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 Footpath cleaning taking place on Patrick Street, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Footpath cleaning taking place on Patrick Street, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

Key groups react to City Hall's plan for 'awakening' Cork streets and businesses

CITY Hall’s blueprint for reopening Cork has received a broad welcome from across a range of sectors.

It details the first phase of work which will take place in an effort to facilitate the “reawakening” of the economy and to enable people to return to work safely.

Aspects of the document include: the pedestrianisation of three city centre streets — Paul Street, Pembroke Street, and Tuckey Street — as well as The Marina in Blackrock.

It also proposes that Oliver Plunkett Street be returned to full pedestrian use, after it was recently opened to traffic.

Street cleaning across the city has also begun, with a specialised scrubbing machine followed by a subsequent deep clean of the Central Business District of the city.

Streets in Douglas, Glanmire, Blarney and Ballincollig are also undergoing powerwashing.

Cork city: A pathway to recovery
Cork city: A pathway to recovery

Cork City Council said they must actively listen and engage with relevant stakeholders during “this time of great anxiety and business interruption.”

The living document has been welcomed by business organisations in Cork, as well as councillors, the Cork Cycling Campaign and Pedestrian Cork.

The message from almost all is the same: Tús maith leath na hoibre — a good start is half the work.

Following the steps outlined in the document, the Council will engage and analyse each street in the city on an individual basis in collaboration with stakeholders.

The areas they are looking to address include adequate space for pedestrians, the consideration of temporary one-way pedestrian movements in certain areas, queuing systems for retail outlets on the street, parking and loading requirements for businesses, pedestrian crossing demand, and outdoor seating.

The aim is to create “temporary changes to the layout of streets in the city centre in order to facilitate adequate separation space for public health social distancing requirements in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 in our community.”

Paul St, where some bollards will be removed.
Paul St, where some bollards will be removed.

CYCLISTS: 

CORK Cycling Campaign’s vice chair Stephan Koch told The Echo his first reaction on seeing the document was very positive.

He said the fact it is a “living document” is good, and believes the pedestrianisation of four streets and the re-pedestrianisation of Oliver Plunkett Street are good steps to take.

Mr Koch is happy there will be a broader stakeholder engagement and said that the Cycling Campaign “are more than happy to participate in it to bring in our experiences and views on how cycling, and also walking, can contribute to getting people into the city centre”.

A native of Berlin, Mr Koch has been looking closely at how they have been dealing with cycling and pedestrianisation measures there.

“That is one of the example cities with pop-up bike lanes, so it’s very good to see that referenced in this document,” he said.

Mr Koch said the Campaign is satisfied this document is just a start, with more to come.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day — we can’t change everything in a day,” he said.

“We have the city centre addressed now, and how to get around there. The next step would then be how people get into the city centre from the suburbs.

“Some people may be reluctant to use the bus at the moment, and there is a fairly reduced capacity, so there are more people wishing to walk or cycle into town and we need to see how this can be facilitated and made safer, especially for people who are not used to cycling in their everyday lives,” Mr Koch added.

Mr Koch is also the commuter plan manager at UCC and said that promotion of walking and cycling policies would be completely in line with the colleges policy.

“Everything that is good for cycling around Cork is good for cycling to UCC and promotes our green campus.”

Cork streets in line for pedestrianisation. Tuckey St.
Cork streets in line for pedestrianisation. Tuckey St.

PEDESTRIANS:

THE group Pedestrian Cork says the ‘living document’ is a good first step and is more beneficial than a fully finalised plan. Chair Orla Burke says that a phase-one plan is positive, and she assumes there will be more.

“One of the omissions from this document is what the other plans are that they are considering implementing.

“What I’m taking from it is that this is a start, and that this is by no means the end of where these plans are to go,” Ms Burke said.

The pedestrianisation of four streets is something Ms Burke welcomed: “Those streets have existing problems with car traffic. Paul Street, for example, people drive up and park and cause obstructions between the bank and the open area.

“One thing about the culture around Cork, I think people as they drive don’t perceive that the places they are driving in are pedestrian priority zones,” Orla said.

She pointed to Oliver Plunkett St as another issue: “you will get beeped if you don’t move out of the way fast enough.”

Ms Burke has herself experienced drivers being quite aggressive as she has tried to get herself and a buggy off of the main thoroughfare which seems like a pedestrian priority zone and on to the pathway, and said for those reasons pedestrianisation of these streets will make a difference to the feel of the city.

She said that the document mentions residents in the city once and called for more input from the people who live in the city centre. She said that the suggestion of one-way pedestrian movement on some streets could be detrimental for some businesses.

“The retailers really need the voice of residents and those who navigate our city everyday,” she said.

Cork streets in line for pedestrianisation. Pembroke St, looking towards Oliver Plunkett St.
Cork streets in line for pedestrianisation. Pembroke St, looking towards Oliver Plunkett St.

CORK CHAMBER:

The proposals for the city centre on the recovery pathway from Covid-19 are “very much to be welcomed” according to Cork Chamber.

The business organisation’s CEO Conor Healy said that every effort to provide for social distancing must be made, especially in the city centre where the volume of people is high.

“Enhancing the area for pedestrians and cyclists is a key area of that,” Mr Healy told The Echo.

“They’re the first phase of what I hope will be a broader expansion of pedestrian and cycle facilities across the city,” he added.

Asked if the plans went far enough, Mr Healy said: “It needs to be taken step by step. This is new territory to everybody. It’s easy to be critical of something of this nature, but it’s a positive first step and it shows a willingness on behalf of City Hall to look at all of the opportunities that are there.” 

However, he has said that there will need to be more progress made down the line, and accessibility of the city as businesses and offices reopen will need to be examined. 

He believes public transport will be “challenged” as regards capacity due to new restrictions.

“It’s certainly not the right answer that we revert back to having higher volumes of cars accessing the city because that will create significant levels of congestion and undo an awful lot of the good that has been done in recent years in terms of people moving from cars to public transport,” Mr Healy said.

He said that cycle routes to access to the city from suburbs and towns near the city must be looked at going forward, as well as enhanced pedestrian access, and would see that as a next step to this document.

Another aspect of the proposals points towards licences businesses can apply for to make outdoor seating areas available for customers on public streets.

Mr Healy said that while those licenses are already available, it’s likely that there will now be a bigger uptake in the scheme among businesses looking to expand their area size to ensure adequate social distancing.

He added that he would like to ensure the cost of such licenses wouldn’t be a burden on businesses availing of the opportunity.

“The bigger challenge is going to be where that type of activity can be located. I think it probably needs to be looked at on a street by street basis, and on a business by business bases. It is very important that we provide the opportunity for cafes, restaurants, bars and so on, to expand their facilities,” Mr Healy said.

A deep clean of city centre streets has begun
A deep clean of city centre streets has begun

CORK BUSINESS ASSOCIATION:

Reopening the city in the safest way possible is the only option, according to Lawrence Owens, chief executive of Cork Business Association.

He said additional detail from the Government is needed on the phased plans and how each business and sector can apply the correct rules and regulations, but believes that this “engagement document” for Cork is a positive step.

“The amount of work that needs to be done on a street by street basis is quite significant.

“We’re trying to look at the city and see how we can reopen it in the safest possible way under the rules and regulations that will be applicable as the various sectors open up,” Mr Owens told The Echo.

“This is an engagement document. No one said this is a recipe for success where all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.

“It’s an engagement process that we and the various stakeholders will discuss with the various businesses and street organisations,” he added. “Ultimately, businesses know best how to run their business.

“Their role and involvement will be hugely important. But also, as they run their business, they have to do so in the ‘new normal’ under the rules and regulations that apply.

“All that has to be put back into that mixing bowl and come up with a formula that works for that street or business,” Mr Owens said.

There had been some criticism online of the document, saying it was not quite as ambitious as it could have been.

However, Mr Owens said it is not as straightforward as throwing open the city and letting everyone in.

“People may make mistakes. We may not do everything perfect on day one, but it won’t be for the want of trying to do what’s best for the customer and the citizen to show them that they’re safe.”