LAST Saturday, Limerick city saw a rare and wonderful thing – O’Connell Street with no traffic on it.
For four fantastic hours, the city’s main thoroughfare was dominated by pedestrians, bikes and public transport.
It was a showcase for how the city would work if the street is pedestrianised permanently and it was extremely instructive.
Rain didn’t help the efforts of the organisers to entice people to come out and join the street party but those who did were very pleasantly surprised to find that far from making shopping and socialising in the city centre less attractive, the absence of noise and fumes had a humanising effect.
The fact is, there are enough parallel routes to O’Connell Street for people to get around if the centre was closed off. And as for parking, how many drivers ever find a parking space on O’Connell Street?
One part of the street is already given over to street food while the Urban Garden, as it is known, shows how the main street could have a whole new ethos.
Cruises Street has been pedestrianised for decades and businesses there have no complaints. It’s evident that shoppers appreciate the lack of cars and no-one who shops in Cruises Street has any issue with not being able to drive on it.
If we want to keep footfall in the city, then we have to get imaginative and having a traffic free centre, for locals and visitors alike would be an excellent start.
But we have to do more than that. We have to ensure that car-parking is convenient and affordable. Newcastle West made a hugely intelligent move by giving people an hour’s free parking in the town square.
And we need the planners to ensure that attractive shop fronts are retained and businesses are incentivised to use traditional signage and frontage where possible.
But most of all, we need to encourage the kind of cafe culture that works so well in other cities and it’s vital that it stays operating after 6pm, so that we have lively streets with an atmosphere of the city being vibrant and populated.
Saturday proved that people are not afraid to get out of their cars and walk.