Dublin Transportation Study (1971)

Dublin Transportation Study (1971)

This is chapter 2.


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

Following the publication of the 1967 Dublin Region Plan, it became clear that there were going to be commuters moving between suburbs and the city centre.

Experience in other countries showed that motorways would be the way to manage this, but the Republic of Ireland had no experience with them.

The United Nations arranged for the US Department of Transportation to offer their expertise and computer programming. A new study would create a road network that was designed to support these new commuter corridors. It was published in 1971 by Ireland's An Foras Forbartha.

The key difference between 1971 and 1965 was that this study was keen to route the motorways around any valuable buildings. They would instead follow railways, poor-quality or derelict buildings and parkland.

British readers will be surprised to hear that this motorway network was a network of commuter roads. In Britain, fast roads had been planned since the 1920s to speed up journey times between cities. There is no evidence of any thinking like this in Ireland until the 1990s. Instead, the roads we have here were designed to get people around Co. Dublin only, with no consideration for what any other counties might need or want.

The study envisaged that all of these roads would be open by 1991. Each interchange is described as either "diamond" or "full access". It's not clear if those are accurate descriptions or just euphemisms for "simple" and "complex". Those titles imply that full road layouts are available, but most of them haven't been uncovered yet.

Please note that the study did not allocate road numbers. For convenience, we will refer to existing roads by the numbers they held in 2012. The study did state that the existing road network would be reclassified to suit the changes, so while you are welcome to have your own guess at what each road would actually have been numbered, you'll be getting yourself deep into 'alternative history' territory!

Royal Canal Motorway

The Royal Canal Motorway would have started at the Liffey Crossing, a new, major river crossing that replaced the previous Liffey Bridge idea. 58,000 vehicles a day were expected to use it from opening. This gives us a start point in Spencer Dock.

There would have been a knot of ramps (slip roads) in North Wall, joining the R101 to Dublin Port. In the middle of this (at the site of Docklands station) would have been a fork for the Fairview Spur.

Soon after there would have been a Y-shape split for the Airport Motorway, positioned above Croke Park. At Ballybough Road, two ramps would have would have run parallel.

There would have been an all-access diamond junction with the N1 Drumcondra Road, where the Ballybough Road ramps would have joined. It is now following the line of the Royal Canal and its towpaths - the Royal Canal was in a poor state at the time, and using it to hold an elevated highway wasn't seen as an issue. In addition, the canal and parallel railway were owned by the state, and the aim was to keep the new road on state-owned land.

Soon after, there would have east-facing ramps connecting to the N2 at Phibsborough. The study considered the weaving between the N1 and N2, but reckoned it was just long enough.

After this the environment becomes much less densely-packed, and the drive would have been less stressful too. The next junction would have been at Ashtown, replacing the canal bridge. Ashtown itself wasn't the huge suburb that it is now; this junction was here to serve the Northern Spur, a new link road that would have ran from the N3 to the south, to the N2 to the north, creating a new corridor for development.

Next the road would cross over the N3, and have an interchange with the M50 at Castleknock.

Soon after there would be another junction, this time serving Blanchardstown and Lucan.

After this the plans get a little more sketchy. We know it would have passed north of Lucan, and "near Leixlip", taking us to the county boundary where, as far as the study cared, the road would have ended.

In 1994, a section of M4 motorway opened in Kildare, which conveniently ends at Leixlip, right by the county boundary. It is not a great stretch to suggest that these two motorways were intended to join up. The contract for the Lucan half of the Royal Canal Motorway would have been titled "N4 Corridor Motorway", suggesting the finished road would have been called "M4".

The N4 Lucan Bypass, which opened without the flyovers in 1988, was included in the Transportation Study too, as an urgent priority. Lucan needed two major roads: what's now the N4 would have been the local road, and what would have been the M4 would have been the main road.

All of the city centre motorways were listed as high priorities, but the Royal Canal section was near the bottom of that list. West of the M50, traffic levels were expected to be very low. All-in-all, this route was the poor relation to its surroundings.

Airport Motorway

The Airport Motorway is an easy one to make sense of, because it exists. The Airport Motorway opened in 1985; it would eventually be part of the road that started at Santry and headed towards Belfast.

In this study, the Airport Motorway would have ran from the Liffey Crossing to Blake's Cross, near Lusk. It was created out of a project in the Dublin Development Plan titled "M1 Santry to Swords".

After the road diverged from the Royal Canal Motorway at Croke Park, there would have been an interchange at Griffith Avenue.

After crossing the sports ground and the park, the next exit would have been at Coolock Lane. This was built in 1983, and from 1985 it formed the start of the M1 motorway. Despite this, it was numbered junction 2, leaving open the possibility that Griffith Avenue would have been junction 1. That last part is interpretation and shouldn't be taken as solid evidence.

However, it does fit with the phasing plan. This showed that the road from Dublin Airport to Coolock Lane would have been built first (it was), with it slowly progressing from there in each direction.

Curiously, the exit for Swords was originally intended to be at a junction with the road to Malahide.

South Coast Motorway

People who know Dublin will be familiar with the saga of the South Coast Motorway, even if they don't know the name.

For the purpose of this study, the South Coast Motorway would have taken over from the Royal Canal Motorway at the Liffey Crossing.

There would have been a complex interchange on top of Grand Canal Dock, with exits for the Canal Ring Road and the local area. Pearse Street would have run underneath the whole complex; the skyscrapers that are there today are nothing compared to the concrete pillars that would have run overhead here.

The road turns sharply eastwards, following the existing road to the large junction at Irishtown. Here there would have been another interchange. There was no need for Sean Moore Road - while there would have been some industry up there, there would have been no toll bridge - it wouldn't have been needed.

From here, the road would have run along the seafront at Sandymount. An embankment along each side would have been provided to hide the road, and each of these would have been turned into a park. Frequent footbridges would have linked the two sides, with the coast side having bathing areas along the waterfront. The road would have been built to two-lane (D2M) standard, with space to widen it in future.

The Sandymount Coast Road proposal wouldn't sound too bad if we had a totally blank canvas, but when you're tearing up an existing seafront to build it, it becomes much more difficult to get residents on board. The railway line at Booterstown (opened 1835) provided some precedent that this could be done, with the old coastline having become a pleasant nature reserve. Unfortunately, that nature reserve was also on the line of the new motorway.

Motorway park sketch
An artist's impression of the motorway and linear park at Sandymount. The sea is on the left, with the old shoreline on the right.

The Transportation Study was adamant this was the least destructive route to take, as utilising the coast line spared Sandymount and Ballsbridge. Consideration was given to a spur, which would have continued along the seafront, past Dun Laoghaire, to Dalkey. That was removed from the plan, but it was recommended that the route be protected.

At Booterstown, the South Coast Motorway would have dipped under the railway, where there would have been an interchange with Rock Road. It would then turn inland, running across the school and the hotel grounds.

There would have been a junction with the N11 Stillorgan Road. From here, the name of the contract would have changed to South East Motorway, though effectively it was to be the same road.

The South East Motorway would then have run north of Foster Avenue, and as houses were built in this area, the route of the road was left clear and can still be made out today. This road would have opened with three lanes (D3M).

Just before Goatstown, the road would have headed south, having an interchange with Mount Anville Road. It would then head due south, along what's now the Drummartin Link Road. In the original plan there would have been a spur from here to Donnybrook - in fact that's where the idea for this road came from - but that spur was soon removed.

At Sandyford, the South East Motorway would have met the M50 - but the M50 would have ended there. The South East Motorway would then have followed the line of what's now the M50, with the junction at Carrickmines and another at Loughlinstown, where a spur that would have headed up to the N11.

The road would have continued around Bray, coming to an end at the county boundary.

The South Coast Motorway, being effectively an urban relief road, was treated as a very high priority. The section between the Liffey Crossing and Irishtown was postponed only because it was dependent on having other roads to connect to.

The South East Motorway, which would have primarily served new housing estates, was considered to be a relatively low priority. It was itself broken into two halves with the section around Bray and Shankill opening in 1991 as M11 J4-6, including the spur mentioned above that was initially incorporated as part of the mainline.

Based on the 1971 plan, it is reasonable to deduce that the road from Dublin City Centre to Bray would have been numbered as one motorway and that, based on the modern numbering system, that motorway would have been called the M11.

Clearly that wasn't what they were planning in 1991, otherwise they wouldn't have numbered the junctions at Bray 4, 5 and 6. However those numbers match perfectly with the contract we named as the 'South East Motorway': J4 for the spur at Loughlinstown, J3 for Carrickmines, J2 for the M50 at Sandyford and J1 for Goatstown, with the contract ending at Mount Merrion. This is pure speculation, and while it all fits together very nicely, no concrete evidence has emerged.

We will discuss what happened in 1991 in chapter 4. First though, we have a few more roads to tell you about:

Fairview Spur

The Fairview Spur was a very short motorway, which would have started with the other roads at the Liffey Crossing, and then run along the edge of Fairview Park.

It would have ended at Marino Crescent, probably at a set of traffic lights.

There is some confusion about intermediate junctions. The earliest drawings showed the Spur ending at East Wall Road, and called it the Fairview Bypass. It was then extended to Fairview, possibly still with a junction at East Wall Road. The final version had no mid-way junction.

The Fairview Spur's job was to funnel traffic to and from the Liffey Crossing. With no crossing, there would be no spur.

Meanwhile, there was a problem with traffic leaving Dublin Port getting stuck around the low bridge on East Wall Road. This would have been solved by the two new motorways, but as a quick and cheap solution, the Clontarf Embankment Road (now Alfie Byrne Road) was built around Fairview in the early 1980s. This follows a very similar path to what had been identified for the Fairview Spur.

The Clontarf Embankment Road left space for a Fairview Spur to be plugged in to it - although that may be coincidence rather than design.

Naas Road

By 1971 the N7 Naas Road between Drimnagh and the county boundary had already been upgraded to dual carriageway, albeit one that didn't meet modern standards and had a poor reputation amongst drivers.

The Transportation Study repeatedly mentions replacing the Naas Road with a motorway, but it claims that this decision was made at the last moment. However, this appears to be a misunderstanding.

At one point, the study explains that the plan for the Naas Road is "not necessarily" to create a full motorway, but a "junior expressway". This would be a road that is built to the same standards as a motorway, but without the laws that are applied when a motorway is created.

The concern seemed to be that as the Naas Road already existed, it would be difficult to click your fingers and declare it a motorway - there are processes to follow. Doing that would most likely involve building a whole new road alongside it, which was possible but disproportionate.

Whatever the Naas Road would have been called, the Transportation Study recommended that junctions be provided at Red Cow, near Kingswood (now N7 J2) for a link road to Tallaght and Clondalkin, and at Saggart (near N7 J4), where the Southern Cross Route would have branched off and cut the corner for people heading towards Bray and Dun Laoghaire.

The whole project was a low priority - the study praised the existing N7, and said it was one of the country's safest roads. It suggested that upgrades be applied "systematically" into the 1990s. The completion of Newlands Cross in 2015 meant this goal has been completed, albeit with a lot more junctions.

Separately, Kildare were planning their own motorway at Naas, which opened in 1983 as Ireland's first motorway.

M50 - The Western Box

The network of radial motorways described so far would have been held together by a motorway box. The Airport and South Coast motorways described so far would have formed the eastern side, while what we now call the M50 would have been the western side.

The route of the Western Box would have been very similar to the M50 we have today, ignoring the section at the Dublin Port Tunnel which is a product of much more recent history. It would have been divided into the Northern Cross Route, Western Cross Route and the Southern Cross Route.

The Northern Cross Route was regarded as a low priority, as the land it crossed was mostly still fields at the time. It would have had its junction with the Airport Motorway, and the junction at Ballymun. At Finglas, the junction would have been slightly west of the N2, with link roads heading to the N2, Ongar and to Ashtown on the Northern Spur.

The first plan had the Northern Cross Route (M50) turning south at Kildonan, where it would then end on the Royal Canal Motorway (M4) at Ashtown. This was considered to put too much pressure on the Royal Canal Motorway, so an extra arm of the Northern Cross Route was added, running via Blanchardstown to meet the Western Cross Route. The road to Ashtown was initially kept on as the Northern Spur, but later downgraded from a planned motorway to a planned local road.

There would have been no junction at Blanchardstown, with the next junction being the Royal Canal Motorway at Castleknock.

From here the Western Cross Route took over, and was a high priority because it crossed the Liffey. When it finally it opened it was branded as the Western Parkway; in planning it was only ever the Western Cross Route.

It would have had its junction with the N4 at Palmerstown, and then another at Clondalkin. The next would be at Red Cow, where there would be the N7 to Kildare and the city centre. The next junction was at Tallaght.

The road was intended to open with two lanes (D2M), but with space to widen it to three and then eventually four lanes (D4M). This would involve a second bridge across the Liffey.

Then the Western Cross Route would have ended at Ballycullen, where there would be two options. Traffic could join the Southern Cross Route and head west, with junctions at Killindaran and with the N7 at Saggart. Or it could head east.

The whole of the Southern Cross Route was a low priority, but it would have allowed people coming up from Kildare on the N7 to cut the corner. From Ballycullen, there would be an extra junction at Edmonstown, plus Ballinteer and Sandyford - where the link road would go on to Deansgrange.

At Sandyford, the Southern Cross Route would have ended, as here it would have met the South East Motorway. Traffic could either head north into the city centre, or south to Wicklow.

Today the M50 doesn't end here. The section between Sandyford and Shankill is right on the line that was reserved for the M11, right down to the layout at what's now the M50/M11 interchange.

This history explains two of the bends in the modern M50, at Ballycullen and Sandyford.

The Southern Cross Route deserves one final mention, because considerable comment was made about its landscaping. It would have taken a more direct route across Marlay Park, offering views of the Dublin Mountains on one side and Dublin City Centre on the other. Its climbs and bends were seen as attractions, and the road would have been landscaped with a wide central barrier that would have rocks and trees. It would be what the Americans call a "parkway".

More Roads

The Dublin Transportation Study didn't just deal in motorways, although clearly they were the most remarkable aspect.

It also proposed numerous suburban road improvements, including the urgent construction of the Palmerstown Bypass, Finglas Bypass and Stillorgan Bypass. The Navan Road, R102 orbital road and a new road through Drimnagh were in there too. It also supported improvements to railways, and the creation of high-speed bus corridors.

The final mention goes to the Canal Ring Road. Clearly the nothern section had been replaced by the new Royal Canal Motorway, but attention was needed at the southern section.

The study noted that Schaechterle's plan of covering the canal with a large dual carriageway was unpopular with its neighbours. It also predicted that it would be too popular with traffic, and would be congested.

Instead, the Transportation Study proposed that a residential dual carriageway be built around the canal, with more landscaping. Bravely, they believed that so long as the new road's capacity was kept low, traffic would rather use the new motorways. But, it stressed, this theory would only work if the motorways were built as planned.

Grand Canal Route sketch
A sketch of people enjoying the environment along the revised Grand Canal Route.

At the western end, the remains of the Grand Canal Road would have met upgraded roads to Islandbridge and Drimnagh. At the eastern end, the road would have ended at Mount Street, where two ramps would have fed into the M11 at Grand Canal Dock.

This decision for the Grand Canal was chosen out of three options. One of them would have been a considerable upgrade, with four diamond interchanges, one "complex" at Suir Road and four underpasses. This was considered unnecessary and destructive.

Aside from the nice drive along the canal, it is difficult to ignore the American influence. Many of the interchanges, not to mention the very concept of an elevated motorway snaking its way into the city centre, looked like something that would be more at home in California.

Clearly, most of these roads weren't built. We will cover that in chapter 4. They were approved by the Corporation and adopted into their city development plan in 1973. But there was more.

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© 2020 Johnathan Randall.