Getting out of the Northwood Estates can be a pain, says Danielle Itodo, midway down Northwood Avenue on Monday, a shopping bag in hand. “It’s such a long walk.”
From her home in Temple Court, it can take up to 15 minutes on foot to get to the Swords Road, a journey that is even less enjoyable on rainy days like today.
Northwood Estates sits just below the M50, a patchwork of housing estates and apartment complexes in Santry, built in the 2000s and 2010s.
It has a retail park too, with big-box stores like Homebase, Lidl and Mr Price, and a McDonald’s, as well as a strip of small shops like Northwood Dry Cleaners, McCabes Pharmacy, and Costa Coffee. But also, scattered through the estate are restaurants, hotels, offices, a gym, and a nursing home.
Northwood Avenue, a two-way carriageway snakes all the way through the neighbourhood, joining up all these amenities, running from Ballymun Road in the west to Swords Road in the east.
What Northwood is missing though, say residents, is a bus service running through it, which leaves them trekking to either of the two big carriageways that bookend the neighbourhood to jump a bus into town.
Changes under the BusConnects plans to rejig the city’s bus network would mean a new bus service that dips into the western end of Northwood – but running along the whole of the avenue would make a much bigger difference, say some residents.
Kim Buckley, a spokesperson for the NTA said: “We are aware of some requests for a bus service further into Northwood and are considering what options might exist for this.”
One complicating factor might be that Northwood Avenue is actually a private road, owned by Northwood Management Company.
A Long Walk
Anna Banach, holding open the door of her apartment block in Temple Court, says taking into account the walk from her house, a wait for lights to change on the Swords Road, and a cushion in case, getting onto the bus can take nearly 20 minutes.
“It depends how fast you are. If you are young and walk fast, yeah, that’s better. But imagine someone who walks slowly, a buggy,” she says.
Fifteen minutes is a long walk to get to a bus stop, says Luís Ferreira, who lives in Cedarview, another estate in Northwood.
When it rains, he says, you get there wet. “And then you have to wait.”
Itodo says the length of the road isn’t just a problem for catching the bus. She has friends locally but they can still seem far away.
“If I want to meet my friends, they have to walk all the way up here, or I have to walk all the way down there,” she says, from outside Temple Court, pointing down at the turn in the road, towards Swords Road.
It hampers her nights out too, she says, as she has to get a lift rather than the bus. “I’d have to walk all this in the night, it’s not it. It’s just kind of scary, and it’s just a long walk.”
The nearly 2km length of Northwood Avenue means it’s tricky to even get around the estate without a car, says Banach.
Going shopping is hard, even with a pulley trolley, she says. “If you have no car, it’s a nightmare. People need to take a taxi. It’s too far.”
She tried shopping once and returning on foot, she says. “I was stopping every few minutes, thinking, when will I be home?”
Also, most of the closest schools are in Ballymun, she says. “You’ll need at least half an hour to walk to even the closest school from here.”
Plenty of people use the buses on the nearby main roads, says John Diamond, a resident of Temple Court.
You can see them around 8am on Northwood Avenue, says Diamond. “You see loads of people walking along the road to get the bus into town.”
Ann Graves, a Sinn Féin councillor for Fingal County Council, says residents badly need a bus service along Northwood Avenue. “Even if it’s a local link, to bring people from Northwood out to where they can take up another bus,” she says.
Walkability to a bus stop is a critical factor in increasing the number of users of a public transport service, says the BusConnects choices report prepared by Jarret Walker and Associates in 2017 for the NTA.
Areas which are more dense and have better walkability - meaning more direct walking routes and safer road crossings - are likely to have higher usage of buses, says the report.
On the Table
To the east of Northwood Estates, several bus routes – the 16, 16D, 27B, 33, and the 41 (plus the 41B, 41 C and 41D services) – sweep up and down the Swords Road.
To the west of the neighbourhood along the Ballymun Road, there are three more routes: the 4, 13 and 155. To the south, the new N6 service runs along Santry Avenue.
Under plans for BusConnects, the National Transport Authority’s (NTA’s) bus network redesign, which it is rolling out bit by bit, the Santry area is to be serviced by the E-spine.
The E1 service should begin near the western end of Northwood Avenue, at the roundabout closest to the Ballymun Road, about 250 metres from the entrance.
“The launch of the E-Spine is currently planned for Q3 2023,” said Kim Buckley, a spokesperson for the NTA. “This date is indicative until after our detailed planning phase is completed.”
Banach, in Temple Court, says walking to the E1 route will be better but not brilliant. “I don’t know if it would help a lot,” she says. “Of course, it would be fine to walk a few minutes.”
From some apartments in Temple Court, Google Maps estimates that the roundabout is 1.1 kilometres away by foot.
More ideal for her though, she says – and for Northwood residents living further east along the road – would be a bus service that picks up the whole way along Northwood Avenue, she says.
Ferreira, the Cedarview resident, agrees. “If it crossed all the Northwood Avenue, it would be better, to serve all the people,” he says.
According to the 2016 census, 4,787 people lived within the area of Northwood – and they are expecting more neighbours. There are planning applications before An Bord Pléanala, for 268 built-to-rent apartments and 255 apartments.
The residential travel plan for Whitehaven, one of the housing developments awaiting a planning decision, lists the BusConnects E-spine, and the long-delayed Metrolink – an underground metro running from the city centre to the airport past Northwood – as transport options for future residents.
There will be a car-sharing scheme and car parking spaces will be limited, says the plan, “with a resultant reduced dependency on private cars for trips”.
But many people drive in Northwood at the moment, says Diamond, the Temple Court resident.
In Cedarview, an estate in Northwood, the management company has been clamping cars parked on the road, while residents say there aren’t enough parking spaces, and or public transport options.
Diamond says that trying to get home from the bus on the Ballymun and Swords Road if you’re coming back from town isn’t easy. “The bus is at the other side of a dual carriageway, so you have to get across that.”
It’s hostile for pedestrians, he says, and a nearer bus stop would solve that. “It would be a lot better and safer, and it would make public transport more attractive, if it actually started within Northwood.”
“I do know people who drive for that very reason, and actually drive down sometimes to maybe Glasnevin, park the car, and then get the bus,” he says.
A Private Road
Diamond thinks that the reason the E1 isn’t going further into Northwood Avenue, is because the road is privately owned.
Buckley, the NTA spokesperson said the NTA would need permission in order to run a bus service there. “As it’s a privately owned road,” she said, without elaborating.
The NTA did not respond to queries asking whether it has asked Northwood Management Company – which the council says owns the road – if it can run a bus route along Northwood Avenue.
Northwood Management Company did not respond to queries sent Friday asking whether it had been approached by the NTA about providing a bus service along Northwood Avenue, or whether it requested the NTA to put a bus service there.
The usual process for a private road becoming public is that, when a residential development is done, the developer or most homeowners ask the local council to take the development in charge.
The council has to take it in charge if asked, said a spokesperson for Fingal County Council. Taking charge of the road means the council controls its operation, maintenance and upkeep of the roads, lighting and similar services, they said.
Said the spokesperson: “The council has not been requested to take the road in charge from the developer.”
Diamond says that it doesn’t make sense that the road isn’t in public ownership, because the public use it.
Ferreira says he wouldn’t mind paying the maintenance fee, that he as a homeowner has to pay at the moment to the management company, if it was just Northwood residents using the road.
But while there are barriers and a security hut, nobody is barred from using the road, he says. “There is not a private security check at all.”
Says Diamond: “it’s being used as a local thoroughfare. At this stage, we’re paying double taxes, because we’re paying the management to, you know, ostensibly to look after the road and whatever. But we already pay local property taxes to do that kind of thing.”
Diamond says he would like for residents to have a vote to have Northwood Avenue taken in control by the council.
[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 1.52pm on 19 September 2022 to correct that the new bus route would dip into the western end of Northwood, rather than the eastern. Apologies for the navigation error.]