The Phoenix Park is going to change. They’ve set out a mobility plan which looks at improving how people get to the park and how they move around it. Public consultation is open until 12th March, here.
It follows a campaign in the summer of 2020 to reduce the number of cars in the park and give more space to pedestrians and cyclists. A Green Party petition on the issue in May 2020 received over 7,500 signatures. The Greens have been pursuing this issue hard within government, and this is the first stage of the result.
The plan sets out options for gate closures and road changes to reduce car dominance. It also recommends:
- a new network of improved walking and cycling facilities through the park,
- a limited bus route to open the park to public transport users,
- a 30kph speed limit for the whole park (currently mostly 50kph),
- a new parking control strategy,
- a review of the park’s 95-year-old bye-laws.
The Transport and Mobility Options Study could transform the Phoenix Park for the better and should be implemented as soon as possible.
There is strong public support for the changes and the OPW should push on with them. Below are some thoughts on how to improve the plan.
The Phoenix Park has over 2,000 designated car spaces. Removing car parking from Chesterfield Avenue was a good move which improves accessibility and safety on the road.
But it is clear that there are huge parking problems across the park, with many parking on grass verges or inappropriately along side roads. The plan should set out:
- Enforcement mechanisms, including tickets and/or clamping for those who park outside of designated spaces – with fines sets as part of the bye-law review
- Clear signage upon entry that parking is permitted only in designated carparks
- A pay and display or ticket system for carparks which allows free stays for under five hours – deterring those who use the park as a car park for commutes, while allowing people to visit the park and amenities easily.
- Signage/app showing which car parks are at capacity or have space
The plan rightly ensures that access to all parts of the park for those who need to visit by car is retained. It also widens that access to public transport. The plan should make an explicit committment to accessibile, consistent design in all new walkways, cycle routes, and alterations, to improve the park experience for the very young, elderly or those with disabilities.
Loos and benches
Universal access isn’t simply about the road/path space, but also about providing broader infrastructure to allow longer walks and visits to the park. This means the provision of benches for rests along the walking routes, along with a plan to increase the number of toilets and changing facilities available.
Limited piping is an issue around the park for toilets, but portable toilets or septic tanks could be considered as an option.
The park could also make greater use of kiosk licences to provide supervised toilet facilities.
It is important that wildlife are protected and encouraged in the park, and that there will still be spaces which are in darkness. But it is clear that some parts of the park – primarily Chesterfield Avenue – are already heavily trafficked and lit.
The OPW should, as part of the mobility plan, look at upgrading the lighting along this main strip, to ensure that all feel safe using the park even after dark. This is particularly important for winter.
This could be done in a way that is sympathetic to bats and other wildlife, while also retaining the heritage features of the gas lamps.
The proposed cycling routes are really welcome. Two-way, segregated gate access should be provided at all vehicular gates. The roundabouts on Chesterfield Avenue act as anti-cycling pinchpoints and should either be removed or redesigned.
Cycling parking should also be increased. The OPW should also work with the project partners (Dublin City and Fingal Councils and the NTA) to improve cycling connections to the park. From my own experience, connections from the Liberties/Kilmainham could be done well, but are currently hostile.
The park should be easier to enter and exit for pedestrians and cyclists. This means opening permanently-shut gates (such as this one on the Chapelizod Road) and looking at installing new gates into the park.
In practice, having to travel long distances around the park walls encourages car-dependent access.
These could also link it with any new cycling or walking infrastructure, such as the planned bridge from the War Memorial Gardens.
There are no pedestrian crossings over Chesterfield Avenue. The entire park should be designated a pedestrian priority zone, with clear marked crossings at all corners and junctions, and regularly along Chesterfield.
This would not only make things better for pedestrians, but slow cars and discourage through traffic.
For this reason, cycle paths should be fully segregated to avoid conflicts with pedestrians and other traffic.
The 30kph speed limit for the park is welcome. It should be applied across the park consistently and roads should be designed/calmed with this limit in mind.
The OPW should consider speed cameras in the park (either at certain points or taking an average over the length of the park). This should deter speeding, and also act as a soft discouragement to through traffic.
Better public transport
It is a bizarre situation that private car access is permitted in the park while public transport is not.
Plans to introduce a bus service into the park are very welcome. Where possible, this should be integrated as part of the Dublin Bus service. A specific shuttle bus runs the risk of being underused or going unknown, as before.
A regular bus service would also offer some transport options to those living north west of the park, reducing through traffic and car dependence.
The OPW should, however, limit the number of overall routes going through the park to avoid too much additional traffic.
Futureproofing the plan
The preferred mobility option for the park would hugely improve matters, but the design should also be sure to make future changes as easy as possible. Should the OPW later decide to restrict through traffic via the park, the design should take this need into account.
If through traffic will not be banned outright in this plan, it should at least be discouraged.
The study’s timeline is ambitious and clear, with many changes in the first few months after the plan is agreed. But some of the timeline indicates that some points may take up to seven years to implement.
This likely includes the study several years after the changes are put in place, but the timeline should be clearer.
There should be a dedicated project webpage which sets out works in place, and an estimated timelines for the outstanding works. This would help with transparency and public understanding of the changes.