Can Dublin follow New York’s lead?

New York City’s Department of Transportation has made some dramatic changes to some of its streets in the last few years. One of the most iconic is that somewhere close to half of the traffic lanes on Times Square were given back for people to use and enjoy:

The streets became easer to cross. Tables and chairs allowed people to sit down and eat or talk and enjoy the streets, not just use them as a means of getting from A to B. Traffic flow was also better.

Should we be asking questions like: Why does Westmoreland Street need four wide traffic lanes plus on street parking? Why are people crammed on both sides of parts of Dame Street when the traffic lanes are also extra wide? Why is so little room given to the very heavily walked non-pedestrianised part of Grafton Street when the space left on the road is more than what is needed?

Why are there two east bound traffic lanes outside the Cineworld on Parnell Street when the only traffic that can legally get there appears to be cyclists? Why is there only a tiny space left for bus stops and people trying to walk on Parnell Square West when the road is one of the widest one-way streets in the city?

As well as larger squares, the changes in New York had smaller-scale effects on other street as these before and after photos from Columbus Circle show:

And, on an even smaller scale, New York last year started working with business in taking out a few parking places rather than trying to fit tables and chairs on already busy footpaths:

It’s not fair to say or imply Dublin has not given space back to people — the pedestrianisation of Grafton Street, Henry Street, and some smaller streets, as well as the footpath widening of  O’Connell Street, are examples. But can Dublin do more?

Dublin City Council is looking at doing some more. Businesses around the area of South William Street (between Grafton Street and South Georges St) have been seeking that streets in that area be pedestrianised — see more at dublin2walk.com. The traders behind the proposals say that the project can be done cost effectively while maintaining or even improving access to the area’s car parks. The council seems to be taking the proposals at least somewhat seriously and is looking into it as part of a planned revamp of  Grafton Street. There’s also plans to build a plaza on Custom House Quay, diverting traffic around Custom House and improving traffic flows.

We don’t have the money at the moment? Indeed, Dublin’s attempts at street improvements always seem to be high cost solutions — streets repaved with granite stone and the higher cost traffic light polls and street furniture. New York is a good example where lower cost methods can be used — markings, bollards, and plant pots are being used while it awaits a full redesign with permanent materials.

As the architect Jan Gehl points out many cities started these kind of improvements while trying to get out of downturns. He points out that being “sweet to people” has been shown to be good for a city’s economy — it’s good for people, good for business, and good for tourism. If you’re interested in what Gehl has to say, see this video here.

This is about what kind of city Dubliners want. It’s not about banning cars but giving space back to people while still allowing cars access to car parks and to get around. It’s an area that all Dublin councils have power over. But people have to want a better, more liveable city. Do we want it enough? Do we tell the powers that be enough that we want it?

Here’s other examples of before and after photographs from New York City (more can be found on their Flick sets here, here and here):

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