There are some aspects of getting around the city of Dublin that make it seem that the pedestrian is the bottom of the food chain when walking around the city: The narrow footpaths that became such a problem for social distancing; The ugly traffic and utility boxes that litter the footpaths; the multiple temporary and permanent poles and signposts intended to help motorists and businesses and then the fact that we have to beg to cross the road, using the pedestrian crossing “request” or “call” buttons like those in the picture.
These call buttons are also a problem during Covid-19/ coronavirus and there was a call to have them changed early on in the crisis, which went unheeded. (see Dublin Inquirer article here).
However, in most cases, the buttons need to be pressed even when there is no traffic passing through a junction. (see See Click Fix Issue from 2014 here) and from 2013 here. This means that the cars are stopped and there is no reason that pedestrians cannot cross the road, other than that they are being limited to a short portion of the time available for the traffic sequence, or that they council considers that they have no right to cross without pressing the beg button.
One of the worst junctions, and also one of the cities busiest is that around O’Connell Bridge. Try bringing 3 children from the Eden Quay side to Aston Quay. Whichever way you try you have to wait for at least four crossings, which might mean that you have to wait up to a whole cycle of traffic: every car gets to move before a pedestrian can cross one crossing.
And then other times pedestrian crossings don’t work at all, even when the button has been pressed, See twitter here. This is a common problem, which I have the City Council Traffic Section at 1800 293949 on speed dial for. Traffic lights can be left for days like this if nobody rings the council, which is a common problem.
Even, when pedestrians do have a green light, people seem to block them with their cars, forgetting that it is the same as blocking a hatched junction (see my tweet from last year here and a SeeClickFix issue from a few years back at Heuston Station here) again, when you have been waiting to cross with 3 children, it can be frustrating to have to negotiate into moving traffic because the designated safe space is blocked by a non-attentive motorist. A suitable educational strategy for motorists can be seen here: Tweet from @FietsProfesor. I have tried this, but as I had children with me was not in a position to hand around and chat with the driver.
My family’s daily walk to school includes elements of all of these problems, in one junction. To cross from Inchicore into the Memorial Park, Islandbridge we have to cross 5 lanes of traffic. We have to reach the traffic lights in time to push the beg button (this has to be a few seconds before the lights are even amber for the traffic) otherwise we have to wait a whole cycle. We then have to hope that motorists coming out of Memorial Road obey the red light (there is a green arrow for turning right, but those turning left must wait on red). We can then only get as far as the traffic island, as the pedestrian crossing on the second leg of the crossing is only lasts for the period of time that it takes to cross one leg. It then stays red for pedestrians for a further 30 seconds while traffic turns left from Memorial onto Con Colbert Road. The way back also takes 2 attempts, as the beg button on the park side of the road only summons the green man to get you as far as the island, where you have to use the beg button again.
The next junction down, at South Circular Road is worse. It takes 3 bites of the cherry to cross as there is a left turning slipway for motorists which has it’s own independent traffic lights. To make things worse, people trying to cross to The Kilmainham Lane side of the SCR have 2 more pedestrian crossings to wait for. That takes a breathtaking 10 minutes to cross a junction. Unsurprisingly, many people cross on red.
So, are there solutions? I contacted the council and BusConnects with some specific solutions to these crossings, but council policy needs to change to ensure that pedestrian signals should always be green when there is no conflict from traffic signals. This is easy, and would not slow traffic at all. The beg buttons on all crossings where the traffic is stopping in any case become redundant.
Some crossings would have to remain as demand crossings. However, these need to respond immediately and not have a delay of a traffic cycle, as some do now. This again, would have no net effect on traffic: there could be a 2 minute “no repeat” if there was a worry that traffic would be adversely affected, but this should be used sparingly.
Outside of the very centre of the city, on most roads, there is generally a pattern where rush hour traffic is heavier in either one direction or another. In these cases, traffic light sequences can be reprogrammed for different times of the day to allow pedestrians cross the “off peak” streams of traffic while the peak traffic continues to flow.
Of course, re-engineering roads as outlined in the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets would remove slot of traffic slip lanes and make crossings simpler and more pedestrian focused and safe. We need our councillors to keep on top of the traffic department to ensure that these changes happen.
As always, we need enforcement. Traffic light cameras promised for Kilmainham 2 years ago don’t seem to have happened. People need to report near misses and incidents to the Gardai and get a pulse number.
And, we need longer crossing times. The city is for people. If people choose to bring their vehicles to the city, they cannot expect to be allowed plough through at the expense of those who are here. There are very few drive in shops in the city. If we could get the large parking allocation for workspaces where people remain for 7-8 hours at a time moved out to the M50 and replaces with park & ride, that would be great too.