Campaign against city centre bus gate ranges from dishonest to ill-informed

Campaign against city centre bus gate ranges from dishonest to ill-informed
October 28, 2009
The College View
By Cian Ginty

It’s just after 6pm on Grafton Street on Thursday night and the silence is deafening,” one Sunday Independent journalist wrote recently. He must have gotten lost because the silence is never “deafening” on Grafton Street at 6pm on a weekday. It’s not within the realm of truth and accuracy.

Recently, RTE reported that “13 businesses including Brown Thomas, Weirs, Louis Copeland as well as shopping centre and car park owners, will go to the High Court” to challenge the bus gate. Brown Thomas have a car park of the same name, and shopping centres own or have a stake in car parks. The main opposition to the bus gate does not seem to be retailers, but car park owners.

There are other businesses against the bus gate, but car parks are at the forefront. They are hardly going to agree with any restrictions on cars. In any cases, business associations involved have from the start talked up car restrictions up so much that they may have damaged them their own business. There was a lot exaggerated talk of a “city centre car ban.”

The reality is all car parks in the city centre remain open and accessible. The bus gate only covers a small area streets and is only in force in the morning and evening rush hours. Traffic is not banned from the city, and that was never the plan.

Slurs have come from groups against the bus gate. First, Conor Keoghan of Brown Thomas Car Park made out that the bus gate was some type of Green Party conspiracy, with Eamon Ryan and John Gormley putting pressure on Dublin Bus and the Department of Transport who then in turn put pressure on the city council. This is the stuff of conspiracy theories.

Then, the Dublin City Centre Business Association chief executive Tom Coffey was reported to have said the bus gate is an “irresponsible political action by loony Greens and loony Labour.” This is strange as there’s no Green Party presence on the council. Is he trying to use the Greens to slur Labour councillors? Just to be clear on this, the bus gate was voted on by the city councillors, any Green Party part in this is – again – conspiracy theory.

Business groups have also being talking on radio shows about numbers that back their claims. The first figures they started to talk about were transport usage numbers. These numbers showed just how important cars are to retailers. The problem? These Dublin city centre businesses were quoting national transport usage figures! While car usage in Dublin is high compared to other European capitals, quoting national figures is a distortion.

Labour councillor Andrew Montague says council counts show a 34% increase in cyclists passing by the area since the interdiction of the bus gate. Business may try to claim that cyclists don’t have the spending power of car users, but studies contradict this. Another figure given is drop in car park use. But the council claims usage of their multi-storey car park near Grafton Street returned to normal just one week after the bus gate was introduced.

Traders says business is down on Grafton Street, but it was retailers who originally objected to Grafton Street being pedestrianised, which has been a massive success. Keoghan of Brown Thomas Car Park told the Sunday Independent that the bus gate “has killed late night shopping and restaurants and pubs.” Maybe Brown Thomas have still not heard of the economic downturn? People going up North or online to buy more likely pose more of a risk to shops like Brown Thomas.

Meanwhile, both Dublin City Council and Dublin Bus say the bus gate has been a success. It has done exactly what it set out to do – improve bus times in the area that had been identified repeatedly as a critically congested area.

But, yet, besides car parks, there are comments against the bus gate from strange quarters. “I cannot help wondering what exactly is the purpose of the new traffic management system on College Green,” DCU president Ferdinand von Prondzynski wrote on his blog. Adding “I don’t recall College Green itself being a public transport trouble spot.”

There’s quite simple answers to his questions: The area around College Green had been identified in independent reports as a heavy area of congestion. The purpose is quite clear – it is to give public transport priority over private cars (even a bus with hardly anybody on it is more productive than two cars which take up the same space on the road).

Von Prondzynski also points to increased traffic elsewhere in the city centre. This is bound to happen. There’s not enough space for large amounts of people to be driving in the city.

Dublin is full and it makes for an unproductive workforce, a city too full to do productive business in, a poor quality of life for residents, and a poor experience for visitors. The question is do you want to give priority to public transport and let the city breathe. The council has answered yes.

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