Heather Slevin examines the issue of the pedestrianisation of Dublin Streets.
In May 2021, the decision was made to temporarily pedestrianise several streets in central Dublin. The pedestrianisation of streets such as Capel Street and Parliament Street on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings provided outdoor seating for restaurants and bars. This decision was greeted with great enthusiasm by many business owners and pedestrians. With Covid-19 guidelines ruling that only outdoor dining was to be permitted this summer, a huge number of restaurants, especially the likes of those in Dublin city centre, with only indoor dining available, found themselves stuck as to how to get their customers in. The pedestrianisation and cutting off of traffic on these streets allowed restaurants to place seating on the streets, creating opportunity for diners to enjoy a meal on the streets of Dublin in safety.
The decision was also made to divert traffic and remove parking spaces from the following streets following a successful trial period between July and August 2020; Anne South Street, South William Street, Drury Street and Dame Court. These streets were cleared of car-parking spaces, and with drivers diverted from the roads, this again left spaces for struggling restaurants to reopen their doors following a very strict six-month-long lockdown. It also allowed pedestrians to walk freely on the streets, stopping to eat a meal or to browse shops without worrying about approaching traffic.
The trial period of pedestrianising Capel Street and Parliament Street came following a public consultation over a two-week period, in which 85% of the 4,500 submissions received ruled in favour of the pedestrianising of the streets. One could see why this was the favouring this summer; the air along Capel Street felt carefree, with all the restaurants lining the street placing tables, warming lamps, and even overhead cover, creating an inviting area for pedestrians to sit and have a meal, perhaps for most the first time following the pandemic. With the planting of flower boxes along the lampposts too, even walking along the newly pedestrianised streets gave a welcoming air; and people could do so without fear of speeding cars.
Former Lord Mayor Hazel Chu was overwhelmingly in support of the pedestrianisation of these South Dublin streets, regularly pushing to have the dates of the pedestrianisation extended, and succeeded in doing so, working with Dublin City Council in August 2021, extending the plans for another four weeks into late September. Chu tweeted at the time; “Great to see. Thank you to the public, the businesses and the Councillors for pushing on this. And thanks to Traffic for working with us as soon as the ask was in. This is our chance to have a more sustainable, liveable & nicer city.”. Speaking to The Journal.ie, Chu said “[pedestrianising the streets is a] ‘great opportunity for us to look at how we completely change the city from what it was before to something that is a lot more pedestrian friendly, a lot more sustainable when it comes to transport, and a lot more amenable for businesses as well.’”
"As [Hazel] Chu said of the trails, 'If it works, we should keep it.'"
The original plans for pedestrianising the likes of Capel Street and Parliament street, along with severely reducing the traffic and car-parking spaces along Anne South Street, South William Street, Drury Street and Dame Court were extended multiple times over the summer months. First the streets were adapted for Dublin's pedestrians in May, with plans to return to normal in July, but with a huge amount of positive praise from the public including residents of the city, restaurant owners, former Mayor Hazel Chu and current Mayor Allison Gilliland, and pedestrians, the dates were extended from July to August, and then again from August to September.
Before the trials began, Local Green Party Councillor Janet Horner said, "this is a huge opportunity to reimagine the street and to better envisage its full potential as an eclectic, vibrant northside hub, free from congestion and danger of traffic". Horner is right in her imaging of these Dublin streets becoming a hub of energy for pedestrians and diners. Pictures of the streets over the summer months clearly show pedestrians enjoying the open streets and accessible dining. As Chu said of the trails, “If it works, we should keep it.”
"The pedestrianisation of city streets allows for a comfortable, casual stroll, and is beneficial to business."
The argument for the permanent pedestrianisation of these streets still stands. It is clear that footfall increased in those areas while the streets were closed off from traffic, and the pedestrianisation provided restaurants a unique opportunity to capitalize following huge losses from March 2020 to June 2021, allowing them to expand business and welcome diners on the streets. The similar trial pedestrianisation of the main street in Dún Laoghaire has resulted in a plan to re-pedestrianise the street permanently. Cathaoirleach Lettie McCarthy admitted that the decision has resulted in pushback from some residents who argued that the need for driving lanes and cycling lanes hasn’t simply disappeared, and the pedestrianisation of the street would result in traffic in other areas of the city, causing congestion. McCarthy said, “No matter what decision is made everybody is not going to be happy with the decision. That's for sure.” The truth is, though the pedestrianisation of these streets is great for pedestrians, residents, and business owners, it does cause a problem for drivers trying to navigate through Dublin City. Traffic in Dublin is bad as is, and it’s clear a better solution is needed for drivers than simply providing alternative routes, but as the general public clearly voted, the pedestrianisation of city streets allows for a comfortable, casual stroll, and is beneficial to business.