September 12, 2006

We're now a society of double yellow lines on road to nowhere

Posted in Ireland · 9 comments ·
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This week lots of commentary was concerned with the big stuff, like 9/11 or Michael McDowell and all that. But sometimes the little stuff tells us almost as much about our society and how it works (or doesn’t).

Listening to the Taoiseach informally kicking off his election campaign in the past few days, he used the word “community” again. All politicians love a bit of community.

These days, the economic philosopher of choice is that nice man who wrote all the books on bowling alone, Robert Putnam. He focuses on a concept called “social capital” and why if we all had more time for each other, the world would be a better place.

Putnam’s specialty is the erosion of community which he contends is actively held together by clubs, village shops and public spaces including public transport.

He believes that all western society is becoming atomised, with too much individualism and this trend is making us unhappy.

The Taoiseach is Putnam’s self-confessed number one fan and he suggests that if we could generate as much social capital as we do investment capital, Ireland would be a better place.

And it’s not just the Taoiseach. At the Fianna Fail bash the other day, the journalist Tom McGurk was similarly talking about the problem of the fracturing of our communities, apparently to great applause.

This is laudable as far as it goes, but any football trainer knows that getting the big vision right is all about doing the little things right and this is why the rhetoric rings hollow.

There is no consistent thinking in Ireland. We say one thing and do precisely the opposite with, it seems, nobody seeing the link from the micro to the macro.

Let’s start with something as inconsequential as car parking attendants in suburban South Dublin. I realise fully that the trials and tribulations of the average Volvo driver in Dalkey might not be a national emergency but it serves to underscore a greater problem for the country, namely an inability to join the dots.

There is a glaring inconsistency between aggressive car parking regulations in the suburbs and the desire to foster the use of public transport.

Have you noticed the gradual spread of double yellow lines in suburbia? Do sneaky increases in double yellow lines which appear overnight, annoy you? Well, me too – particularly, when they snake out for miles around train stations. We have brutal enough public transport as it is, without further dissuading those of us who want to leave our cars at home but have to drive the few miles to our local train station.

In suburban Dublin – take Monkstown for example – there are huge lines of parked cars backed up a mile of so from the Dart station. Many people who use public transport have to drive some distance to the train/bus station. The reason for these traffic overloads on suburban estates far from train stations is not that the commuters do not want to pay a small charge for parking, but because it must never have struck the corporation that we all don’t work three hour days.

Has it ever dawned on the Corpo that suburban commuters who work in Dublin, Cork , Galway or Limerick and use public transport to beat the traffic, tend to be away from their cars from 8am to 7pm? They can’t feed the meter every three hours. How would your boss in the IFSC feel if you said I’m just popping out to for two hours to feed the meter? So what choice does the car driving suburbanite have but to park a miles away from the train station? For many this is just one obstacle too many so they drive all the way.

If we want to promote public transport, then make it easy. Give people the incentive to abandon the car. This would be good for both the environment and would reinforce this idea of community that the Taoiseach says he wants to foster.

Public transport is the very centre of the community that our politicians talk about. It is the most obvious expression of democracy, shared experience and the sense of “all of us being in it together” that we experience every day, yet it is being undermined. We are charging people extra for it and, more importantly, in a society with more money than time, we are inconveniencing people.

So here we have an example where one state agency – the corporation – is actively undermining the attractiveness of another, Irish Rail. In an effort to raise finances for itself, the corporation, is actively undermining the finances of Irish Rail, without providing a transport alternative. Therefore, everyone loses and the sense of community is relegated by the very agency – the corporation – which is supposed to be looking after the community.

The attack on community by traffic wardens gets worse in suburban towns and villages. In recent months, the blight of double yellow lines and metered parking has spread.

Think about your town, are the street full of painted lines, not just on the main street but down the little alleys and in around corners beside the barbers?

This actively dissuades people from shopping in local shops and markets. It is far easier and less hassle to drive to the superstore off the M50 with its huge free car park. So in its effort to raise finance, again we see a money-making racket actively undermine local life.

LET’S get things straight – our country’s traffic gridlock is not caused by locals popping down to do the shopping in the local town or village. It is about commuting and non-existent planning.

The only reason that there are double yellow lines in places like Dalkey and metered parking is to raise cash for the council.

In the process, those businesses that are trying to compete with the big guys are put at a dreadful disadvantage.

At the margin, this might cause a small local shop to close up, to be replaced by and an estate agency or mobile phone outlet.

However silly this is in Dalkey, imagine how people in Clifden, Kenmare, Bantry or any other market town in the country feel about this?

In rural Ireland, the car is a gelling agent for the community.

It brings people together and yet its use for local business is being attacked by officious main-street tax collectors. Joined up thinking, how are ye?

Now I realise, that this is hardly the biggest problem facing the country but it does go to the core of an Irish dilemma; namely: the left hand does not appear to know what the right hand is doing.

We eloquently talk about great visions, but forget that all big ideas are only the sum of small ones.

They are the product of hard work, attention to detail and local organisation.

With the double yellow line fiasco, we show that Ireland has a long road yet to travel.


  1. Alex Gibson

    I think that the main reason that parking is not allowed on full day basis is
    precisely to allow shoppers to access their local towns and villages. In Malahide
    it is now possible to get in for short parking thanks to extensive metering.

    As someone who chooses to take the ardous public transport route, I agree we
    need more parking at stations and, even more importantly, punctual and
    frequent local buses linking to the various train and Dart stations. I am often
    waiting 25 minutes for a connecting bus from the station to my outlying estate,
    after a train jouney of less than 20 minutes! No wonder so many choose to take
    the car.

  2. Aesop McFadden

    I would normally be a fan of your writing but I have to say this was not one of
    your best articles. The whole discussion could be summed up in one line.
    “Train stations need more parking”. It’s not a conspiracy; it’s not a small issue
    highlighting big social problems. Train stations just need more parking.
    Public transport in Dublin during rush hours can’t handle the numbers
    already using it. There is no need to convince people to use public transport.
    They know already but Dublin Bus or Irish Rail can’t provide the capacity
    needed.

    “The blight of double yellow lines”

    A blight on our community? Are you kidding me. Teenagers habitually using
    drugs, people dying because of an uncaring Health Service, young families
    not being able to afford their first home, 4 year olds going to primary schools
    that are literally crumbling. These issues are a blight. The worries about
    where Dalkey’s millionaires are going to park the lexus is not even in the top
    100 issues that need addressing in this country.

    “In rural Ireland the car is a gelling agent for the community”

    Couldn’t be more untrue. The car more than any other has increased
    individual’s independence and reduced their need to feel part of a
    community. In any case I am not sure I would describe market towns such as
    Kenmare and Bantry as rural Ireland. Of course if “rural Ireland” ever gets a
    train station we will sign your petition for more parking in Dalkey.

  3. SV

    Well said , David!

    I’m was struck by how inconsistent Mr. Ahern’s dedication
    to Robert Putnam was to the reality as people are
    experiencing, particularly in the GD and Urban commuter belt
    generally was.

    One of the worse examples currently has to be the
    decentralisation of Drogheda town’s commercial centre (which
    until now existed largely within the medieval boundries of
    the town). But the building of retail parks its outskirts,
    on the edge of the M1, coupled with the (mainly unpopular)
    “pedestrianisation” of the old town centre is doing little
    to improve the ‘social capital’ of what was up until this,
    a unique and vibrant place, all accessible by foot.

    The prospect of even the poorest burghers have to hire taxis
    to shop on its fringes while the old town becomes little
    more than a weekend centre of binge-drinking and soulless
    daytime shell seems a real and sad possibility(wonder how
    the estate agents are going to sell this one!)

  4. Saint Michael

    Greetings! Hi! It is by chance that i saw your article in
    the Irish Independant today. I was waiting for a fishbox
    at the local takeaway; and i took the paper on the counter.
    Public transport is not an adequate alternative to the
    modern everyday needs of the stressed-out comuter! The
    invested intrests in the automolile industry promoted the
    indivdual car on the roads as the clever way to go.
    Meanwhile the powers that be invested less and less in
    other and more econimical and safer mode of transport like
    the Train. The Galway Clifton railway was abandoned and
    the railway brige spaning the river corrib was sold as
    scrap for the great sum of £10. A marvel of enginering
    masterpies of the 18th-century Gifted to us by the british
    Empire. What economic and tourist attraction that piece of
    handywork be worth today??? Today! we have more and more
    cars looking for more space and wider roads with faster
    lanes a killing machines with less protedected bodies
    because of recyciled metals, more hidden costs of running
    the care and depreciating in value at a faster rate.
    Meanwhile we still expect our neigbours in Europe To pay
    for our Roads the German and french Taxpayer who lost one
    or two member of his Great Granparents in the 2 Great
    World Wars because of our silence in Preaching the
    Philosophy of the Saints of The Most High! Afterall We are
    known as the island of the Saints and Scolors. In The
    Bible it says”Where there is no vision the people perish”
    Is there another Famine on the way???

  5. Aesop McFadden

    I would normally be a fan of your writing but I have to say this was not one of
    your best articles. The whole discussion could be summed up in one line.
    “Train stations need more parking”. It’s not a conspiracy; it’s not a small issue
    highlighting big social problems. Train stations just need more parking.
    Public transport in Dublin during rush hours can’t handle the numbers
    already using it. There is no need to convince people to use public transport.
    They know already but Dublin Bus or Irish Rail can’t provide the capacity
    needed.

    “The blight of double yellow lines”

    A blight on our community? Are you kidding me. Teenagers habitually using
    drugs, people dying because of an uncaring Health Service, young families
    not being able to afford their first home, 4 year olds going to primary schools
    that are literally crumbling. These issues are a blight. The worries about
    where Dalkey’s millionaires are going to park the lexus is not even in the top
    100 issues that need addressing in this country.

    “In rural Ireland the car is a gelling agent for the community”

    Couldn’t be more untrue. The car more than any other has increased
    individual’s independence and reduced their need to feel part of a
    community. In any case I am not sure I would describe market towns such as
    Kenmare and Bantry as rural Ireland. Of course if “rural Ireland” ever gets a
    train station we will sign your petition for more parking in Dalkey.

  6. Feargal Leonard

    Aesop, I think you missed the point. It is intended to be
    viewed as a micro example of a macro issue. It is about
    more than saying that train stations need more parking –
    and day rates, not 3 hourly rates.

    It is about envisioning a goal and then getting the little
    things right so that it works cohesively. McWilliams has
    taken one example that probably affects him directly.

    There are many examples of failing to link things in
    Ireland. LUAS – the only modern rail system in the world
    not to have linked lines. The Port Tunnel – built to
    specifications that excluded the largest trucks already
    available. (If you believe that this was intentional, that
    is up to you). We have stamp duty that acts as a deterrent
    to middle class couples to have children. We built the M50
    and built housing estates all around it, turning it into a
    parking lot at times. We introduced penalty points, but
    failed to enforce them. We paid the police extra to work
    with a computer system that was supposed to make their job
    easier (and which they now don’t use). We paid over 10
    times the initial estimate for a salary payment system for
    the health service (it doesn’t work). Electronic voting –
    more money wasted. We paid many times the multiple of
    actual value for land to build a prison. We want to avoid
    congestion, but keep bleating about preserving the skyline
    of Dublin. So we build in Co. Dublin and Meath, Kildare
    and Wicklow, Cavan. Wonderful. We force people into 4 and
    5 hour daily commutes, with inadequate public transport to
    preserve a skyline that truth be told is not all that
    attractive.

    We are doing exactly what we say we don’t want. We want
    the small shops in local areas, we want to maintain the
    local pubs and sports clubs. Then we make parking
    impossible (small shops close), make transport from the
    pub home 1) illegal 2) expensive or 3) impossible to get,
    we build into the suburbs so that the sports club land
    becomes too valuable to use a sports club and build more
    houses.

    We are the taxpayer.

    Aesop – why are schools crumbling? Inadequate planning –
    failure to deal with changing demographics, providing
    planning permission in inappropriate areas, forcing
    younger couples with children further from the older
    schools, which then go underfunded as the child population
    declines. Why are teenagers habitually using drugs? Might
    it have something to do with the fact that most couples
    now need two incomes to pay the mortgage (and the changes
    in tax individualisation)? Why is the Health Service
    uncaring – overworked nurses/doctors working hours that
    are too long while some consultants work part days for
    public health and part days for private, while using
    public facilities? Might that be the reason. Why do we
    have a train system that means you can’t go from Galway to
    Limerick? Inadequate planning?

    These are the links – Dalkey’s problems (small as you
    might see them) are just an example.

  7. Aesop McFadden

    Feargal,
    I don’t want to use this as an arena for debate (are there messageboard for
    issues such as this?). I just wanted to say that I didn’t “miss the point”. The
    problem with politics in Ireland is that it is too local. The bigger issues suffer
    from neglect which politicians look after small local isssues. Pointing out micro
    problems and then putting a vague “inadequate planning” tag on all the macro
    issues is inaccurate (e.g. drug use). Health or education problems are a good
    deal more complicated (and yes more important) than local parking issues.

  8. Ruairi

    I know your article is about the bigger picture, but I will
    say that pay parking in rural towns in my opionion is a
    great idea and great for business. It means the parking
    spaces are not take up by all-day parkers, which means that
    shoppers (who do stay less than three hours usually) have
    somewhere to park. Pay parking was introduced in Arklow a
    couple of years ago and it changed the town for me – I
    started going into town for a “few bits” as I could
    actually get parking.

  9. David McWilliams – you are ahead of your time. The overnight appearence of double yellows in Athlone town is frightening. Not only is every inch of the town now pay parking, but what were once rural access routes, soon to be suburbia have now double yellow line and pay parking. The local co-op in Monksland, Athlone, has gained a collection of chevrons on a scale to rival Dundrum shopping centre. The supplier of yellow and white paint to rural town councils all along the soon to be tolled N6 must be raking it in!

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