Dublin Traffic Plans

Dublin Traffic Plans

All over the developed world, cities went through a phase where they fell in love - and then usually fell out of love - with the motor car.

This phase was usually an exciting time of optimism and aspiration, and a time where places wanted to change their face beyond all recognition. It rarely worked out well.

Dublin has been shaped by many historic events but one that has had a big impact on the appearance of the city is its failed aspiration to embrace the motoring era.

This is the story of Dublin's three transport plans; how they could have created a very different city; and how you can still see evidence of them today.

This page intends to give planning fans an accurate summary and introduction to what each proposal involved. It doesn't claim to list everything that was proposed. For that, you would need to consult the original plans.

Map links have been provided throughout the text to help anybody who doesn't recognise the street names.

The title of this feature was taken without shame from Jay Foreman's fantastic Unfinished London series, which would be of interest to anybody who is interested in urban planning or peculiar council behaviour.

This website is work in progress. Maps are currently being developed.

Sketch of motorway roundabout


  1. Chapter 1: First Effort
  2. Chapter 2: Motorways
  3. Chapter 3: City Centre
  4. Chapter 4: Outcome

1/4: General Traffic Plan (1965)

At the start of the 1960s, several studies were published looking at the demographics and societal changes in Dublin.

These generally looked at themes such as emmigration and changes to the workplace, with the idea being that this would affect how we structured and designed the city. Nobody had considered traffic.

German civil engineer Karl Schaechterle was commissioned to carry out the first ever study into the city's traffic flow. This consisted of traffic counts on key roads, applying a few rough traffic growth calculations, and then proposing a road network that could cope with that traffic.

This wasn't Dublin's first ever road plan. For example, since the 1940s there had been plans to upgrade the road between Donnybrook and Bray, but progress had been slow and those plans were now proving to be insufficient. The General Traffic Plan was the first study to seek an understanding of the whole network.

Today you would call Schaechterle's recommendations insensitive. Amid the enthusiasm for futurism, no consideration was given to preserving what was there. If it was in the way, it would go.

Most of his suggestions involved widening key roads into the city, but he also included a number of new projects:

  • Cross-city traffic would be able to use the Canal Ring Road:

    • Along the Grand Canal (the southern section), this would mostly be a three-lane dual carriageway with two local access roads (D3+2), covering the canal.

    • It would then follow the existing road past Kilmainham and Islandbridge.

    • A new road would run in a straight line between Islandbridge and Cabra. This would most likely involve a tunnel under Phoenix Park.

    • At Phibsborough, a new road would be built on top of the Royal Canal, carrying eastbound traffic only. Westbound traffic would have the existing North Circular Road to itself.

    • The two roads would meet by Spencer Dock, and run down to the new Liffey Bridge.

    • The Liffey Bridge, built roughly where the Samuel Beckett Bridge is today, would be a four-lane dual carriageway (D4).

    • It is important to remember the Grand Canal carried its last working cargo barge in 1960, and the Royal Canal's was in 1955. The attitude was that they were redundant assets, they were quickly falling into disrepair and they were becoming unsightly. So while filling them in may have been bold, it wasn't considered to be an entirely backwards step.

    Dual carriageway sketch
    A sketch of the planned arrangement on top of the Grand Canal.

  • A new road would be built along the former St James arm of the canal route, between Goldenbridge (Davitt Road) and The Liberties.

  • A new road would link Clonskeagh and Donnybrook, replacing Beaver Row.

  • One way systems would have been created in many places, such as Phibsborough (using Royal Canal Bank), Leeson Street (by demolishing the buildings), along the Dodder at Donnybrook (by building a new road along the river), around Baggot Street, around Mountjoy Square, and at Harold's Cross.

  • Many roads would have been straightened, such as the routes through Irishtown and on Marrowbone Lane in the middle of The Liberties.

  • Several large roundabouts would have been built, such as outside Christchurch and in the middle of The Liberties.

  • Fairview Road would have been an interesting one. It would have had 3 lanes on each side, plus 2 extra lanes that would have been reversible depending on the traffic flow (S8).

  • Butt Bridge would have been widened to a three-lane dual carriageway (D3).

  • Parnell Street would have been widened to a two-lane dual carriageway with parking throughout (D2).

  • Merrion Square West would have been widened to a three-lane dual carriageway with parking (D3).

  • Malahide Road would have been widened to a two-lane dual carriageway with parking (D2).

  • Swords Road would have been widened to a three-lane dual carriageway with parking (D3).

  • Strand Road would have been widened to a two-lane dual carriageway with parking (D2) all the way to Dun Laoghaire.

1965 Dublin General Traffic Plan map
Roads selected for widening in the General Traffic Plan, laid on top of a modern (2020) map (10.87 MB, tap to enlarge)

These days people tend to explain this study by talking about "motorways". At the time, Irish law made no provision for the existence of motorways - there weren't any. While engineers would have known what a motorway was (because they had them in Britain and elsewhere), there was no suggestion that this was what they were aiming for.

Having said that, a short section of the Canal Ring Road (what's now called Parnell Road) would have had wider lanes than the main section, and it would have been lower down than the surrounding roads. This leaves open the possibility that it was designed to be faster than the other roads - but to suggest anything else would be pure guesswork.

Shortlived Vision

Dublin Corporation took the recommendations on board, but not in their entirety. They combined several of the proposed inner city dual carriageways to create the Inner Tangent, a dual carriageway loop that would have circled the very core of the city.

On the more industrial west side, the Corporation had no concern building new roads through anything that was in the way. In the well-to-do Georgian east side, they came over much more nervous, and the Inner Tangent would have split into several existing streets offering different routes around the area.

Inner Tangent route map
The Corporation's Inner Tangent route, laid on top of a modern (2020) map (2.69 MB, tap to enlarge)

The Inner Tangent and other commuter route upgrades were adopted into the Corporation's development plan. It is hard to find a clear example of Schaechterle's proposals in action, as most of them would end up passing through several more studies before being built. Perhaps the best example is at Donnybrook, where the dual carriageway Stillorgan Road makes it over the bridge and then just gives up. The job was only ever half done: by the time work had started on these roads, the situation had changed.

The other thing to look out for is the industrial units on the left. Buildings like this are often a queue that demolition was expected, because they are easy to move.

Road narrows
The sudden road narrowing at Donnybrook, showing that somebody thought the dual carriageway would be going further into town.

Schaechterle's study was the first of its kind in Dublin, and it was flawed. It considered the existing city in isolation, and didn't take account for how it would expand.

Part of the problem was that the study was being conducted on a very tight budget. In Britain, a study like this cost on average 40p per resident. Dublin's cost 6p per resident.

Wright's 1967 Dublin Region Plan painted a picture of a city that would be expanding outwards, with long-distance commuting and a significant rise in population. The Schaechterle study couldn't account for this - so while it was taken as a useful starting point, a rethink was needed.

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Legally bland

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© 2020 Johnathan Randall.