Open Letter to the Irish Parking Association

Following the call by Dublin City for public consultation on Transportation within the city last June, the Dublin Cycling Campaign (DCC) made a submission calling for safer quieter streets to encourage more shoppers to walk or use public transport and the bicycle to go shopping.

The Irish Parking Association (IPA) conducted its own survey and concluded (erroneously) that the city was trying to restrict car access to the city.

The media gave the IPA survey report mostly uncritical appraisal. This is one report about the IPA survey in Irish Independent

Dublin Cycling Campaign wrote an open letter to the IPA rebutting its conclusions from its survey; see below.

An Open Letter to the Irish Parking Association – 14 August 2015

Dear IPA,

Dublin Cycling Campaign refer to your ‘Dublin City Centre Planned Shopping Report’. We have some concerns with it, which are raised in this letter.

Overall, the methodology used is robust. This is what you can expect to get from the services of a research agency. However, while well established experimental methods were utilised, the design of the experiment does not allow you to draw the conclusions you drew. In the paragraphs below we explain why the conclusions drawn are unsupported by the evidence gathered. Your survey was biased spatially, temporally and socio-demographically.

Your survey questioned a very narrow group of people – those who came into town specifically for shopping/socialising (your survey was fixated on the participation of car drivers) and so that’s what you got. If you wished to make your own conclusions about the whole of Dublin’s Central Business District (which you did), your sample (the individuals you surveyed) is not even remotely representative of the interactions people have with our city centre. Therefore, drawing a conclusion about all of Dublin city centre from this narrow sub-group is an unwarranted over-extrapolation from the data. (DEMOGRAPHIC BIAS)

Furthermore, the times chosen to do the fieldwork also biased the sample towards shoppers. The 8pm cut-off time meant that you didn’t survey people coming into town later for dinner, drinks, theatre, gigs, etc. Life in Dublin city centre does not stop at 8 pm. And of course shoppers are more likely to drive than those out socialising late at night (TEMPORAL BIAS). So the survey gives results for quite a narrowly focused group of people and these are people who mainly use car parks (something I’m sure the Irish Parking Association has a great interest in).

On top of this, you only surveyed two streets. Two streets, in the whole of Dublin city centre is not representative of the economic life of our city. These streets were Grafton Street and Henry Street. We can’t help but notice that these are very close to some very large car parks also (Jervis Street, Drury Street, Dawson street, Molesworth Street, Trinity Street and others we may have forgotten to mention). (SPATIAL BIAS)

We are uncomfortable with the obvious social class/income level element to this report and its overall message. So, people who drive into town to go shopping spend more per capita than those who get the bus. (SOCIAL BIAS). This statistic alone is misleading as it does not let people know that shoppers using all other forms of transport which aren’t cars actually make more trips into town on average (National Transport Authority Survey 2015*). There are many socio-economic (and even geographical) factors hidden behind this, but surely a major factor is that those from higher income households are more willing to pay the high car park fees currently charged. So of course they spend more. This leads this critique to a philosophical point. Does our city centre belong to a minority of ‘high-end’ shoppers who drive cars, or the whole of us, the citizenry?

Thus far, we can establish that your survey titled ‘Dublin City Centre Planned Shopping Report’, ought to be renamed (rather more cumbersomely), ‘‘Dublin City Centre Planned Shopping Report on Two Streets over Two Days, But Not After 8 pm and Excluding Tourists, Students, Workers and ‘grab-and-go’ Shoppers’. This is a more accurate description, which upon revision of your data would help you prevent further over extrapolation.

It was surprising to see that workers, students and tourists were excluded from the sample, as well as those in to ‘grab and go’ for a sandwich etc. as described in your own survey methodology because a) they surely must make up the vast majority of people who use the city centre (including shopping/socialising) on a daily basis and b) it didn’t allow them to explore the potential POSITIVE outcomes of the proposed NTA plans, as it is easy to imagine that many of those working in or visiting the city would enjoy increased civic spaces, fresh air, pedestrian zones, etc.

Surely the revenue generated by workers, students and tourists far exceeds that of this selected elite group of “planned shoppers” who choose to travel by car. Comments such as, “highlighting the importance of car users to the economic viability of the city centre shopping district” (page 9, point 11) totally lack balance and suggest that those who drive into town to go shopping (but not to work or study) are the lifeblood of the city. This is ridiculous. The potential economic losses you ‘forecast’ are your own losses. It would be unlikely that you’d phrase it like that, as it would likely gather little public support.

We do care for the jobs of employees, and small businesses. We are citizens who seek safe, quiet, green sociable streets but we are not Intent on never allowing a car near the city centre. As you well know National Transport Authority 2015 Survey it is not the intention of Dublin City in its proposed traffic management plan to restrict private car access to your member’s car parks. The city of Odense, the 3rd largest city in Denmark, has places/repositories where shoppers on bicycles can leave goods and collect them later by car. Other places have delivery services available. We know that Arnotts offer this service to customers – see here.

Also, we would point out that behavioural changes can occur. And yes, ultimately, some may do more shopping away from the city centre or do more on-line shopping. Furthermore, your survey is not proof that the city centre would lose out economically. For all we know, these behavioural changes will occur (shopping during lunch times using the Dublin bikes to reach the stores, more frequent shopping with less bought, on lunch times for example). City centres offer far more than just shopping, they also have museums, galleries, places of higher learning, parks, social events and many other cultural phenomena.

Increasing the modal share of bicycles brings huge advantages to a city. Cycling is convenient (point-to-point), green and sustainable. Its benefits have overarching social, environmental and economic ones. There are books and thousands of research papers on the subject. We are sure you do not want to hear them all. So we will spare you a long winded discussion on the cycling economy: overview

The research indicates that city centre businesses consistently over-estimate the value of trade provided by shoppers arriving by car, and under-estimate the value provided by those travelling by public transport, walking and cycling. Again, you can look to the link provided at the bottom of the letter.

Should you wish to know any more, or respond, please do not hesitate to contact.

Suzanne Lindsay & Tom Seaver, Research group, Dublin Cycling Campaign

National Transport Authority 2015 Survey, shows the importance of public transport passengers to Dublin City Centre retailers

The image shows the shopping spend, by transport mode

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