Cars are killing us. They are killing our cities.
Roads have hacked communities apart.Pedestrians, with no safe crossing, are often left to run across them, like peasants did in front of the carriages of the aristocracy before the French Revolution.
We, too, need a revolution in our cities: a revolution that makes the pedestrian king, followed, in rank, by the cyclist, the public transport user, and then the driver.
This is only basic social justice.
The AA reckons it costs €10,000 a year to run a car.
No-one under 17 can drive, and nor can anyone compromised in their health or level of ability by any one of a number of medical conditions.
A third of Dublin City’s households do not own a car. In central areas of Cork City, less than half of households own a car.
Yet, we have worked to make our cities hostile places for these people.
On Tuesday, Dubliners woke up to the news from the Environmental Protection Agency that the air quality in certain areas of their city breaches EU safety standards for levels of nitrogen dioxide.
The pollutant was at dangerous levels in the air at the quays, at the exits and entrances of the port tunnel, on parts of the M50, Pearse St, in the inner city, and in the vicinity of Heuston Station.
Nitrogen dioxide can form a brown haze and can contribute to the formation of environmental hazards, such as acid rain.
The most worrying thing about it is its potential impact on health: it can cause emphysema and cellular damage; it can bring asthma on and make it worse.
These conditions can make life miserable and unnecessarily short.
I have friends living on the Liffey quays and on Pearse St and beside Heuston Station. They never agreed to put up with bad air quality to facilitate cars. None of them even owns a car.
It’s not yet been possible to pin a specific negative health outcome on a specific failure to control nitrogen dioxide levels, though it may be possible to do so in the future.
For now, the only visible potential victims of traffic-management policies in Cork and Dublin are the residents and traders along our proposed new bus and cycling corridors.
There were cheers outside Cork’s City Hall this week, when councillors voted by 16 to 8 to throw out the €4m bus-and-cycle lane between Dennehy’s Cross and Wilton Gardens.
This has been hailed as a great victory for the people. Which people, I wonder?
Not bus commuters along the route and certainly not cyclists, who cause no emissions and yet have to take their lives in their hands to travel along that road.
It is a valid argument that the entire network of bus corridors, which the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy plans to extend by 100km, should have been planned in one go, to allow potential knock-on effects to be visualised.
Other objections are not wholly persuasive, however: that the proposed six lanes, including a bus corridor, a cycle path and a road for conventional traffic going both ways, would have made getting cars in and out of houses difficult and would have taken up to seven metres off the front gardens of some residents on the western side of the road.
A “horticultural screen”, a widened foot path, and a good cycle path — as well as the proposal that this corridor could eventually convert to Luas — would surely have made the air quality much better for residents on this route.
The population of Cork is expected to rise by 50% to 60% under the Ireland 2040 plan, a trend that is crucial for the proper functioning of the entire country.
The Wilton corridor was meant to be one of the most important transport links in this new city, according to the CMTS. It would have facilitated easy access to Cork University Hospital, UCC, CTT, and the Model Farm Business Park.
How are we going to get transport emissions down and control the quality of the air our citizens breathe, if we will not make tough decisions in favour of pedestrians, cyclists, and bus users?
The reign of the car must end in our major cities. The kind of political mentality that pushed a four-lane highway through the ancient Liberties of Dublin, and past the door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, has got to be consigned to the past.
The proposed 230km of bus corridor in Dublin, and the proposed 100km of bus corridors in Cork, all need to be subjected to a rigorous process that considers the views of the residents.
Communities must be protected.
Mature trees and green spaces, including biodiverse gardens, should be prioritised, as essential elements in maintaining the health of our citizens.
That’s doesn’t mean that nothing should change, however. Our cities have to change or they will kill us.
Some of the objections to three proposed bus corridors in south Dublin, from Templeogue through Rathgar and Rathmines toGeorge’s St (Route 10), from Rathfarnham to join Route 10 in Terenure (Route 11), and from Kimmage through Harold’s Cross to Clanbrassil St (Route 12), are grounded in a vision of the city that is car-based.
The lobby group formed to oppose the bus lanes, Communities not Corridors, cites the loss of on-street parking and impacts on business from the loss of loading facilities and the loss of access for customers.
By contrast, arguments against route 12 mention safe-guarding “Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco periods”, which did not originally include facilities for cars.
Many of these communities pre-existed the car by decades, if not centuries, and many have seriously deteriorated due to traffic. The bus routes can be made successful by limiting car access: introducing one-ways and bus priority at traffic lights to save trees, gardens, and communities.
Without radical action to get cars out of our cities, they will be hell-holes by 2040, when we will have eight million people living in this country.
It would solve the NO2 issue if all our cars and buses were electric, but it wouldn’t solve the traffic issue or the social justice issue, and it wouldn’t rebuild communities destroyed by roads.
Though it would cut emissions from individual cars, the element of fossil fuel still to be used in electricity generation for many decades, as well as the embodied energy involved in building the cars and their infrastructure, make electric vehicles unsustainable as the main transport mode for eight million people.
The Government’s response to the EPA’s warning on air quality in the capital this week has all been about cars. Everything can stay the same except the cars, which will be electric.
What we need instead is a radical plan for cycle lanes and bus corridors designed with respect for communities, trees, and green spaces. Our cities will choke to death if our politicians do not not make this happen.