland and the CIÉ.
“That tends to produce a lot of duplication, [of signs]” he says.
The NTA will put in a pole for their own purpose, then Dublin City Council will install poles for their own reason and there is not enough communication between the two agencies, Banim says.
A Solution from the Rebel County
Dublin isn’t the only city that has experienced the problem of street cluttering.
Back in 2018, Cork City Council began ridding the streets of outdated signage and making the existing signage more uniform.
“The idea was, for the want of a better word, to start cleaning up the streets,” says Fine Gael Councillor for Cork City Des Cahill.
The aim of this project is to make the streets of Cork safer for people who are visually impaired and to make the streets more aesthetically pleasing, says Cahill.
Cork City Council are in the middle of completing this project, he says.
“Some signs would have been put up privately, some signs would’ve been put up publicly and other signs have been put up over different decades,” he says.
Taking clutter away brings a subtle change to the city, he says. “The area and streets have become visually cleaner.”
Now when the council are making tourist maps of the city they can do so in a more recognisable way, Cahill says.
Cleaning Up The Streets
The Dublin City Development Plan 2016 to 2022 states that it intends to reduce street clutter by 20 percent by 2022, although it is not yet clear exactly how this will be done.
“The City Development Plan will be reviewed, commencing this December,” a spokesperson for the council said via email.
In this review they will look at the progress on reducing street clutter in the city, the spokesperson said.
“… the removal of unwanted signage helps ensure that we have a coherent, walkable city centre, which facilitates ease of movement and is inviting to persons of all abilities,” the spokesperson for the council said.
There needs to be a new way of thinking when it comes to transport mobility in Dublin, Banim says.
“And there is a tendency for traffic engineers when they encounter a problem, they’ll go, ‘okay we’ll put some lights here or a sign here and that’ll solve the problem’,” he says.
We should be designing transport infrastructure so that we don’t even need poles in the first place, Banim says.
For example, traffic lights for cyclists at crossings are not always necessary, Banim says.
“You could just put in a chicane for the cyclist or ramps to help them slow down,” he says.