The draft Phoenix Park parking strategy was published today. It’s here, open for public consultation until 6th June.

UPDATE: Neasa Hourigan TD, Cllr. Janet Horner, Feljin Jose and I put in a joint submission, which you can see here.

I’ve put a summary of what’s in the plan below, which I’ll eventually work into a full submission. But here are the key points:

  • A bus for the park: opening up the park to more people
  • Four times as many accessbile parking spaces for disabled drivers (from 21 to 84)
  • Legal changes to allow parking charges and tickets/clamping
  • A new 40-space car park near the Castleknock gate
  • Protection for grassy verges used for illegal parking
  • Extra bike parking, including for cargo bikes

I want to study the plans in more detail and hear from park users to put together a final submission. But my initial thoughts:

New bus

The Phoenix Park is crying out for some kind of public transport access. There was a hope for a bus route going through the park, but that was scuppered (hopefully temporarily!) by issues with the width of the Cabra gate.

This plan proposes a pilot bus run by Dublin Bus as part of their network. It’ll start at the Ashling Hotel (near Heuston Station) and into the park, stopping at Dublin Zoo, Áras an Uachtaráin and the Phoenix Park Visitors’ Centre. Then it’ll turn around and head back the same way.

When I asked about the bus’ planned frequency, OPW officials told me that it wasn’t yet set, but they wanted high frequency, as some kind of hourly service clearly wouldn’t work.

I think this is a major step forward for the park – opening up more parts of it to people who don’t have car or bike access. Long term, I would like to see the Cabra gate issue resolved and for a normal bus route fully integrated into the Dublin Bus network.

(The new bus isn’t formally part of this strategy, but we’ve received that update at the same time.)

More accessible parking

There is a real shortage of accessible parking for people with disabilities in the park. The strategy has rightly identified this need and is proposing increasing the number of parking spaces for people with disabilities from 21 to 84 – a 300% increase. You can see a breakdown of them below.

I asked OPW officials how this will work and the idea is to rejig existing car park spaces to provide the extra required space for these accessible spots. This will lead to a reduction in the number of parking spaces, but they confirmed it won’t mean any new paving over at the existing car parks.

Legal charges and changes for parking

The Phoenix Park is governed by bye-laws from the 1920s. They’re wildly out of date, even banning “charabancs” and “omnibuses”. These bye-laws are finally being updated, and will finally give park managers a legal basis to tow cars, clamp, ticket and – eventually -charge for parking.

This is a much-needed update. I know that charging for parking in the park won’t be popular, but given that so much of the city now charges for parking, it would create a bizarre situation to maintain unlimited free parking in the city’s green lung.

Combined with the new bus, you could inadvertently create a free “park ‘n’ ride” into the city. That’s why charges are necessary to deter long-term car parking – perhaps with a free first hour or some policy like that.

The paid parking requires physical infrastructure, and is lumped in the “medium/long” term category, which means it should be completed within 2-10 years. This is clearly too vague and a more specific timeline should be developed.

A new car park at the Castleknock Gate

The Parking Strategy identifies a demand for a new 40-space car park at the Castleknock Gate entrance. In a mostly positive strategy, this sticks out like a sore thumb. We don’t need to pave over more of the park to provide car parking, as our aim should be to remove cars from the park where we can.

The OPW emphasises that this new car park will be a mix of solely accessible parking spaces and spaces aimed at older people. I think the latter part of this will be impossible to enforce and likely will be ignored.

There are about 2,100 car parking spaces in the Phoenix Park. The new accessible spaces mentioned above will reduce that overall number, but this new car park will (I’m told) roughly even it out. I think it’s simply a mistake and they would be better just dropping this element entirely.

Stopping illegal parking

It’s not legal to park on grass verges in Ireland. The Parking Strategy aims to stop this problem through a mix of enforcement (as discussed above), but also by using new infrastructure to stop cars parking up on the grass.

It’s a real shame that more railings are needed, but I think it’s a sad necessity given some drivers’ behaviour. If adding in bollards, I would love the OPW to commit to using historically sensitive, high quality black metal, in line with the old railings and bollards we see elsewhere in the park.

Parking on the main road through the park (Chesterfield Avenue) was never legal, but was tolerated until during COVID. This has effectively removed 1,200 spaces from the park, while making cycling a good deal safer. The OPW have confirmed that the policy of tolerating such parking is not coming back.

New cycle parking

More cycling parking is on the way across the park. There’s already been some progress on this front, but there’s a good way to go. Happily, there is also a plan to specifically include cargo bike parking options – something Dubliners are increasingly using to get around.

Overall, I think the strategy is a real mixed bag. I think we should be setting an explicit aim to further reduce car priority, numbers and parking across the park. Legal changes, the new bus, and more accessible parking are all really welcome. The new proposed car park isn’t, and should be dropped.

You can see the full document here and make a submission before 22nd May 2023.