Council seeks to enhance a stroll down Grafton St

Thu, Dec 27, 2012, 00:00

Most businesses are keen to see greater pedestrianisation around Grafton Street

Thirty years after it was pedestrianised, Dublin’s Grafton Street is to be repaved with granite in early 2013, bringing to an end an era of sometimes wonky under-shoe brickwork. Could it mark a fresh drive towards pedestrianisation in the city?

Many planners and stakeholders believe so, with a number of walker-friendly initiatives under way. “The whole thrust now is on walkable cities – they attract more investment and more people,” says Labour councillor Andrew Montague.

Separate to the €2.5 million repaving of Grafton Street, Dublin City Council plans to spend €9.5 million for improvement works on surrounding streets by the end of 2014. On-street parking is being incrementally removed and new walking and cycling spaces are being created, notably on Clarendon Street.

A difference now to 30 years ago is the enthusiasm of businesses, including publicans on South William Street, who have been pushing over the past year for its full pedestrianisation.

That particular idea isn’t universally loved, however. “We shouldn’t allow one part of society ride roughshod over others,” says David Brennan, chief operating officer of Dublin City Business Association (DCBA).

While the organisation backs plans to make the area more pedestrian-friendly, some of its members feel South William Street is already too dominated by the pub trade, which has grabbed much of the pavement for outdoor drinking.

Last month, a DCBA-commissioned report on the “Grafton Street quarter” made a number of recommendations, including full pedestrianisation of Harry Street and Chatham Lane. It approvingly cited the models of London’s Covent Garden and Copenhagen in Denmark, where has been a shift over 30 years away from car transport.

While the association welcomed the report, Brennan says “we would not see a situation where entire sections of D2 are pedestrianised”. There is a need “to allow customers who wish to bring their cars into town continue to do so”.

Of the planned resurfacing, due to start next month, he emphasises the need to “maintain pedestrian flow” during works, conscious of the fact that Ireland begins hosting the EU presidency next month.

Last June, Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton wrote to the council proposing the work be postponed to “the latter half of 2013” due to such concerns.

The council said the works would start in early 2013 but on a phased basis and “ structured in a way which will minimises disruption to businesses, shoppers and the general public”.

The grey and pink granite – which replaces Eurobrick paving, dating from the mid-1980s – will be laid on a phased basis by Dublin City Council over a period of about a year.

Montague, who promoted the 30 km/h speed limit in the city centre, a move that drew initial criticism from motorists, said the council was examining number of further pedestrianisation proposals. These included lowering volumes of traffic on the quays by creating wider pavements, similar to those on O’Connell Street.

“If you look at other cities, there is always a focus on the river and waterfronts; that is something we have neglected. We have to ask the question: is it more important to having a semi-motorway coming through there or an attractive city centre?”

Another plan, long-mooted, is a diversion of traffic from College Green, already reduced in volume by a bus gate at Pearse Street. As councillor Mary Fitzpatrick (FF) notes, “the built environment”, with Trinity College and the Bank of Ireland building, “does lend itself to a big public plaza”.

It is a long way from 1982, when cars could still be driven down the city’s premier shopping street. On December 1st that year, Dublin Corporation finally declared the “war” between pedestrians and vehicles to be over, although cross-traffic and extensive goods access to Grafton Street was then still allowed.

The effect of pedestrianisation in Dublin has been highlighted by emergence of home video footage in recent years showing a radically different streetscape in the 1970s. Two such videos have attracted more than 500,000 viewers online in the past year, one of them featuring the sight of film-maker Andrew Manson parking his car temporarily on a single yellow line outside McDonald’s on Grafton Street.

“We left the camera running and went in to get a burger,” says Manson, who now runs an arts centre in Co Wicklow.

The footage, which he dates around March 1979 (and not 1982, as attributed when it was posted online), was recorded as a college project. He wanted to capture some images at dusk so he took an evening drive with his 1956 Morris Oxford from Dún Laoghaire to Dublin and back, filming with a Super 8 Nizo Braun, taking one frame every 6½ seconds.

The footage was rediscovered 18 months ago when his son Rob, himself a filmmaker, had it digitised. Andrew Manson gleefully recalls his college tutor dismissing the film as a waste of film roll; now it “has been downloaded in all the countries of the world bar about six”.

He recalls Dublin being a more “intimate” place 30 years ago. On another occasion, he remembers driving into the city to photograph “the bright lights of the city, which was basically the No 6 [Players cigarette brand] sign at the top end of Grafton Street,” he laughs.

As for the future, Mary Fitzpatrick says there has been a “continuous expansion of traffic calming and vehicle removing in the city centre and that is an objective for the inner city core.

“Generally, where it is pedestrianised, it is conducive to more shopping, more eating in restaurants and more people using the city.”

The 30-year-old Driving through Dublin film can be viewed at: vimeo.com/ 27435412

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