w a l k i n g . d r i v i n g . c y c l i n g
“… Just a word of warning to tourists, on your visit to Dublin, don’t walk down the Liffey boardwalk and whatever you do don’t sit down on the benches provided… Over recent months i have seen a definite increase in anti social behaviour in and around this area and saw a tourist..confronted by a gang of around seven drug addicts. I don’t ever remember seeing an area as intimidating in a city centre on any of my travels, NY, Paris, Amsterdam, even Barcelona is safer at this stage….”
This cautioning advice, which was posted on tripadvisor.ie, is the first result in a google search on ‘the Liffey Boardwalk’. Although this comment was posted five years ago, it is still indicative of peoples assessment of the 650m south facing pedestrian route which runs along the River Liffey. This continuous promenade was conceived in 1997 to “reintroduce Dubliners to the Liffey and to provide relief from the traffic chaos of the north quays.” (Barrett, 2001) The boardwalk was imagined as both promenade and venue housing three coffee stalls and demountable stalls designed for occasional market activity and when opened in 2000, pedestrian use far exceed what was originally expected. (Barrett, 2001) However, very quickly the Liffey Boardwalk became synonymous with antisocial behaviour in particular drug abuse, and a known retreat for addicts or those referred to as “Undesirables of society” by Whyte in ‘The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces’ .( 1980)
“A well used street is apt to be a safe street. A deserted street is apt to be unsafe. But how does the work really? And what makes a city street well used or shunned.” (Jacobs, 1961)
The boardwalk’s architectural design is visually pleasing, light and tactile springing from the existing heavy granite wall of the quays. Even and continuous lighting mixes with a row of mature trees, sheltering the boardwalk from the relentless traffic on the quays.
On Sunday, the 15th of December 2013, a particular busy shopping day in the run up to Christmas, I observed and counted those (vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists) using the stretch of the quays, along Bachelor’s Walk, between the Ha’penny Bridge and O’Connell Bridge.
The two graphics represent the number of pedestrians, broken down between those who chose to walk towards and from O’Connell Bridge, on the boardwalk, the footpath next to the boardwalk or the footpath on the opposite side of the street, which passed by me in a fifteen minute timeslot from 12.50 to 13.05 and again in the evening on the same day from 20.20 to 20.35. The graphic’s also charts the number of vehicles, separated into cars, buses and cyclists between the time 13.05 to 13.20 and later at 20.35 to 20.50.
As you can see at both times of the day, traffic is heavy and constant with a small decrease in buses in the evening. A significant number of cars in the evening were made up of taxis. Cyclists along this stretch are nominal, I imagine largely due to the fact that no separate cycle lane exists, and the level of fast traffic present on the quays, which makes it unsafe and uncomfortable to cycle alongside. The vast majority of people choose to walk on the footpath on the opposite side of the road to the boardwalk. There is little difference between the footfall on the boardwalk and the footpath next to the boardwalk. Why do people seem to not consider straying slightly off-course and away from the noise and fumes of traffic, “for a more enjoyable and memorable walk along water in the sun”, (Barrett, 2001) not worth doing?
Is it just the popular local conception of the quays which stops people? Tourists did appear to choose the boardwalk but not in any great numbers over apparent Dubliners. It was amusing to observe on more than one occasion people faltering at the junction between taking the boardwalk or walking on the footpath alongside it. Some opted for the boardwalk, some didn’t, some appear to be visitors to Dublin, some didn’t. Surpisingly the numbers passing through the boardwalk seem similar in the lightness and the darkness perhaps due to the present of lights. Notably in the evening it seemed to be singular men taking the boardwalk more so, perhaps those not afraid to do so.
The sketch above denotes the amount of people on the bridge, sitting on the benches, admiring the view, using the boardwalk as a “venue”. (Barrett, 2001) There was a noticeable crowd about the coffee stall. This brings to mind Jane Jacob’s (1961) theory of the need for a substantial quantity of stores and other public spaces sprinkled along routes in order to give people “concrete reasons” to be in the streets. In the evening there are only two people on the boardwalk. The traffic is still speeding by on the road, but the coffee stall is closed, and whatever activity which existed mid-day has died.
Jacobs argues “On successful city streets, people must appear at different times” this is not the case with the boardwalk.
One conclusion i have made which is illustrated in the sketch above is that the doorway to the boardwalk is too narrow. This tight gap which just happens as you step off the Ha’penny Bridge has the benefit of moving and entering the walker into another world, a surprise world away from the pace of traffic and commuters. The walker doesn’t know what holds for him in this other world, perhaps a view of the shimmering Liffey, the Custom House to the east and the Four Courts to the west, perhaps threatening behaviour and a feeling of unease. This is a benefit for those who choose it and feel safe choosing this way however maybe a wider opening in thestaunch stone wall would convince more pedestrians just off the bridge to leak more fluidly into the boardwalk.
Another observation is the feeling of being cut-off from the speeding traffic on the quays by the double row of trees and lights followed by the heavy granite wall. What is, in an obvious way ideal, in fact becomes a serious drawback. This feeling of being isolated, on the one hand from traffic, noise and fumes but on the other hand, if confronted with a threatening situation, you also feel far from passing people and eyes. Perhaps one row of either trees and lights or the wall would be enough of a barrier while still seeming passable. However the choice of either disposing of mature trees or an historic wall does not seem a rational solution.
“The importance to the citizen of walking routes through the city cannot be overemphasised but they must be logical that is to say really needed and in the right places. En route, the more landmarks to guide him and the greater the variety of experience the better, also the possibility of surprise as through a variation in the spaces through in which he moves and the way the spaces are connected.” (Wright and Browne, 1975)
Although the boardwalk was conceptually envisaged as a continuous promenade only interrupted by the existing bridge maybe it is too monotonous and boring now to Dubliners? Is there a need for it? Many people seem perfectly happy, happier even to walk on the footpath along the road.
“People using the street at different times must actually use the same streets. If their paths are separated from one another or buffered from one another there is no mixture in reality.” (Jacobs, 1961) Are the three options people have to walk one distance one to many?
Charles I, the Duke of Ormonde first conceived the idea of forming quays along the Liffey. Building on the north bank did not really get underway until the beginning of the eighteenth century. It began on the west side of what is known now as the Four Courts and moved eastwards, towards the sea becoming grander and more expansive as it did so. The parts of Dublin most visitors know were built principally in the last two decades of the eighteenth century. The landmarks in the south (Merrion Square and Stephens green has prospered.) And the ones in the north (Mountjoy Square and Parnell square haven’t. Wright and Browne in 1975 write that “The south is in constant danger of being pulled down by developers, the north is equally in danger of falling down of its own accord. Without question it is the quays which give topographical coherence to Dublin. They are the frontispiece to the city, and the nation.” They go on to describe them as “..grand, yet human in scale varied yet orderly, they present a picture of a satisfactory city community.”
“In Dublin, it is not so much the famous Georgian streets and squares,fine as they are that one remembers but the unifying presence of the river Liffey running due east through the city from the Phoenix park on the west.. This strong linear element gives a special quality to the place, a lifeline to which everything else related and an immense advantage to any city. Furthermore its importance is acknowledged in the townscape for where many a city turns its back on the river, Dublin stands facing the Liffey.” ( Wright and Browne, 1975)
I made a series of maps looking at how this “lifeline” to Dublin has developed and changed over time.
I started by looking at the John Speed Map of Dubline (1610). The outline of the Liffey is still somewhat recognisable but far from the orderly flow of the Liffey as we know it today.
In the John Rocque Map (1756) The building fabric is more denser made up of smaller lots. The modern day line of the Liffey is forming
In the Dublin 5” – 1 mile Map (1847) Existence of the tramways which lined the quays is evident. It would’ve been a different place, compared to the heavy traffic which they see today. The metal bridge (the Ha’penny Bridge) and the Carlisle Bridge (O’Connell Bridge) appear. The building lots along the quaysides appear more modern in size.
Map (1991) The footprint of the buildings along the quayside seem to have changed very little from 1847 along the internal layout’s evident from the voids appear have altered.
Map (2000) The New Millennium Bridge appears west of the Ha’penny Bridge.
Map (present day, 2013) There is little change in the fabric of buildings namely all the way from 1847. The boardwalk appears.
By layering the six maps on top each the changes over time appear and seem surprisingly minimal.
“What role can architects and planners play in remaking Dublin city? It must be recognised that architects and planners have made many mistakes in the past. They have participated in the destruction of historic centres, the disruption of settled communities and the construction of hated living communities. (O Siochru, 1985)
It is interesting to look at the numerous proposals made for the quays and Dublin over the years to see how the maps could have changed. A significant number of proposals deal with traffic and the movement of people.
“Should Dublin be re-shaped to suit the motor car? Or should our approach to transport be re-shaped to suit Dublin?” (Wright and Browne, 1975) was a question which seemed to preoccupy many over the years.
A significant part of blight was caused by road widening and by the treat of it. Wright and Browne believed that fundamental changes in the public transport system were needed at the time in 1975, “changes designed to make these deserts in effect the quarter mile strips on both sides of the Liffey – areas into which money will want to flow.”
In a ‘Future for Dublin” (Wright and Browne, 1975) propose new retail shopping as a whole should be “pedestrianised under- cover spaces. . new public spaces,” They proposed an arcade in the central back lands along the Liffey, sufficiently far from the quays in order to avoid overshadowing the quayside frontage silhouette.
Another proposition they made was ‘The Liffey Line’, an underground connecting to Heuston Station which would be “ all but invisible at ground level- bringing life and prosperity back to Liffey banks”
In the Central Dublin Traffic Plan, Travers Morgan and Partners (1973) proposed a high level crossing of the Liffey by a north/south motorway in the area where Christchurch and St. Patrick Cathedral stands. The high level bridge for through traffic would measure about 80 ft (24m) wide and would be raised 26ft (8m) above Quay level. Flanking the bridge would be two-lane slip roads joined by quay level bridges. The result would be a gap over 200 ft (60m) wide blasted through the terraces.
Wright and Brown object strongly to the proposal in ‘A Future for Dublin’ referring to the “Devastating effect the proposals would have on Dublin’s townscapes.” They made alternative images in opposition of the perspective sketch Travers Morgan drew of their high level bridge which was made to appear “quite innocuous”. Wright and Browne’s collages were created in order to convey some of “the environmental havoc which the traffic proposals would create.” (Wright and Browne, 1975)
Travers Morgan’s misleading sketch of the effect the 24m motorway would have crossing the Liffey brings to mind Le Corbusier’s drawings of his Plan Voisin de Paris (1925) and Radiant City. In reality the effect the highways would have would not be quite as pleasant as his sketch makes out. Jane Jacobs criticises Le Corbusier in ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ arguing that
“He embroidered freeways and traffic on to his Radiant City in quantities that apparently satisfied his sense of design, but that bore no relationship to what so ever to the hugely greater quantities of automobiles amounts of roadways and extent of parking and servicing which would actually be necessary for his repetitive vertical concentrations of people… His vision of skyscrapers in park degenerates in real life into skyscrapers in parking lots.”
An Art Gallery was proposed in 1913 by Sir Edwin Lutyen and Sir Hugh Lane was to take the place of the Ha’penny Bridge spanning the Liffey.
Abercrombie’s plan for Dublin (1914) placed great emphasis on the view of Christ church from the river and suggested several major public buildings including a Cathedral and civic offices on island sites. The plan also suggested a completion of the crescent as a setting for the custom house and the removal of the Loopline Bridge by putting it underground. His traffic map identifies where higher density of traffic is and hotspots. Notably, the quays are a major thoroughfare of traffic then as they are now.
What does the future hold for the City Quays? There are plans to devote extensive riverside space to pedestrians and cyclists along the quays form the Four Courts to the Custom House. ( Kelly, O 2013) A Cycle highway all along the river from The Phoenix Park to the Custom House would sound even more promising for the future. There are further plans for a fivefold increase in cycle routes and greenways in Dublin and its surrounding counties. The Netherlands and Denmark started rebuilding their bicycle networks in the 1970’s forming a new type of landscape. Thirty years later and the bicycle has made a comeback worldwide. Streets have come full circle and are beginning to no longer be seen as corridors for cars but as thriving, liveable human spaces.( Bendiks and Degros, 2013)
Will new typologies be introduced? Can cycle highway infrastructure influence its adjacent space just as the motorway did? Will they be ‘Arteries in the urban circulatory system’ just as Haussmann’s boulevards were, when they ‘blasted through the heart of the Paris medieval city.’ This urban innovation of the 19th century, created a new type of public space and stimulated a great expansion of local businesses and employment. However was this also the beginning of the carriage and later the car taking precedent over the pedestrian, casting them to the edge and imposing its tempo on everyone; transforming the whole modern environment into a ‘moving chaos.’ (Berman 1982)
In the 20th century Le Corbusier wished ‘to kill the streets’ celebrating ‘the new man in the car.’ The Las Vegas Strip embodied this where ‘Immediate proximity of related uses as on mainstreet where you walk from one store to another is not required along the Strip because interaction is by car and highway…The scales of movement and space of the highway relate to the distances between buildings, because they are far apart they can be comprehended at high speeds.’ (Venturi and Scott Brown, 1931)
Cyclists are not enclosed in a sealed singular body of a car. Eye contact, a nod of acknowledge, can be shared with fellow cyclists and passing pedestrians, people can stop and dismount at will. Can the new cycle highways be a 21st century answer to Jane Jacob’s ideal city ‘where streets are kept safe by people passing by.’ Her theory of activating the streets, by putting eyes on the street and making them alive and secure for pedestrian ties directly into other types of public life and the making of a good citizen. Can design be lead from people’s view of the world from bike and foot, as the car dictated design in the 20th century?
- Bendiks, S. and Degros A., (2013) Fietsifrastructuur/ Cycle infrastructure, Artgineering,Rotterdam: nai010 publishers.
- Berman, M. (1982) All that is Solid Melt’s into Air, The experience of Modernity, New York: Penguin Books.
- Boesiger W. and Stononow O. (eds.) (1964) Le Corbusier 19190-1929, Complete Architectural Works Volume 1 1910-1929, London, U.K: Thames and Hudson
- Cahill, G. and Kealy, L. (eds.) (1985) Dublin City Quays, Projects by the School of Architecture, UCD, Republic of Ireland: Platecraft Ltd. Dublin. ‘The architect and the city’ O Siochru, E. (1985)
- Jacobs, J. (1961) The Death and Life of American Cities, The Failure of Town Planning. U.S.A: Random House
- Kelly S. and Kelly A., (eds.) (1922) Dublin of the future : the new town plan, being the scheme awarded first prize in the international competition / by Patrick Abercrombie, Liverpool, U.K.: University Press of Liverpool
- Liffey Bridges Survey Team, (1987), The Liffey Bridges, from IslandBridge to Eastlink Bridge: A Historical and Technical Report, Republic of Ireland
- Travers Morgan & Partners, (1973) Central Dublin Traffic Plan, London, United Kingdom: Oldcacres and Co.
- Ltd.Wright L. and Browne K. (1975) A Future for Dublin, England: The Architectural Press.
- Venturi, R. and Scott Brown, D. (1931) Learning From Las Vegas, Abingdon : RoutledgeWhyte, W., ( 1980)
- The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, Washington, D.C : Conservation Foundation
- Barrett J. (2001) Liffey Boardwalk, Dublin, Irish Architect, Vol 167, May pp13-16
- McGarry Neánaigh Architects (2002), Liffey Boardwalk, New Irish Architecture, Vol 17, pp 60-65
- Tripadvisor.ie, Accesed on 16. 12. 13 ( http://www.tripadvisor.ie/ShowTopic-g186605-i90-k1429304-Stay_away_from_the_boardwalk_at_the_river_liffey)
- Kelly, O (2013) Irishtimes.com, Accessed on 17.12.13 ( http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/car-lanes-to-be-given-to-walkers-and-cyclists-on-dublin-s-quays-1.1589118)