Eastern Bypass: More roads, less choice?

Eastern Bypass: More roads, less choice? – by Ciarán Cuffe, published in the Irish Times December 1998

“All politics is local politics” stated the late Tip O’Neill, and behind Dermot Lacey’s arguments for the Eastern Bypass in last Wednesday’s paper are his legitimate concerns over the relentless flow of traffic through the communities of Ringsend and Irishtown in the heart of the Dublin south-east constituency. However all parts of Ireland have witnessed high increases in car ownership and traffic over the last few years. Unfortunately the levels of frustration experienced by car drivers and communities stuck in traffic jams have increased at even greater rates.

This rising tide of traffic has led to residents being held hostage in their homes by increased levels of noise, car-parking and pollution. Streets, traditionally the gathering place for social and economic activity have been transformed into transport arteries, their function being reduced to acting as a conduit for through traffic. Children are driven to school as roads become too dangerous to allow them to walk unsupervised. At times it can be challenging to adopt a clear-headed approach to traffic problems in the midst of the rising clouds of traffic fumes. Most commentators however agree that new road construction in itself will not fully address transportation problems, and that a balance of transportation investment is the key to a sustainable solution. The simple remedy of diverting traffic out of one neighbourhood usually results in it being dumped elsewhere. Central to a debate about transportation in Dublin is a shared vision of the type of city one wishes to see in ten or twenty years time. For many years the transport debate revolved around building roads to deal with growth, but the Dublin Transportation Initiative for the first time asked people for their views on the type of city they wanted in the future. This vision which now forms the basis for the work of the Dublin Transportation Office, defined Dublin as a leading European City, competing and co-operating successfully, civilised, literate and vibrant with its unique character conserved. This means a city which is thriving economically, socially and culturally. It involves providing adequate childcare and playgrounds for its children; job opportunities and social facilities for all who live there, as well as a reasonable expectation that the buses will run on time. Providing these resources involves a debate over resources. At a time when Dublin Bus receives possibly the lowest subvention from the State of almost any city in Europe at £5 million a year, it seems curious that proposals are made to spend £500 million on the Eastern Bypass.

Relief measures for Ringsend are on the way. The Dublin Port Tunnel will provide access between the C-ring motorway and Dublin Port. Traffic by-laws combined with enforcement measures can ensure that the number of heavy goods vehicles is dramatically reduced in Ringsend and Irishtown when the Tunnel opens. Ensuring that trucks travelling between Wexford and Dublin Port take a ten mile detour around the city on the M50 to and from the Port is a small price to pay to ensure that residential communities are protected. However there is a danger that any new road connecting with the inner city will become a fast-track commuter route into the city. Currently politicians representing the Drumcondra area are facing pressures over the proposed morning peak tolls of £3 in the Port Tunnel. If these tolls are not imposed, the city centre could well face tail-backs from commuters driving through the tunnel into the City Centre from as far away as Dundalk. A full Eastern Bypass would face similar pressures from southside commuters. Tunnels tend to experience traffic congestion at either end, and a southern section of an Eastern Bypass would exacerbate traffic problems in Dundrum, Booterstown and along the city Quays.

The European Commission’s Green Paper on the Urban Environment stated that adding roads and tunnels to accommodate growing traffic increase noise and pollution further, and that once such infrastructure is completed, traffic quickly increases to recreate the previous levels of congestion. Allowing the Port tunnel to be clogged with private cars would contradict its rationale of providing for freight traffic. Perhaps dedicated truck lanes should be provided in the Port Tunnel and on the C-ring motorway to ensure that cars shopping at the ‘exit malls’ do not eliminate any surplus road capacity. Currently the M50 in Dublin bears a striking resemblance to the orbital M25 motorway in London which has been described as a giant parking lot.

Other ways of reducing heavy goods traffic in the city include building a freight handling depot to the West of the city, close to mainline rail and the C-ring, so that trucks do not head into town to collect containers from the North Wall rail freight depot. A pipeline network to a distribution centre on the M50 could reduce the dangers posed by heavily loaded fuel lorries heading out of Dublin Port. New shared distribution systems being pioneered in Europe can allow juggernauts to be banned from city streets, while allowing small trucks to combine deliveries to several businesses.

Substantial improvements in public transport are required as a carrot to attract commuters from their cars. These measures required include providing: full six car DART trains on all peak services; improved levels of service on Arrow commuter routes; speedy implementation of all Quality Bus Corridors; a doubling of the annual subvention to Dublin Bus; 300 extra buses over and above Minister O’Rourke’s proposals; LUAS on-street, without additional delays; and networks of safe cycling and pedestrian routes throughout the city.

Such a shopping list would cost a mere fraction of a full Eastern Bypass. Although Mr. Lacey did not mention costings in his article it seems likely that over £500 million would be the price tag on linking the South Port with the south-eastern Motorway. Even if such funding were made available by the private sector through public -private partnerships, would it not be better spent on providing a fixed-line rail link to Dublin Airport, and ensuring that LUAS serves Ballymun, Clondalkin and Dublin’s Docklands? Even the National Roads Authority did not see fit to include the Eastern Bypass in their wish-list of £6 billion which they wish to see spent on roads over the next twenty years.

In addition we may also require road pricing to ensure that traffic does not overwhelm communities, and to help meet obligations under the agreements signed by the Irish Government in Kyoto. This could help ensure that streets become living spaces again, rather than becoming further choked by traffic noise and fumes.

These proposals assumes integrated land use and transportation planning. This requires strong ideas of the type of city we wish to cherish and nurture in the new millennium. Citizens, planners and engineers must decide on how to respond to the unparalleled economic growth of the last five years. This should involve a lively debate at local and national level. The Strategic Planning Guidelines currently under preparation for the Dublin Region shall assist all groups in offering direction on the future for Dublin and its metropolitan region. Sadly, strategic thinking appeared absent in the vote by fifteen out of fifty-two members of Dublin City Council for the Eastern Bypass. Even Fine Gael’s Cllr. John Kearney threw in a curious proposal for criss-crossing the city with a dozen road tunnels. Margaret Thatcher’s out-dated ideas of the ‘Great Car Society’ seem seminal in the tunnel visions being pursued by some groups on the City Council.

The amended Draft City Development Plan will go on display early in the new year. Let people inform themselves and make their views known to Dublin Corporation on the future of our Capital City. Thankfully campaigning groups such as Earthwatch are leading the debate for a rational approach to transportation problems. As Jack Short stated at a conference held in Dublin Castle concerning the future of European Cities: “There are plenty of good ideas. The question is whether there is the political will to implement them”


First published Irish Times December 1998, page updated 9th  January 2018