Park Avenue – Frank McNally on the case of a Dublin Zoo drive-in

I was intrigued by the logic of Dr. Ray Bassett (Letters, Saturday) who, in calling for a return to parking cars on the main road through Phoenix Park, wrote the following:

“It is simply wrong to ask families, especially those with young children and pushchairs, to arrive at Dublin Zoo on foot or via the [Park’s] non-existent public transport”.

Let’s leave the question of public transport in the park aside for now because, as Dr. Basset says, it is (almost) non-existent. It’s the bit that it’s “just plain wrong” to ask people to arrive at the zoo on foot, and the suggestion that this could be avoided by allowing them to park again on Chesterfield Avenue, that bothered me makes me scratch my head.

For what seems wrong here, simply or otherwise, is Dr. Basset’s perception of space.

Suppose the occupants of a car parked at the point on the avenue closest to the entrance to the Zoo do not arrive “on foot”, although there is a short walk even from there.

Fair enough. This may also apply to the occupants of the few other vehicles lucky enough to secure this prime location.

But very quickly these places will be filled, and we will then arrive at one of the fundamental defects of Chesterfield Avenue – or any road – as a parking lot: its linearity.

We will also encounter the problem that unlike, say, angels on the head of a pin, cars take up space. In length alone, I estimate they average five meters each.

Thus, with each additional parked car, the last to arrive will find themselves five meters further from the Zoo. Before long, as optimistic as you consider it, the families concerned will certainly arrive on foot.

Keep in mind that, in good weather, it’s not just Zoo visitors who will park on the road. Picnickers, dog walkers, sports field users and many more will too.

Soon there will be 200 cars on either side of the avenue, leaving newly parked zoo visitors with a one kilometer walk of arrival still ahead of them.

Which, by the way, is longer than the walk to the zoo from Parkgate Street or Heuston Station, where public transport, whatever its faults, is far from non-existent.

But I can’t help but recall that in the summer days before the pandemic, it was not unusual for roadside parking to extend to the Phoenix Monument and beyond, from which you couldn’t even describe your position vis-à-vis the Zoo as “arrival”.

Speaking of mythical birds rising from the ashes, there seems to be an element of magical realism involved in the idea that the return of on-road parking would eliminate any need to walk.

Magical realism must also explain the more general and well-known phenomenon of drivers who are surprised, sometimes even indignant, by the traffic caused by other drivers.

This is no doubt due to some degree to the power of car advertisements, which imply that, aside from your freedom-granting vehicle, all streets and roads are empty.

Whatever the reason, when you’re heading to the park or the beach on a sunny day, it’s always a shock for many motorists to realize that other people have had the same idea.

As for Dr. Bassett, I suggest the only way to eliminate the scourge of having to get there on foot would be to make the zoo a drive-thru.

I’m surprised this idea hasn’t been considered yet. It would also eliminate the inconvenience of people having to get out of their cars, which would no doubt be popular.

There are already such zoos in Texas and such places. And many countries have safari parks, where full vehicle access is the norm.

Dublin Zoo might be a bit small for game drives. That said, one of the attractions of the drive-through is that they could get rid of the existing parking lot and expand there, for example, the lion or elephant enclosure.

Fences themselves would be less necessary. A drive-through zoo could get rid of some interior fencing and let carefully selected animals roam free. For corporate team building events, with strong enough disclaimers, they could open all the inner doors and let visitors try their luck.

I foresee such a transformed zoo being able to host, for example, SUV days, where Dublin’s ever-growing population of Range Rovers and the like would be handed over to run the place for a bounty.

Finally, these magnificent all-terrain vehicles would have an environment worthy of their commercialization. Existing habitats like Brown Thomas Car Park and Dundrum Shopping Center are certainly below their dignity. With a zoo without a fence, the big beasts of the urban driving world could finally face something their size.