Cut down on car usage, not the trees, to keep the buses moving

Fine Gael councillor Paddy McCartan beside a tree on Merrion Rd. Picture: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

Dublin is a city of trees. They shape the city, give light and shade, colour some of the busiest thoroughfares and add incredible atmosphere and charm to the city. 

I have taken them for granted all my life, as I suspect many of us have. They have taken decades to grow, and now, in many parts of the city, they stand tall, like sentries guarding the entrances and transitions from one part to the other.

They’ve always been there. Except, it seems, not for much longer.

In what I can only see as an act of corporate barbarism, the National Transport Authority (NTA) is proposing to chop down and dig out many of the oldest and grandest trees of the city, to widen the roads for buses. 

They’ll also be taking hundreds of bits of front gardens, but at least, I guess, the owner of those gardens will receive financial compensation. 

But in taking so many trees, they’re taking the city’s legacy away from it. And changing the character and atmosphere of our capital city for ever.

I’m ashamed to admit that because I take our trees for granted, I paid little or no attention to what was proposed. 

They’ll tell me straight away that it’s too late now, that there has been a detailed consultation and that the consultation period ended last week. Well, guilty as charged. I should have spoken up sooner.

But what is being proposed is not just unacceptable, but a repeat of silly mistakes we’ve made before. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

It was my wife who pointed out all the trees on the way into Dublin bedecked with red ribbons, and wondered what the ribbons were for. 

I assumed at first that they were marking the route of a race. 

A little research helped me to discover that they had been put there by a decent man and a Fine Gael councillor, Paddy McCartan, to highlight the fact that they are under threat for road-widening purposes.

That discovery then led me to look at what the NTA is proposing. 

It’s all spelled out in black and white on its website and in a series of information brochures, all downloadable and covering different routes and different parts of the city and county.

They read like they’re written by a gang of mad scientists. Over the next few years — if you take the example of just one route (Bray to Dublin City Centre) — it proposes to take 330 trees, as well as “impacting” 160 properties. 

At the moment, if you get on the bus in Bray and get off in the city centre, it will take you about 55 minutes. 

After they rip all the trees out of Shankill and other villages en route, the journey will take about 45 minutes (or so they say).

Incidentally, if you stroll down to the DART in Bray, the journey into Dublin, with wonderful sea views along the way, takes around 45 minutes.

From UCD to the city centre, right through Ballsbridge, they’re taking 160 of the most beautiful old trees in the city. From Kimmage, it’s 70 trees. 

From Ringsend into the centre (one of the shortest routes), 40 trees are proposed for destruction.

And it’s not just a southside issue — not by any means. From Ballymun inwards they’re taking 140 trees, from Finglas to Phibsboro it will be 130, from Swords into town it’s 170.

And it goes on and on. Trees that were planted generations ago, to give character and charm to our city — and now to help us breathe cleaner air — are all to go to make room for buses. 

Yes, they’re promising they’ll replace them, but who is going to replace the character of a city that belonged to generations of Dubliners?

And as I said, we’ve been here before. Back in the ’90s, when building roads with European money was all the rage, a plan was developed to drive a motorway through the Glen of the Downs in Wicklow, and the eco-warriors were born.

That plan involved uprooting 1,300 trees. Mature, fully grown beech, oak and ash trees. Impossible to replace without a hundred years of growth. 

But the eco-warriors, a group of environmentalists, from here and abroad, decided to set up camp in the woods and prevent it happening.

It was a highly divisive campaign, not least because the eco-warriors themselves did damage to the habitat they were trying to protect. 

But ultimately the authorities backed off. Only around a quarter of the trees were felled in the end, and Glen of the Downs remains to this day a place where Ireland’s native trees are valued and respected. 

And guess what? The traffic still passes below at between 80km/h and 100km/h, with very few, if any, delays.

In all the brochures published by the NTA to promote these destructive schemes is a picture of what it calls the “optimum” road layout. 

Apart from a footpath, this optimum layout has a raised and segregated cycle lane, a bus lane, and a single lane for cars. And the same going in the opposite direction. So, six lanes in all.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I haven’t been able to find this optimum layout, with its raised and segregated cycle lanes, anywhere in the city. 

After all the trees have been removed to make way for this model, it’s going to take years, and cost billions, to build it — while all the time the congestion of the city gets worse.

Maybe, just maybe, the whole mad plan is a straw man. Maybe they’re just trying to confront us with a reality we need to accept. 

That there’s no room for cars any more in the city. Maybe what they’re really saying is keep your cars if you want them. 

But the price you’re going to have to pay is the loss of hundreds of trees that help to define the character of the capital — and help you to breathe clean air.

Because there is a viable alternative. 

The time is rapidly approaching — it may even be here — when we have to accept a hefty congestion charge, or even a ban on city centre cars for significant parts of the working week. 

Maybe we have to be forced onto public transport and out of our cars.

Speaking for myself, I’ve pretty well decided not to be a lazy ass, and to leave my car at home in future when I need to go into Dublin. 

I live close enough to bus and train services so that it’s pure selfishness on my part to clog up the roads in order to go to a meeting.

And if that helps to save even one tree, so much the better. 

But it doesn’t alter the fact that the development of a public policy that aims to desecrate our heritage of generations-old trees in order to widen the roads to keep buses moving is a mad, upside-down, irresponsible public policy.

If we have to keep the buses moving — and in the public interest, we do — clamp down on the cars, not on the air we breathe.

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