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. Drawings with a blue border will show much more detail when expanded.

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.

Dublin city motorway plan
A sample drawing of a motorway interchange. This was produced in 1967 as only a concept, but it is detailed enough for us to envisage how such a layout would fit in today. Tap to open full recreation (1.4 MB)


Contents:

  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. In 1953, residents of Clanbrassil Street were given official notice that the road was going to be widened.

Overall, progress on projects like those had been slow, often being repeatedly re-examined when it was realised that traffic levels had risen again. Each street was being considered in isolation with no consideration as to where traffic was actually going. The General Traffic Plan was the first study to seek an understanding of the whole network.

The Coombe city centre sign
One of the sharp bends at The Coombe (Ardee Street), making this an unsuitable route for heavy traffic. Pictured in 2020, where the strategic road signs are still in place.

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.

A map of the proposals is included further down. 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) built at ground level.

    • 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
      Above: A sketch of the planned arrangement on top of the Grand Canal.
      Below: The Grand Canal in 2020, in roughly the same spot. You can see how the two side roads would serve the houses.

      Grand Canal at Parnell Road

      It wasn't even a new idea. The Grand Canal was still owned by the state transport operator CIÉ, for whom it was a burden that they desperately wanted rid of. In 1963, councillors put forward the idea of turning the canal into a roadway, but their proposal received a mixed response and hadn't been carried forward.

    Away from the canals:

  • 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. The main issue was The Liberties, an area which hadn't been touched by the Wide Streets Commission, and as a result access to the city was via the narrow and tight Ardee Street, which had been inappropiately designated road T5A to Limerick. Irishtown was another narrow and winding suburb that was going to be straightened.

  • 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). This was the first time it was suggested that Parnell Street be extended through to North King Street, to prevent the twisty dogleg around Ryder's Row.

  • 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.

  • St John's Road West would be upgraded and extended towards Ballyfermot, to create a new route out of town.

1965 Dublin General Traffic Plan map
Roads selected for widening in the General Traffic Plan, laid on top of a modern (2020) map (10.86 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 to write about. While engineers would have known what a motorway was (having seen 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. Other sources (that I haven't been able to verify) report that several flyovers would have been provided.

It is clear that the Grand Canal Route was supposed to be faster than the other roads - but to suggest it was going to be promoted to a whole new category 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)

Initially, the media's coverage of the new proposals was focused on the new Liffey Bridge, and it was generally positive. Slowly the reality of the canal project would begin to set in.

In 1967 the Grand Canal was supposed to be legally closed but, following a campaign from the public and the Inland Waterways Association, the closure authorisation came with a condition that the canal needed to be restored as an amenity.

This would ultimately end any chance of the canal being filled in, although certain corners would keep pushing for it.

Before that, the Inner Tangent and other commuter route upgrades had been 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. Church Street Upper, where the flats were built, and parts of Rock Road, appear to be examples of Schaechterle's plans being adopted quickly.

Perhaps the best one to look at is Donnybrook, where the dual carriageway Stillorgan Road makes it over the bridge and then just gives up. The job was only ever half done.

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

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 the county's population. Wright took Schaechterle's work and mixed it in with a number of potential motorways that would link up these new suburban areas.

While interesting, the detail of the Dublin Region Plan was only crayons on a map. It highlighted areas that should be studied in more detail. So we pick up the story with what happened next.



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© 2020 Johnathan Randall.