Wide support for people friendly proposals in Limerick

Limerick City and County Council has started a public consultation on a draft mobility plan that seeks to bring about positive change in Limerick during the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to boost footfall and aid economic recovery the draft plan proposes to re-allocate space and pedestrianise and animate certain city centre streets that were once dominated by traffic. The consultation period runs from 29 May to 12 June 2020 and below we take a look at some of the highlights of the plan.

Street changes

The proposals include the temporary pedestrianisation of Catherine Street, Denmark Street, Upper Denmark Street, Robert Street, Howley’s Quay and Nicholas Street. This is excellent news and has been widely welcomed by the public and advocacy groups such as the Limerick Pedestrian Network. It will provide users more space to safely exercise physical distancing and make the city centre more attractive to visit, which should result in a boost for local businesses. Research by the Living Streets charity has shown that making places better for walking can boost footfall and trading by up to 40%. According to DublinTown, a group representing businesses in Dublin’s city centre, businesses on Suffolk Street reported increases averaging 15% when their street was pedestrianised in 2018, and according to research done by Transport for London, pedestrians spend approximately 65% more than drivers. There is also wide support among a large number of businesses in Limerick’s city centre in favour of more people friendly initiatives, including Treaty City Brewery on Nicholas Street, Canteen and The Commercial on Catherine Street and Mother Macs on High Street. While some businesses have raised concerns about access to parking under the new plans, it’s worth remembering that with 15 off-street car parks and over 3,000 on-street spaces in the city, shoppers are never too far away from parking in Limerick city centre. Studies have also shown that traders often overestimate the proportion of shoppers arriving by car. In Bristol, retailers on a local high street overestimated the number of shoppers arriving by car by 22%. In Dublin, traders overestimated the importance of private cars by 30% in the case of Grafton Street and over 100% in the case of Henry Street, while the role of walking was underestimated by half in the case of Grafton Street and two-thirds in the case of Henry Street.

The plans also propose to restrict inbound traffic access to the South Circular Road by closing access at Ballinacurra Road, and there’s a similar proposal to restrict access through Rhebogue. Access at the Ennis Road end of O’Callaghan Strand will also be closed to reduce traffic volumes along the riverside walk and form a link to the Condell Road cycle paths. The riverfront at O’Callaghan Strand is one of the most picturesque parts of the city and the move to make it more people friendly will mean we are better utilising the River Shannon. We would like to see this plan extended to include Clancy’s Strand.

The Limerick Pedestrian Network has also called for an increased focus on the needs of people who use walking as their main mode of transport from the suburbs into the city. They have also identified a number of significant pinch points around the city which prevent pedestrians from moving safely in a socially distanced way, which they would like to see addressed in the final plan.

Speed limits

An advisory speed limit of 25km/h is being proposed in the core city centre and in county towns. Again, this is welcome news, but advisory limits are unlikely to be adhered to and without a legal basis the advisory limits cannot be enforced. As Limerick advocate Nigel Dugdale points out, drivers already break speed limits in shared spaces such as Howley’s Quay, meaning these areas cannot be enjoyed safely by pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. Without enforcement therefore this proposal, however well intentioned, is unlikely to have much of an impact.

Volunteer group #LiveableLimerick and councillor Elena Secas have advocated for the lowering of the speed limit in the city centre to 15km/h. While at first glance this might seem low, #LiveableLimerick argues that the reduction would have a minimal impact on journey times but would make our streets much safer for everyone. As they highlighted in their press release to councillors, 73% of pedestrians hit by a car travelling at 21km/h – 30km/h suffer critical injuries, whereas at 11km/h – 20km/h only 13% are so injured.

Another way LCCC could reduce speeding in the city centre would be to introduce more trees. Tall trees give the perception that a street is narrower than it really is, which results in drivers slowing down. Closely spaced trees give a similar effect by creating the illusion of speed. On the other hand, wide, treeless streets, like O’Connell Street, give the perception of being free of hazard and encourage faster and more dangerous driving. Another option would be to design our streets in a way that prevents speeding in the first place. This could be done by introducing soft landscaping, parklets, and footpath extensions to create chicanes where we currently have straight lines.

Improvements for cycling

The Condell Road cycle paths are to be extended by providing a cycle route across Shannon Bridge onto Bishops Quay and down to Howley’s Quay. This is long overdue and a welcome addition that will dramatically improve safety for cyclists and result in a greater uptake of cycling. There are also plans to increase cycle parking in the city centre to facilitate the increased volume of cyclists and the plan includes a proposal to designate a large area of the car park on Michael Street and a large number of the on-street car parking outside the People’s Park to cycle parking. This is good news for everyone as cycle parking delivers five times the retail spend per square metre than the same area of car parking, which is perhaps why many in Limerick would like to see a much bolder plan when it comes to cycling. The Limerick Cycling group for example would, not unreasonably, like to see all identified cycling routes segregated using wands and has called for better coherence on how cycle lanes on the arterial routes connect to each other within the city core.

Street animation

The proposals allude to the possibility of parklets being built outside or near businesses around the city and, although it’s not yet clear who will drive their introduction, this has had a very positive reaction from local businesses, including Mother Macs who were one of the first to call for parklets in the city.

However, while the move to allow restaurants, cafes and bars open out onto streets is a welcome one, the likelihood is that the current pandemic will continue and quite possibly worsen in winter months when weather conditions for eating and socialising outdoors will deteriorate. As we have suggested before, we believe consideration should be given to covering sections of the streets, footpaths and new parklets in the city to provide shelter from the elements.

covered street
Limerick could install artistic designs on smaller streets, such as stained glass as shown here on Todd’s Bow.

There is also a series of animations, activities and events scheduled for the summer including Luke Jerram’s Gaia installation, 3D street art and games, pop up street spectacle events, food trails, farmers’ markets, street food markets, funfairs, and outdoor pop-up museum and theatre events, all of which will make for an attractive and vibrant city centre over the summer months.

Night-time economy

The city centre of the 1990’s and 2000’s was a hub of activity in the evenings but unfortunately over the last ten years Limerick city centre after 6pm has become increasingly deserted. The plans therefore include a commitment to focus on the night-time economy and to work with key stakeholders to roll out a series of night-time economy focused events such as drive-in concerts and movies, night-time markets, street performances and light shows. A night-time market is an excellent idea that can bring people into town in the evenings and create an experience above and beyond simple retail. Limerick can leverage off the growing success of the existing Milk Market and Big Top events, supported by the pedestrianisation of Denmark Street and the surrounding areas. Night-time markets are not common in Ireland and can give Limerick a real edge if done correctly.

night market melbourne2
Night market in Melbourne

There is also a proposal to use giant deck chairs to produce a riverside ‘beach’ summer feel. The locations suggested include Thomas Street/Catherine St, Bedford Row and The Boardwalk. We would like to see the areas along the river including O’Callaghan Strand, Clancy’s Strand and the areas on the river side of the Hunt Museum and City Hall also included as locations for riverside beach creations.

Above centre: Capital Beach in Berlin. Above left and right: Limerick has the perfect setting for an urban beach in the summer. Photos courtesy of Nigel Dugdale.

Pedestrian crossings

The draft proposals state that “Pedestrian crossings have been optimised in the city to provide for increased pedestrian priority”. It’s not entirely clear what this means but there are endless possibilities when it comes to improving the existing pedestrian crossings in the city, its suburbs and in county towns.

Signage

The plan includes the installation of physical distancing reminder signage on footpaths. While it’s helpful to remind people to respect the space of others there is a lot of street clutter in Limerick as it stands. In our opinion, digital signs could reduce clutter and be used for a number of different messages.

Conclusion

The plan is a positive and ambitious step in the right direction and LCCC should be commended for it, but implementation will be key. There is also much more that can be done, but hopefully this comes to light during the consultation. It is also clear that there are conversations that need to take place with retailers in the centre to allay any concerns they have about access to parking or other aspects of the plan, and perhaps this is a task that the Limerick city centre revitalisation manager could undertake. 

Consultation

Members of the public are being asked for their feedback and suggestions by emailing ecdev@limerick.ie, which will then be fed back to the elected members and other stakeholders for review. For more information visit https://www.limerick.ie/council/services/business-and-economy/business-supports/mobility-plan.

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