An Taisce Response to Phoenix Park Visitor Experience Strategic Review
The initiative to specifically address the Visitor Experience of the Phoenix Park is welcome, however there are a number of areas of concern, in particular concerning the intrusive impact of modern pavilions on the Park’s historic central avenue, and concerning the overriding problem of private motor-traffic in the Park.
The proposals for a funicular, a footbridge to the Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge, a driverless shuttle-bus, and a train station stop are welcome, but there must be a stick as well as a carrot to change around the Park from its current deference to the uncurtailed and marauding motorist.
The vision for Chesterfield Avenue is of incremental and tentative improvements and studies, modest traffic calming, visitor centres and the like, but something much more radical is demanded for a straight 4km rat-run in the climate-challenged mid-twenty-first century.
In general the Strategic Review is too focused on architecture-led visitor centres and needs to instead place the sensitive historic designed landscape at the centre of the initiative.
The Phoenix Park will be a success when it is virtually traffic-free, like all good parks, and facilitating an array of outdoor activities providing dynamic, sustainable and healthy infrastructure for the citizenry while safeguarding the fragility and pre-eminence of its natural landscape character.
Motor Vehicle Traffic
While progress has been made in reducing the impact of through-traffic on access roads outside Chesterfield Avenue, the Park remains overrun with traffic. Levels of car parking accommodation are unsustainable and seriously undermine the natural and historic landscape character.
Remarkably, the Strategic Review includes objectives whereby further surface car parking might be provided in connection with development at Ashtown Visitor Centre, following existing car parking models there, and also along the central avenue of the Park.
This is not supportable in view of existing, breaking-point levels of cars in the Park to the detriment of other users, and the resulting adverse impacts on the organic elements: disturbance to flora and fauna and the deer herd.
The overarching objective of the Strategic Review must be for a significantly reduced number of private motor vehicles entering and using the Park.
Further car parking provision within the historic landscape footprint is fundamentally in conflict with the provisions of the Phoenix Park Conservation Management Plan 2011 which contains as a strategic objective “To protect and conserve the historic landscape character of the Phoenix Park” (section 2.2) and, in particular, with the Vision, which states “Given the over-riding importance of the historic designed landscape of the Phoenix Park, priority must be accorded to the conservation of the landscape, even where this restricts or limits the achievement of other objectives relating to the Park.”
With the millions of cars presently using the park annually and hundreds of commuter cars parking daily on Chesterfield Avenue for proximate access to the city, it seems reasonable, if public transport is improved including by way of the proposed shuttle, that they should be tolled.
The objective of the Strategic Review for a Mobility Plan should be in accordance with the government report Smarter Travel – A Sustainable Transport Future 2009-2020, promoting cycle- and public-transport access and including extension of the Dublin Bikes scheme to the Visitor Centre and Zoo. At the same time, increased control on car parking is required, including strict controls on commuter parking and introduction of a charge or permit structure (for example in the case of sports clubs).
Pedestrian Approach to Park from City Centre
With the increased numbers visiting and entering the Phoenix Park from the City Centre on foot, the OPW should work with Dublin City Council and the NTA to implement public-realm improvement to the critical Parkgate Street approach to the Park.
Doubling of Pavement Width, Parkgate Street
While the Criminal Court building of 2010 resulted in the undertaking of improvements to the public realm between the Infirmary Road junction and the Park Gate, the pedestrian experience on Parkgate Street remains poor, with a narrow, cluttered, decades-old concrete pavement on the main pedestrian approach to Park from the City.
With less vehicle traffic entering the City Centre from the west now than a decade ago due to constraints placed, for example, by Luas Cross City and increased bus priority on the Quays (and consequently more east-bound private-car traffic turning left at Infirmary Road), the pavement on the north side of Parkgate Street can be doubled in width to improve the ‘welcome’ on this critical approach to the Park, with appropriate high-quality surface treatment.
Entry at Park Gate and Proposal for ‘Welcome Pavilions’
Once through the gates, the pedestrian is confronted with a broad, protracted motor-vehicle avenue on a slight incline with no relief in sight. When west-bound traffic lights on Conyngham Road turn green, a line of cars enters the Park, leaving a trail of exhaust fumes for pedestrians to inhale – not a welcoming greeting to an internationally-significant historic city park.
The Strategic Review proposes addressing deficiencies at the Park Gate entrance by addition of ‘welcome pavilions’, which would mean introduction of modern structures into one of the Park’s primary classical vistas. The Park was designed to have open vistas along planted avenues, interrupted by centrally-placed monuments (Gough and monument and Phoenix Column). The proposed pavilion structures in this location will intrude on the sightline of the historic avenue vista and their modernistic design is not appropriate to the historic character which has been creditably preserved intact over the years.
Furthermore, as the Strategic Review does not envisage measures directly curbing motor traffic levels at the main Park Gate it is questionable that ‘welcome pavilions’ would effect any improvement in the visitor experience. The problem, then, comes back to the overriding need for reduction and restriction of numbers of cars entering and using the Park, which must be addressed.
As per the increased visitor numbers, the City end of the Park is more intensively used in recent years, but facilities are inadequate. The tiny Tea Rooms cafe overfills on sunny days, with long queues and limited seating. It could be extended, with a low-key, timber-clad extension overlooking the Bandstand Hollow (with toilets relocated underground), which would maintain the Victorian folly/pavilion character of the Tea Rooms and retain the primacy of the historic setting.
For a park of its size and proximity to the city, the Phoenix Park lacks recreational activities and facilities. Reduction of the number of football pitches in the area between Magazine Fort and Acres Road (whose number is out of proportion to their usage) could be considered and provision of, for example, an outdoor swimming pool, a track for jogging, skating etc.
Please also see the full An Taisce Submission to the Draft Phoenix Park Visitor Experience Strategic Review (PDF)
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