Help the Phoenix rise

By Ciaran Cuffe

Dublin’s Phoenix Park may be the non-pareil of the nation’s parks, but it is time to rethink how it is managed. The big issue is traffic. Over ten million car journeys are made through the park every year. Astonishingly, there are no scheduled bus journeys through it. If you want to travel by public transport from the park entrance on Parkgate Street near Heuston Station to Castleknock you have to walk twenty minutes up to Blackhorse Avenue, and then take the 37 bus along the Navan Road and around to Castleknock Road. Meanwhile car after car speeds down Chesterfield Avenue through the centre of the park, ignoring the 50-kph speed limit set in the Park bylaws.

Back in 2011 road resurfacing was carried out in the Park necessitating some  weekday closures. This had a notable impact in suppressing traffic demand, with up to 30% of displaced traffic not accounted for by measurements of traffic flow increases on other routes. So the lesson is clear: if you provide roads, you’ll get cars: if you don’t you won’t.

The Park does at least has a Conservation Management Plan, produced in 2011, in time to mark the 350th anniversary of its opening. That Plan sets down an objective to “manage the levels of traffic within The Phoenix Park and reduce through traffic”, but it seems management are afraid to reduce the through-traffic on weekdays, and only limit traffic at weekends, when commuting traffic is at a minimum.

It seems like a sensible idea for the Office of Public Works (OPW) which manages the Park to limit through-traffic all day everyday. Instead of toying with restrictions at weekends it needs to work with Dublin Bus and the City Council to provide decent bus services and promote sustainable traffic patterns. It seems so obvious that no-one charged with the public interest could oppose it for Dublin Bus to introduce an express bus through the Park, but like many good ideas, it has been  perpetually long-fingered.

The OPW has limited traffic on some roads in the Park, but it should do more. It could also rethink the junction layouts that are challenging for cyclists and pedestrians to navigate. Perhaps a zebra crossing or two would be appropriate near the zoo so that parents can cross the road without taking their life into their hands.

Taking car traffic out of the Park could transform it from being a fast-track commuter route into the city into being an oasis of calm in a city where large areas suffer from excess vehicle noise. It would reduce the number of injuries to deer caused by vehicles, and could restore the Park’s qualities as a place of calm and peaceful enjoyment for all Dubliners and visitors to the city.

The Government is apparently lobbying UNESCO to have the Phoenix Park designated as a world heritage site. Surely the removal of some of the car traffic would boost the cause. The Phoenix Park Act of 1925 established in law its use as a public park for the general purpose of the recreation and enjoyment of the public. Perhaps a review of that legislation could allow a more sustainable approach to its future management and use.

Back in 2011 Clare McGrath the Chair of the OPW stated that the Conservation Plan for the Park “aims to balance the responsibilities to protect, conserve and enhance the unique landscape, environment, ecology, wildlife, built heritage and view of The Phoenix Park” with the imperative for events, performances and activities. Reducing or eliminating through traffic would amplify this by enhancing both conservation and enjoyment.

The Phoenix Park is a unique habitat. Seventy-two species of wild birds are found there, including the threatened Shoveller, Golden Plover, Black Headed Gull, and Herring Gull. It also contains several rare species of plants such as violets, grasses and wild herbs. Four-hundred deer as well as foxes, badgers, hedgehogs,  bats and rabbits make the Park their home.

Surely the best way to protect and enhance this resources would be to implement an ambitious traffic plan that would decrease traffic and improve the quality of life for all. Instead of taking a cautious approach it is time for the OPW to bite the bullet and take decisive action. •