Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
New plans call for a pivotal roadway in the city center to be surrendered to pedestrians, bikes, and a new streetcar.
In the heart of Dublin’s city center, a pivotal intersection is finally getting its chance to be an open-air “living room” for a city that has never quite had the proper main square it deserves.
The Dublin City Council’s new plan to revamp College Green comes straight out of the urbanist’s textbook: cars will be pushed out to make way for pedestrians, bikes, and a new streetcar. Transforming this beautiful but poorly planned space, turning the roadway into a granite-paved plaza threaded with trees and fountains, could make a major difference to the look and feel of central Dublin.
Browse around College Green on Google Street View and you’ll see the problem that needs fixing. The “square” may have some of Dublin’s grandest buildings—the elegant neoclassical Bank of Ireland and Trinity College—but that alone doesn’t make it a welcoming public space. While it’s sometimes cleared for public gatherings, like Barack Obama’s visit in 2011, the banana-shaped sliver of ground that anchors the Green has been reduced by car-friendly planning to a mere stepping stone for pedestrians trying to thwart double streams of traffic. It’s one of those all-too-familiar spaces where pedestrians feel provisionally tolerated, rather than welcomed.
The new renderings show how much better the space could look after the revamp (construction is slated to begin in January 2018). While Trinity College will be bracketed by new streetcar tracks, the rest of the square will be opened up as a single granite-paved chunk that will allow the buildings around it to breathe, and provide space for a crowd of up to 15,000. Bikes will be restricted to the edge, with the square’s rough cobbles hopefully discouraging cyclists from taking a diagonal shortcut across. Water jet fountains will play in front of the Bank of Ireland. In order to make all this possible, taxis will be rerouted to neighboring streets, while buses will be obliged to stop and turn back at one end of the space.
Still, the plan isn’t perfect. Bank of Ireland customers will be allowed to drive through the space to access their own walled, private parking lot—a concession that seems hard to justify—while plans to reshape the area’s arrangement of trees into a more obvious plaza arrangement will mean the needless felling of mature plants in order to replant the square with a flanking avenue of 22 saplings. There’s also a certain glacial slowness to the progress of work. CityLab first reported on pedestrianization plans for the area two years ago, and while the new tramline is already under construction, the Irish Times has noted that the project’s timetable means 18 more months of disruption on the site.
Thankfully, it should all end up delivering a highly positive result. The streetcar in particular will do far more than cut pollution and make the area more attractive. Extending an existing service 13 stations north into a previously unserved section of the city, the new line will also connect with Dublin’s other main streetcar line. This will belatedly turn a pair of unconnected links into an actual network. Dublin’s transformation into a pedestrian-friendly city with excellent public transit may be slow, but at least the city is moving in the right direction.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that the Bank of Ireland’s car park was for staff. It is in fact for customers’ use.