November 7, 2010

Urban Mobility Beyond Cars: Dublin

Ecological Urbanism is delighted to announce that my research proposal 'Urban Mobility Beyond Cars" has recently been shortlisted for a research competition organised by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland. The competition,
3Twenty10, was a call for Irish Architects to identify solutions to the challenges facing Ireland’s built environment in the aftermath of the boom years. It explores how the profession can contribute to the wider debate about national recovery.

The proposal, carried out under the supervision of architect, John McLaughlin, explores Dublin's potential to implement a 'Dutch-style' intermodal transport model, connecting heavy rail with bicycling. The argument is made that this is particularly important in low-density cities and as such, it offers Dublin a viable solution to the ‘last mile’ challenge facing public transport.

It is difficult to broach the subject of tackling climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions without addressing how we fundamentally move about in the world today. Excluding international aviation and maritime shipping, transport accounted for 19% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU (2004). While the transport sector is not the largest emitter, it was the only sector within the EU to increase its share of greenhouse gases between 1990 – 2004. Against an average decrease of -5 %, transport emissions increased by 26%, thus offsetting much of drop in other sectors, such as energy production, industry and services for example. Over that same time period, transport related GHG emissions in Ireland rose a staggering 157%, much of this attributed to recent commuting patterns emerging in and around urban centers in the country.

Sector related GHG emissions in Ireland

“The quality of transport infrastructure is a key consideration in determining the competitiveness aspect of any location” Engineers Ireland / The Irish Academy of Engineering

With mobility and development so inextricably linked in the modern world, it is of paramount importance to develop low carbon mobility alternatives to those with which we have become so accustomed to today. Nowhere is this more pertinent a question to ask than Dublin city, a city that has become intoxicated by, and completely addicted to the car.

While the private car is accountable for over 40% of GHG emissions coming from the country’s transport sector, there is another more pressing issue that makes addressing urban mobility fundamentally important to the future sustainable growth of the city. Congestion already mires many people’s experience of the city.

“The delivery of transport and communication infrastructure effectively and economically requires greater urbanisation and increased population densities, with investment focused on areas served by public transport and away from those areas more reliant on private motoring.” Building a Better Ireland

By 2026, the population of the Greater Dublin Area is estimated to reach 2.4 million people. To put it more clearly, if the CSO are correct in their predictions, in 16 years time there will be approximately half of today’s population extra in the Greater Dublin Area. For future sustainable development it is not an option to further development the rural hinterland, intensification of the city is required.

How do we intensify the city without the car?
Suggested Transport Modal Goals for Dublin
Due to the restrictions of the canal bridges, Dublin city centre can only handle a certain amount of vehicular traffic without causing gridlock. Furthermore, the city’s streets for the most part were designed for the horses and cart, not the car. If the density of the city centre within the canals is to increase to accommodate the growth in population, the people who live within the canals will have to get around the city with fewer cars.

Further to this, to get more people who live outside the canals to use the centre of the city for activities, including work, there is a need for an economical and efficient way to travel in and out of the centre that is not harmful to the environment. If another transportation model is not embraced, the city core unfortunately will reach the limit of its capacity for intensification.

“A general requirement that significant housing development in all cities and towns must have good public transport connections and safe routes for walking and cycling to access such connections and local amenities…Our vision is to create a strong cycling culture in Ireland and ensure that all cities, towns, villages and rural areas will be cycling-friendly. Cycling will be a normal way to get about, especially for short trips.”Smarter Travel

The low density nature of Dublin is such that public transport systems such as the bus service are economically unsustainable. Cycling is one of the most economical ways of replacing the 60% of car trips that are under 5 miles in the city.

Using the Dutch intermodal transport model, connecting heavy rail with bicycling increases the catchment areas around public transport nodes and thus increases the use of public transport. This is particularly important in low-density cities and as such, it offers Dublin a viable solution to the ‘last mile’ challenge facing public transport.

Heavy Rail is the most energy efficient and least polluting way of bringing people into the city centre. In response to this, current planning practices insist of higher densities along rail corridors. In order to mainstream cycling as an important mode of transport in the city, it is crucial to put in place infrastructure that allows for the seamless integration of cycling into the public transportation system. The success of Dublin bikes is testament to this. However, in order to achieve a modal share similar to Amsterdam or Copenhagen, Dublin must embrace many of the developments made in those cities.

Increasingly Dublin is competing on a global scale against other capital cities such as Amsterdam, Zurich and Copenhagen. City ranking systems such as the Mercer Quality of Living Index and the Mercer Eco-city index are important guides for foreign companies seeking to establish international headquarters in Europe. Unfortunately, Dublin is falling way behind its competitors who consistently feature in the top ten while Dublin languishes in the mid thirties. Therefore it is in the economic interest of the city to invest in developing its public realm and transport infrastructure.

As so eloquently described by urban theorist David Engwicht, “Cities can be defined as a mechanism for maximising the diversity of exchanges while simultaneously minimising travel”. While there exists planned exchanges and unplanned exchanges, what ultimately drives the creative city and the economic vitality of the city is the spontaneous exchanges that it creates. Public transport, cycling and walking all facilitate spontaneous exchanges, being cocooned in private cars does not. Moreover, noisy streets filled with traffic definitely do not.

College Green has the potential to regain its status as the civic heart of Dublin.
Creating a city with more journeys by foot, by bicycle and by public transport can lead to efficient transport systems, economic stimulus, and the development of sustainable and resilient communities within the city, contributing to an enhanced character of the city for Dubliners today and generations to come.

Reclaiming the Quays from the hegemony of the automobile.
The envisaged outcome of this research would be a developed urban design vision for cycling and public realm design in the city, including a more detailed design for a selected public realm; modelled on the New York City Department of Transport’s strategic plan ‘Sustainable Streets’, prepared by Jan Gehl architects.

image: New York Times
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