More than 2,500 people wrote to Dublin City Council in the last year to say what transport infrastructure changes they want to see in the city.
Details of the “Covid mobility requests” – the interventions that people wanted so they could get around the city safely during the pandemic – were released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Dublin City Council launched its Interim Mobility Intervention Programme for the city in May 2020.
People were invited to fill out a request form with traffic measures and local changes they’d like to see, and where they’d like to see them.
The idea is to create space for social distancing on public transport, and alternative kinds of transport on the roads, a report from May 2020.
The virus required the city to rearrange itself, says the report, and the programme would be “live” and open to changes.
“Measures are being implemented on a temporary basis,” says the report. They will be assessed periodically, and can be modified as needed, it says.
Working with the original dataset, which you can get here, was a bit tricky. It meant extracting mentions of streets and mapping based on those. Some points are layered on top of each other on the map.
Not all respondents mentioned streets, either. But for those that did, Capel Street is mentioned the most, at 227 requests.
That’s followed by South William Street (164), Drury Street (140), South Anne Street (85) and Vernon Avenue (79).
Meanwhile, 1,060 streets around Dublin were mentioned just once.
For those who chose from a drop-down menu of set options, most requests were made for protected cycle lanes (649), closely followed by footpath widening (634), and after that, pedestrian areas (390).
Not as many respondents selected contra-flow cycle lanes (40) outdoor seating areas (21) or pedestrian crossings (16) from the drop-down menu.
An analysis of the data suggests that most respondents asked for changes in the South East council administrative area (862 requests), followed by the Central Area (564) and the North Central Area (273).
The number of requests from the North West and South Central areas lagged, at 226 and 160. Meanwhile, 221 were general “citywide” requests.
Parsing the Data
The council uses three criteria to decide which submissions will be implemented, said the council spokesperson.
It looks at locations and where changes could garner the most benefits. In other words, are there lots of schools around, is there high footfall, or lots of commuter cyclists?
It also looks at whether the roads are wide enough to fit protected or contra-flow cycle lanes, the spokesperson said.
And it considers whether there are a high level of requests at busy locations, such as calls for pedestrianisation in the Grafton Street vicinity, they said.
Plus, creating more usable outdoor space is also where the council is concentrating its resources, said the spokesperson, as restrictions lift and shops, cafés and retailers reopen.
Initially, the council prioritised the busiests routes for walking and cycling, areas of high footfall and urban villages, said a spokesperson for the council.
Trials of pedestrianisation in the Grafton Street area, and filtered permeability in Grangegorman were made permanent.
Most recently, the council has carried out works to add cycle lanes to Blessington Street, Griffith Avenue and Collins Avenue, and planters lining cycle lanes have been installed on Parnell Square East.
On-street parking on Capel Street and Dorset Street was suspended, and a footpath buildout was tried on Nassau Street.
It has trialled the suspension of on-street parking on Capel Street and a footpath build-out on Nassau Street.
The Covid Mobility Technical Team also assess submissions for “school zones”, which include brightly painted roads telling cars to slow down around schools.
Forty school zones have been implemented to-date, and the application list stands at over 120 schools, said a council spokesperson on Tuesday. “The Schools Mobility Programme is a top priority.”
Looking at the Data
“It is useful to see what ideas people have and have an open process where people can feed their ideas into the council,” says Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor.
“However, there needs to be a transparent process for what happens to these ideas, how they are considered and evaluated and how they interact with other goals and ambitions for the council,” she said.
A lack of proposals in some areas may point to a need for greater promotion of the survey, says Horner.
Some areas have very few proposals, said Horner, “but some of those areas have an even greater need for public realm upgrades.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O’Toole says that some people may not know about the survey or be able to access it.
Also, “a lot of people might have no interest. They use their car, they walk about, wouldn’t even dream of thinking about things like this,” he says.
He’s disappointed by the number of overall entries. “That must tell you that somehow, they feel it’s not relevant to them.”
He thinks it’s up to the council, councillors and journalists to increase awareness about council initiatives, he says.
Horner says there is a need for a more standardised approach to public consultation.
“That facilitates the rapid development of projects and trials, but also provides space for meaningful engagement and responsiveness to real issues and concerns,” she says.
“Multiple rounds of public consultation and residents’ discussions for the Sandymount cycle route, and none for the Blessington Street contra-flow. Why the difference?” she says.
On the Agenda
Some of the streets that featured in multiple requests have been on the agenda for some time.
Capel Street stands out, says Feljin Jose, public relations officer for Dublin Commuter Coalition. “People have been calling out for change on that street for years.”
Kieran Ryan, communications coordinator for the Dublin Cycling Campaign, said that it is disappointing to not see a plan published for Capel Street, despite the high demand.
“It could have been a slam-dunk for Covid-friendly action,” he said. “I wonder where the blockage is coming from here.”
Is it the council, an external body, or a lack of resources holding it up? he asks. “It’s certainly not a lack of pressure from the public.”
The council approved planning permission for the pedestrianisation of Liffey Street in 2019. The street features in 21 requests so far.
“It’s hard to understand why there hasn’t been any movement on that,” says Ryan. “There might be a good reason for it, but they’d want to tell us what it is.”
The lack of pedestrianisation proposals on the north side has been noticeable in council reports, says Jose. “While they are welcome, they are far from enough,”
Keith Connolly, a Fianna Fáil councillor, said he understands there may be internal delays to improving pedestrianisation on the north side.
“It can always be advanced,” he said. “I think we have an idea now of what we want, and I look forward to seeing the improvements. Now in fairness, I wouldn’t be too critical.”
According to council reports, pedestrianisation measures have been implemented on North Circular Road and Fairview Road.
“A South Circular Road, Dolphin Road and Parnell Road cycle lane would be a game changer for the area and could provide a safe orbital route between different suburbs,” said Jose.
Sixty-three requests were made for South Circular Road, shows the data. Respondents mainly asked for protected cycle lanes and footpath widening.
The council has yet to release any plans for that though.
A council spokesperson said on Tuesday that the request portal will be open until “restrictions are eased”, which is being reviewed regularly.
People can also apply for general transport measures, which are handled by the Traffic Advisory Group. “Works approved are shared between teams to ensure any works in similar locations are coordinated,” they said.
Additional data cleaning by Ronnie Chowdhury from xl8ml.com.
[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 1.20pm to correct the number to respondents who had submitted suggestions to the council. Apologies for the error. The article was also updated to give more info about the limitations of the mapped data.]