Image source: Turgidson (2016) Luas cross city track laying on O’Connell Street. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/turgidson/ (Last accessed 20 November 2016).
Images such as this will be all too familiar to anyone who has been in Dublin city centre over the past three years. The short-term impacts which Luas Cross City (LCC) has had on the city centre can be seen all the way from O’Connell Street to Stephen’s Green. However the longer term impacts are not so visible, and have not been fully communicated to the general commuting public. In an attempt to address this I decided to examine the impacts which LCC will have on how people can access public transport in Dublin – particularly by focusing on the most used form of public transport in Dublin – Dublin Bus.
Luas Cross City is a construction project run by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) and funded by the National Transport Authority, while the new line when operational will be run by the private company Transdev. The main aim of the project is to fill the missing link between the Luas Green and Red lines which are currently separated by a 15 minute walk at the closest points. The new link will also extend north towards Broombridge station which is on the Connolly to Maynooth line, creating a further connection to Dublin commuter services (http://www.luascrosscity.ie/about/about-lcc/). Planning for the project started in early 2005 when the Railway Procurement Agency (merged to form TII in 2015) carried out a survey of Luas Passengers on their attitudes towards a future cross city connection, as well as station locations. Using this information the RPA moved on to full public consultation (https://www.luascrosscity.ie/about/public-documents/route-selection/). The original focus of consultation on Luas passengers not only presented a sample which would naturally be biased towards supporting Luas extensions, but also neglected to take into account the needs and wishes of the vast majority of public transport commuters in Dublin who travel using Dublin Bus (http://www.dttas.ie/sites/default/files/publications/corporate/english/transport-trends-2016/transport-trends-2016.pdf).
Dublin is already a heavily congested city. According to the Satnav product TomTom, traffic congestion in the city adds on average 50 minutes per day to travel journeys, based on data collected from its satnav units which are used in the city (https://www.tomtom.com/en_ie/trafficindex/city/DUB). Bus congestion is to a large extent tied to this congestion in that buses operate on the same streets as private cars. Bus lanes vary widely across the city in both distribution and quality, however even when high quality bus corridors are in place they tend to be the focus of a larger number of high frequency routes which creates in lane congestion between buses, also compounded by bus bunching – when two or three buses on the same route meet up with one another. Although existing Luas lines generally do not have to deal with these problems, the nature of LCC means that trams on the new line will have to share road space with buses and cars. This will have knock on effects (for the existing green line which is generally for most of its run grade-separated from traffic) to the delays imposed by both car and bus traffic in the city centre as the turn around time for trams – the amount of time it takes for a tram to switch from inbound to outbound – will be increased. As it stands turn around time for green line trams at St. Stephen’s Green is totally independent of bus and car traffic, due to the separation there of the Luas line from regular street traffic. However when the new Luas line is implemented the turn around point will be moved to the north end of O’Connell street where a loop will be provided to allow trams to turn right onto Parnell Street, back down Marlborough street and south towards the old terminus at St. Stephen’s Green before on to the southern suburbs. During this time the Luas will be at the mercy of street traffic, particularly when the bottlenecks of Dawson Street and College Green are taken into account. Bunching will no longer be a problem associated with buses in Dublin as the new Luas line will be open to this form of congestion.
Image source: Joanes, R. (2016) Building the LUAS Cross-city tram line. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/110691393@N07/ (Last accessed 20 November 2016).
Before construction of LCC began, Dawson Street was a one way, with two northbound lanes turning left onto Nassau Street. It is an important focus for several high frequency bus routes, mainly the 39a, the 46a and the 145. These three routes alone account for 302 scheduled buses passing down Dawson Street per day – a constant stream. This is of course not even considering the other 18 routes which both use and stop on the street throughout the day. When LCC is up and running, the street layout will be changed completely from its original one way configuration. Instead it will have two lanes (one in either direction), with a loss of one northbound lane to allow for a southbound tram lane (exclusively for use of trams). This single northbound lane will be shared by buses, trams and car traffic, as well as being the location for the new Dawson Luas stop, key city centre bus stops and new Luas stop at the Nassau Street end.
— Map of Dawson street available: http://www.lccdawsonnbstop.ie/Downloads/draftro/Luas_Cross_City_Dawson_Northbound_Stop_Drawing_LBXD000GA29007A.pdf
College Green (http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/bus-concerns-on-the-new-luas-cross-city-line-1.2478013) as well as O’Connell Bridge (http://www.dublininquirer.com/2015/06/17/please-accept-these-transport-plans-or-this-could-get-awkward/) have also been identified as areas where busses and trams will be in competition with each other for road space, and where congestion will become likely unless a large scale, long term solution can be found.
The Future: conflict
Image source: Murphy, W. (2016) LUAS tram crashes into bus. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/ (Last accessed 20 November 2016).
Although the possible solutions to these issues have not been publicly discussed with Dublin commuters, the one thing that is clear is that when the first LCC trams begin use of the new network, a huge reconfiguration of traffic routed in Dublin City must take place. This means a huge change in how the people who use the city centre for work, education and leisure access transport – both private drivers, taxi users, bus users and also Luas users. Due to the huge amount of spending which LCC represents, the dice seem loaded towards tram transport over bus so as to ensure the protection of investment in the project. However hopefully this will not at the expense of more practical solutions to Dublin’s traffic issues such as bus rapid transport. The one thing that is for sure is the fact that competition between buses and trams is set to enter the streets of Dublin as soon as works are completed on the new line – though hopefully not as literally as in the above image.