A City from Scratch

Dublin: Day Twenty-four

From what I’ve seen, few cities are intrinsically difficult to move around. Most feature the same devices to facilitate movement; paths, lanes, alleys, streets, roads, watercourses, open space reserves, light (trams) and heavy (trains) rail. The difficulties arise in response to attempts by administrators and policy makers to favour one mode of transport over another by installing obstacles, barriers, laws and regulations. I wonder, if I were to build a city from scratch, what would I do differently?

After identifying a piece of land that was topographically and ecologically suitable, I’d start by asking people where stuff should be put. Schools, shopping areas, and their homes, industrial and large scale commercial facilities. I expect it might be difficult to reach some consensus on these things, but I reckon there would be more agreement than disagreement in the room by the end of the process.

This process would also determine who wants to live where. The more popular the location, the higher the density, but the price would be less than for those that wanted to carve out their own private plot. The antitheses to what we do now in some respects.

Then, I’d start to look at how people might get from their homes to the places they need to go, and back. I’d prioritise walking above and beyond all other methods used to get from place to place. Next I would prioritise bike riding, skating, scooting and other active ways of moving around. Then I’d prioritise public light rail, then public heavy rail. I know buses are cheaper and offer more flexibility, but people don’t like buses as much as they like rail. Public buses are prioritised next, along with motorcycles (motorbikes and scooters), then cars, light trucks and finally, heavy (articulated) trucks.

I would design these priorities into the system by the way I allocated space – higher priority modes get the best bits, lower priority modes get whatever is left. This way, trucks give way to cars which give way to motorcycles, who give way to buses, who give way to light rail, who give way to bikes and pedestrians. The only exception might be when each mode is separated from the others. Pedestrians shouldn’t walk along rail lines, just like cars shouldn’t drive along bike lanes.

Where separated pathways meet, a hierarchy rule takes effect. Everyone waits for the pedestrian, then they let the bikes go, and so on.

I’m not suggesting that this system would work, but in the spirit of Ebenezer Howard, someone ought to give the whole thing a go!

Dublin is a great example of a place that could do with a rethink regarding the priority given to each of the transport modes represented. For reasons that I’m sure relate to past attempts at easing congestion’, Dublin now consists of lots of double and triple lane but one-way streets furnished to give cars and buses priority over everything else. And despite Dublin’s acclaim for the inroads it’s made with it’s bike share system, this is a difficult city to ride a bike in. A surprising number of bike lanes end inexplicably, or merge into vehicle lanes without warning. The idea of “A to B ism” (facilitating the most direct route from one place to another, and back again) is challenged here. I believe footpaths are for pedestrians, but at times while riding I found that this was my only haven from the risk of being run over by an errant car driver (of which it seems, they have about as many as we do, per capita).

Incidentally, the cost of unleaded petrol in Dublin today was €1.44 (AU$1.94) per litre. In Prague I remember seeing it at a similar price, as well as in Germany and Spain. Suck it up Australia. Our fuel is dead cheap compared to what many in Europe are paying.

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