A spike in air pollution around Heuston station has prompted a new plan to improve the city’s air quality

Magda Dziedzic says she doesn’t think about the air quality when she comes home from work at her flat on Military Road.

“I’m just used to it, I don’t really think about it. Cars, they’ve always been there, for, well, my whole life,” she said on Monday.

But she’s glad her windows don’t face St John’s Road West, she says, because it’s so smelly and noisy. It’s quite polluted too.

In 2019, a surveillance post to St John’s Road Westnext to Heuston station, reported levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exceeding legal limits, triggering a process forcing the government to show how it would fix it.

The result air quality map Improving NO2 levels isn’t just for those around St John’s Road West and the busy train station.

Published in December 2021 by the four Dublin councils, it goes much further, with 14 major measures, some of which are already political, ranging from encouraging walking and cycling to revising national laws.

One of the themes of the plan is how responsibility for air quality is divided among all sorts of different bodies, while local authorities have limited powers to manage air quality. Councils want that to change, the report suggests.

“Local authorities in Dublin will advocate with the relevant government department for increased legal powers to manage air quality to be delegated to them,” the report said.

He adds that “an enhanced legal power worthy of careful consideration is to give local authorities the power to introduce clean air zones or low emission zones”. In other words, the ability to ban high-emission vehicles from certain parts of the city, or charge them to enter.

Air quality rate

Medical research has linked air pollution and respiratory ailments to increased rates of stroke, cancer, and respiratory and cardiovascular disease, according to the National Draft Air Quality Strategywhich is currently out for public consultation.

Under a European directive, Ireland must monitor the quality of its air and keep pollution within certain limits.

If it – or any country – discovers a breach, it has two years to prepare an air quality plan to send to the European Commission, identifying the root causes and setting out measures to remedy. to the offence.

In 2019, the air around St John’s Road West monitoring station exceeded the annual average NO2 limits. It came in at 43 micrograms per cubic meter, above the 40 microgram ceiling.

According to the air quality plan, transport-related emissions from the train station, taxi rank and passing cars caused the breach, with peaks during peak hours. “This level of air pollution is entirely consistent with the levels of heavy traffic passing through this monitoring station.”

Traffic on St John’s Road West. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

In 2019, 2020 and 2021, there were no more breaches at the 14 national monitoring stations in Dublin or anywhere else in the country, the plan says.

Provisional figures for the 2021 air quality plan to suggest High annual average NO2 levels, although still within limits, at Blanchardstown monitoring station (30.8 micrograms) and outside Pearse Street station (35.5 micrograms).

In 2021, the level recorded by St John’s Road West station was 33 micrograms, the data suggests, below the limit.

St John’s Road West is not a pleasant place to wait for a bus, Hannah Brannigan said on Monday as she took off her headphones. It’s noisy and congested with constant traffic, she says.

“You just have to get out of it, because it’s like, there’s a lot going on,” she says. However, she is often not aware of the air quality. After thinking about it for a moment, she says it smells bad and it’s unpleasant.

“But it’s so busy, like, zone, that I don’t even know what they would do,” she said.

How to cope ?

The Dublin Region Air Quality Plan has 14 measures which cover traffic management and make it less attractive for people to own cars, some of which are underway, while others are planned for the to come up.

These include some things local authorities can do: aim for “15 minute neighborhoods”, where residents can get most of what they need within walking distance (which should feature prominently in the Dublin City Council’s next development plan); public, workplace and residential parking control; getting more people to walk and cycle; and the deployment of charging stations for electric vehicles.

The plan also mentions that there should be more monitoring, as this could lead to faster action if pollution limits are exceeded. A new national air quality monitoring station would be installed in the northern city center at some point, it says.

And the introduction of new enabling air quality legislation, such as “providing for the delegation of statutory powers to appropriate bodies, including local authorities, to introduce improved air quality measures”.

Towards a low emission zone?

Currently, councils do not have the power to introduce low emission zones or clean air zones, according to the Dublin Region Air Quality Plan.

But it points to findings in a March 2021 study for the Ministry of Transportthat the introduction of clean air zones or low emission zones could reduce NO2 emissions from transport by 60-71%.

The plan suggests the Air Pollution Act 1987 should be reviewed, with a view to making changes to allow low emission zones, or for the minister to delegate powers to councils to bring them in, or if changes to this law are necessary.

“In addition, an overall assessment of the feasibility of introducing low emission zones in the Dublin region, if appropriate,” the plan says.

A ‘low emission zone’ for Dublin has been on the cards since at least December 2019, when the council’s traffic chief Brendan O’Brien said it was something the council was considering for all or part of the city. .

But the council must wait for the Department for the Environment and Climate before proceeding with the idea, a spokesman for Dublin City Council said on Friday (March 4).

Idle trains in Heuston station. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

John Gallagher, an air quality expert at Trinity College Dublin, says enforcement is needed for a low-emissions zone to work. “There are infrastructure requirements, to put the technology in place and the resources to apply it.”

The Five Cities report mentions two enforcement methods used in other European cities: a license plate recognition system or a color-coded sticker system.

Gallagher says some drivers might take alternate routes to avoid the costs of a low-emission zone. “It could take you on new roads and create increased congestion in areas that weren’t previously problem areas.”

“So it’s a very tricky decision-making process to make this decision, because the last thing we want to do with the St John’s Road situation is move the pollution problem somewhere else,” he says.

Dziedzic, standing by her building next to St John’s Road West, says she would like to see a low-emissions zone in Dublin.

“Definitely around the city center. Because it’s always very busy. There are a lot of cars, and it would probably be so much nicer,” she says. “Walking along the quays would be a more pleasant walk. It’s not as pleasant as it could be.

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