Plans to remove 33 car parking spaces to make way for a segregated cycle lane beside a Dublin park have been criticised by local artists who display and sell their work in the area every Sunday. According to opponents of the proposed cycle lane on the city’s Merrion Square, the protected infrastructure’s installation will “eliminate the artists” who park nearby, and lead to the “death of a very special tradition”.
The planned cycle lane on Merrion Square North, one side of a leafy Georgian garden square just southeast of Dublin city centre and located near the seat of the Irish parliament, forms part of an interim protected cycle route and active travel network linking Trinity College and Ballsbridge, which Dublin City Council says will provide a “safer environment for cycling” that will provide links to the city’s “important cultural and governmental institutions”.
However, the plans have been opposed in recent months by artists behind the Merrion Square Arts Exhibition, a weekly outdoor exhibit established in 1985 in which artists hang their paintings from the park’s railings, selling them to locals and tourists at a reduced rate every Sunday.
The artists behind the exhibit say the car parking spaces on Merrion Square North are essential for the transportation of their work, and that replacing them with a cycle lane will mean that a “valuable part of Dublin will be lost”.
“The artists of Merrion Square are deeply concerned with new traffic management proposals,” an email sent by one artist to councillors earlier this year read.
“Merrion Square artists have been exhibiting every Sunday for nearly forty years under an annual licence from Dublin City Council. They are a living cultural and tourist attraction unique to Dublin City.
“Removal of their ability to shelter, in wet and cold winters and summer showers, in a car adjacent to their designated exhibition space would signal the death of this very special Dublin tradition.”
Speaking to the Irish Independent this week, artist Elizabeth Prendergast said the new cycle lane would be “completely devastating for Merrion Square to be honest”.
She continued: ““When the bicycle lane goes in, it’ll remove all the parking from the north side of the square and eliminate the artists.
“It is so valuable to artists and tourists. Are there any other art exhibitions like Merrion Square in any other major capital in the world? Merrion Square is a year-round, particularly precious, resource. You can ask them to do something especially for you. You build up a relationship, it’s very personal.
“We’ve paid a license fee, we’ve paid our insurance, and we commit to being there every single Sunday of the year. It’s a huge commitment. It’s a shame they’re trying to get rid of it rather than promote it, it boggles my mind.”
Prendergast, who has been selling her art in Merrion Square for over 20 years, also claimed that concerns over the implementation of the cycle lanes have already started to affect her colleagues.
“A lot of artists have already given up because they’re just so tired of the whole worry and anxiety of whether they’re able to come in,” she said.
Merrion Square North, Dublin
Earlier this year, Merrion Square Artists Association called on the council to use “soft” protective barriers on the lane, instead of concrete kerbs, which would enable the artists to park on Sundays, a proposed solution that was dismissed by the council, who claimed it would only “frustrate” both motorists and cyclists.
The council also noted at the time that there are close to 650 parking spaces located within a 500 metre walk of the art exhibit, including 100 on the adjacent Merrion Square South, as well as “a number of multistorey car parks”.
However, the Association has continued to urge the local authority to keep parking available on Merrion Square North on Sundays between 9am and 5pm, diverting cyclists onto an existing route in Archbishop Ryan Park in the process.
“For the artist community to survive and grow, it is essential that parking which is currently available free on a Sunday continues to exist,” a spokesperson for the Association said.
“This is essential for the artists to load and unload their work, awnings, and take shelter in their cars during adverse weather conditions and the cold. This is essential, in particular for the senior artists.
“We are not against cycle lanes, on the contrary. But there has to be an accommodation made for the artists.
“We feel they are worth consideration. We are proposing these options having observed over the years that the cycle traffic along Merrion Square North on a Sunday is very slight.”
While artists continue to raise concerns about the proposed cycle lane, others within Dublin City Council have also noted the potential impact it may have on parents attending the nearby maternity hospital on Holles Street.
“There’s about five and half thousand babies delivered every year across the road at the National Maternity Hospital. I am a keen cycling advocate but even I wouldn’t put a newborn baby in a bicycle basket,” Fine Gael Cllr James Geoghegan said.
“You are going to cause major disruption to both artists and potentially parents collecting their babies”.
Responding to the latest concerns, Ireland’s Active Travel Office and Dublin City Council both noted that the proposed cycle lane on Merrion Square North will not be installed until 2025 at the earliest, as part of phase two of the Greater Dublin Area Cycle Network Plan, with phase one expected to commence in the next few weeks.
“When the time comes, public consultation with interested stakeholders and residents will occur and you will all be notified of this well in advance,” a spokesperson said.
“People will be allowed to make submissions and comments on the proposed scheme before it goes to a detailed design phase. In the meantime, there is no cycle track planned for Merrion Square North.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.