Posted tagged ‘Dublin’

Clogging up Dublin traffic

October 6, 2009

Last month I wrote a post on the new traffic restrictions in College Green in Dublin’s city centre. I took the view that closing College Green to traffic seemed to me to have very little point – but a number of readers disagreed with me. I now see that traders have been complaining to Dublin City Council in the matter, and that there may be a review of the scheme. You can read more about this here.

I confess that I am still wholly sceptical about the whole measure. If the purpose (as has been suggested) was to free up Dame Street for buses, then that could have been achieved by closing Dame Street rather than College Green, which would have caused fewer traffic problems elsewhere. Or more logical still might be to close off the entire city centre to private traffic and to make proper park and ride services available. But what has actually been done seems to serve no particular purpose.

And my apologies to anyone from outside Ireland reading this – let me assure you that traffic problems are a de rigueur topic of conversation at any Dublin dinner table. Indeed, maybe that is what the Council have wanted to achieve with this measure in the first place, now that I think of it.

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How exactly is this helping anyone? Traffic management oddity

September 12, 2009

This brief interjection will only be meaningful to those familiar with Dublin – apologies to everyone else.

I cannot help wondering what exactly is the purpose of the new traffic management system on College Grren, under which only buses can pass through at rush hour. Who is helped by this? The traffic is as a result backed up more than ever all around the area. And in any case, before this particular rush of blood to the head occurred I don’t recall College Green itself being a public transport trouble spot. The only other effect I can think of is that the Provost of Trinity College can no longer drive home; can’t say whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

It just seems to me that a new system has been set up at some cost and considerable inconvenience that doesn’t really help anyone at all. Unless I’m missing something. Maybe someone reading this knows the answer.

Dublin for Ireland

June 20, 2009

Just over a month ago I wrote a post on this blog about the significance of Dublin as a city and a region. Of all the posts I have written here, this was the one that prompted the biggest off-line response. Several people contacted me by email to tell me that Dublin is just one city amongst many in Ireland, and that it had no claim to benefits from the state. Several who wrote did so in not very friendly terms; one told me I was a disgrace. So, as I am about to venture into the same treacherous and mine-strewn territory again, perhaps I can get my apologies in first, and assure everyone that I intend no harm to all those rural and small-town areas in Ireland. I am myself, as my name of course makes clear, a Westmeath man, and yet I believe that one of our key problems as a country is that we have no real sense of what we ought to be doing with our capital city.

There seems to me to be little doubt that, for Ireland’s future, Dublin and its adjoining regions will have to be a magnet for international investment in Ireland, the midwife for the births of new start-ups, the home of art and culture. Today’s investors and entrepreneurs are not looking around in Ireland for the perfect place for their call centre or their shoe factory. They are looking for places with a skilled population, a sense of the potential of entrepreneurship, and a cluster of companies and higher education institutions that are engaging in their areas of business. They often want to be close to the location of political decision-making. Dublin is the only real option for all these. No other place in Ireland has the critical mass.

And yet as a country we have spent the last decade or two (or more) talking down Dublin and talking up the value of investment distributed to the other regions in Ireland. Why is this? You can have your answer any time that you should meet any sample group of people, at a party, say, or a conference. If you ask them, virtually none of them will claim to be Dubliners; as Dublin has attracted so many from the provinces, they will all name ‘home’ as the place where they grew up or went to school; so many of Dublin’s citizens are ‘blow-ins’. What all this signals is that we, as a country, are carrying around with us this huge guilt brought on by the fact that Dublin has called the brightest of every generation in rural or small town Ireland to come to Dublin; Dublin has asset-stripped the provinces.

But then again, that’s what cities do all over the world. We need to stop treating Dublin as if the whole concept of it was just one almighty mistake. We need to acknowledge that Dublin is the only place large enough to be a magnet for investment and enterprise. And we need to give it strong support, and without wanting to beat about the bush, we need resources. Dublin must get more visible political leadership with people who are not shy about making a compelling case for the city. Dublin has three universities (with another only a short distance away), and four institutes of technology. It is the location for government and the headquarters of financial institutions. It has key international companies. It is the home of Ireland’s arts and culture.

In short, Dublin makes the case for most investors to choose Ireland, and it has the infrastructure and the community of support for indigenous start-ups. Dublin belongs not just to the Dubliners, it belongs to the whole country; and the whole country needs to give it support.

Creative Dublin

May 12, 2009

It is probably not unfair to say that Ireland as a whole has always had an ambivalent perspective on Dublin. For some time now, in size and influence, Dublin has dominated the state, and certainly since partition (and the placing of Belfast in another jurisdiction in consequence) has been the only major conurbation. Of course there are Cork and Galway and Limerick and others, but without wanting to play down the importance and strong traditions of these places, it has to be said that of them only Cork could really be recognised internationally as a city, and even then it would be a small one (the definition of a ‘city’ being, under the terms of the 1887 International Statistics Conference, a town with over 100,000 inhabitants). But in terms of having critical mass, only Dublin could really be said to count.

Because of its size, together with the large scale clustering of government functions there, Dublin has been the country’s magnet for investment, for migration, and for wealth creation. This has of course produced a significant concentration of people, and over time the city’s quality of life was affected by infrastructure problems, social issues, and just general overcrowding. At the same time other parts of the country were experiencing problems due to population flight – going back to the 19th century at least.

So we have come to love Dublin and loathe it, to seek out its cultural attractions but despair of its discomforts, to admire its political clout and to resent it. So by the time we came to the current decade it had become the received wisdom that Dublin’s people, influence and wealth needed to be distributed around the country. We know about the government’s programme of decentralisation (which got a bad press but was not without logic); we also experienced a spacial strategy operated by economic development agencies, which at least seemed to involve an anywhere-but-Dublin approach to investment. But at the same time, the clustering in particular of so many higher education institutions in the Dublin area made it difficult to have an effective decentralisation of investment.

Last momth the National Competitiveness Council (of which I am a member) published its report Our Cities: Drivers of National Competitiveness, which placed some emphasis on the role of cities as drivers of competitiveness and creators of wealth. It recommended that the country should work positively with cities – and Dublin in particular – to allow them to be drivers of growth and competitiveness in these challenging times. By doing so we can engage the key aspects of national development that cities can help to deliver, including enterprise, connectivity, sustainability and attractiveness and inclusivity, using the key resources of education and research activities and health facilities in particular. In the meantime, driven by Dublin City Council and supported by the other Dublin region local authorities, the Creative Dublin Alliance has been formed, linking universities and colleges, local government and industry.

Dublin has a significant critical mass of Ireland’s higher education institutions, and these too must collaborate to reinforce the potential for the city to become the engine for national recovery. There is much that, between us all, we can achieve.

Day trip to Dublin

March 27, 2009

The first diary I ever kept was in 1966. And on March 27 that year (exactly 42 years ago today), I joined my mother on a trip to Dublin, from our home in County Westmeath. And in the diary I noted:

“1 hour 45 minutes each way. Car parked by man outside Hibernian Hotel. Switzers (boring). Golden Spoon for lunch. Dugdale, terrible. Pineapple sweets on Dawson Street. Home.”

This rather sketchy entry is actually still very meaningful for me, and prompts a lot of memories. The Hibernian Hotel was perhaps the most elegant of the traditional hotels in Dublin. It was located half way up Dawson Street, at the spot where the Royal Hibernian Way shopping mall now is. The hotel was demolished in the 1980s. One of my strongest memories of it is that you passed by a huge mirror as you walked past the entrance lobby. The reference to the man who parked the car is also interesting. As yet back then there were no parking meters or pay-and-display machines; I am not even sure there were yellow lines anywhere to restrict parking. Outside the Hibernian Hotel on every weekday was a man wearing a peaked cap who, for a little money, would take your car as you arrived and would park it somewhere for you (often double parked). On your return he would retrieve it – a kind of unofficial and probably technically illegal valet parking service that always seemed to work.

Switzers was one of the two Grafton Street department stores – the building now occupied by Brown Thomas, which in those days was on the other side of the street where Marks & Spencer is now. My mother was probably shopping for clothes, but in any case the shop was boring to me. The Golden Spoon was a fairly cheap restaurant on Suffolk Street. It was seventh heaven – I always ate a sirloin steak and chips there, and admired their truly wonderful plastic ketchup bottles shaped as tomatoes.

Mr Dugdale was our family dentist. These were the days before local anaesthetics, and a visit there was always likely to turn out to be very painful. In the front garden outside his practice (and I don’t recall where that was) was a huge monkey puzzle tree. Mr Dugdale himself had a set of light brown teeth, which seemed incongruous.

The pineapple sweets were, for me, in themselves a sufficient reason to come to Dublin. They were sold in a shop (whose name I no longer remember) on the corner of Dawson Street and Molesworth Street. They came in huge bars, a mixture of white sugary rock and orange transparent candy. To put it in a state that was more convenient for eating the shopkeeper would take the bar and smash it into smaller pieces with a hammer.

So there it was, Dublin as it appeared to me in March 1966. It was in many ways a quiet town, not the bustling metropolis you find today. I suppose I would visit it five or six times a year back then, and each visit was an adventure.

Stopping the traffic

November 10, 2008

Anyone who knows Dublin knows that we have a really big traffic problem. Attempting to move around Dublin by car can be frustrating at absolutely any time – I was recently caught in a traffic jam at 2 am. Journeys that should take 15 minutes can take nearly two hours. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that Dublin’s streets were designed for very different modes of transport and they simply cannot accommodate the traffic volumes we now have. The relatively inadequate state of public transport doesn’t help.

But one key contributor – and moreover one that would be comparatively easy to address – is the traffic light system. Dublin came relatively late to traffic lights: in the 1960s there were virtually none, and major junctions were either managed by a Garda (policeman) on point duty, or else not at all. As late as the early 1980s one of the busiest – at O’Connell Bridge – was still controlled in this way.

When traffic lights were introduced, they were totally uncoordinated. You could crawl along a street or road and find that at every intersection the light would be on red, no matter how you drove. Now that Dublin’s traffic lights are computerised and controlled centrally, this has not changed significantly; it is very hard to see any synchronisation of lights.

In addition, the settings at some junctions are plain crazy. Let me provide one example. Where the North Circular Road crosses Sherrard Street and Belvedere Road, the light turns green for Lower Sherrard Street once in each cycle, but stays on green for longer than for the other roads; in fact, Lower Sherrard Street is the least important of all those roads crossing here, as it is essentially a cul-de-sac and usually has no traffic waiting to exit at all. In the meantime, while the lights are on green for them in the hope that someone may come, the much busier North Circular Road and Belvedere Road are kept waiting with significant traffic build-up. I mention this example because it is all too typical.

Furthermore, Dublin is the only city I know that has pedestrian lights that turn red, amber and green. This means that the cycle of a pedestrian light is long, and as they are also almost never synchronised with nearby traffic lights, the disruption they cause is huge. And then there is the oddity of the filter lights – there are far too few of them, and where they exist they are often hugely confusing as they are often placed directly below the (normal) green lights, so that when only the filter light is on green and the red light is on, the traffic light appears to be giving the motorist a choice between red and green.

Dublin traffic problems will not be solved overnight. But there are some things that could be improved relatively easily, and traffic lights are amongst these.