Dublin’s Capel Street will host a celebratory event this Sunday to mark its designation as one of the world’s coolest thoroughfares. But local traders are not as hot on the street’s pedestrianisation as city planners.
“The council is great at telling us that this is all brilliant and great and everyone loves it but that’s not the vibe around here,” says Noel Kidd, manager of Brendan Kidd Menswear.
Dublin City Council pedestrianised Capel Street in May, transforming it into the longest traffic-free street in the city. The pedestrian and cycle-only zone stretches from Parnell Street and Ryder’s Row at its northern end, to Strand Street in the south.
Mr Kidd acknowledges positive aspects to the move but says “the lack of consultation was terrible. Emails sent to the council were never answered. Phone calls made to the council were never returned”.
Many of his customers drive in from outside Dublin or are older adults who get dropped off at the front door, so Mr Kidd worries how his business will be impacted during the winter.
“A pedestrianised Capel Street done properly, like Grafton Street, could benefit everyone but what worries me is the city is just gonna leave it like it is and not move forward.”
Ciaran Burke, owner of Sounds Around, balks at calling Capel Street pedestrianised.
“They’ve just made the biggest bicycle lane in the city,” he says. “And the gardaí and the council drive down it all day. They use it as their shortcut because there’s no traffic.”
He queries a Dublin City Council survey indicating close to 80 per cent of people wanted the street pedestrianised permanently, saying he was never consulted. A trial pedestrianisation in 2021 had banned traffic during the evenings at weekends only.
“Eighty per cent of who?” asks Mr Burke. “First, they said it was 80 per cent of businesses. And then when businesses objected, it was 80 per cent of residents. And then when residents objected, they said it was a Twitter feed. So, a woman from Donegal was here and had lunch on a Saturday and thought it was a great idea.”
Besides negatively impacting on his business, which sells DJ equipment, speakers and keyboards, he says he has noticed an increase in antisocial behaviour during the daytime.
Some traders have suggested allowing motorists back on the street until 6pm but others believe the permanent change is best. For Slattery’s Bar owner Brian Conlon, the pedestrianisation of Capel Street has been beneficial, especially for restaurants and bars.
“People sitting outside don’t have a big diesel truck or van beside them. They can sit outside in the sunny weather and eat without fumes,” he points out.
When Time Our magazine named Capel Street one of the coolest streets in the world in August, Slattery’s Bar noticed an uptick in tourists.
“We’ve had a lot of American tourists come into the bar and jokingly say ‘We’re here to see the 22nd best street in the world,” he says.
David Lenehan, co-owner of hardware store Lenehans, was initially hesitant about the pedestrianisation of the street before changing his mind.
“We reserved judgment a little bit. We didn’t know which way it was going to happen for us as a business,” he says. “But the street needed a bit of an enhancement and overhaul, and it seems to be very positive.”
Most of Mr Lenehan’s customers are local businesses, like pubs and hotels, so they either pick up bulky items before 11am, when delivery vehicles are permitted on the street, or use a sack truck.
“If you walk up Grafton Street and Henry Street, you’re looking at very generic, homogeneous streets with the same kind of retailers,” says Mr Lenehan. “It’s very quirky here. You have owner-occupied restaurants and stores like ourselves and a real mix of different businesses.”
Because delivery trucks are banned from Capel Street after 11am, Brian Leavy, who works at Goodwins Musical Instruments says items ordered online now take an additional day to be delivered. Delivery of store merchandise is equally difficult.
“The trucks have to be here before 11am; otherwise, they’ll have to use a trolley and go back and forth. We could be getting a delivery of 15 guitars and amps, which is a lot of cardboard boxes to carry in and out.”
Mr Leavy expects to feel the full impact of pedestrianisation during the Christmas season, the store’s busiest time. “People will buy a digital piano or a big amp. They used to be able to pull up outside the store and we could load it into the car quickly. That’s gone.”
He supports the street becoming car-free only in the evenings. “Pubs could have had their seating area outside and we would have still had our regular clients for delivery.”
Despite polarising views, Richard Guiney, CEO of DublinTown, which advocates for businesses in Dublin city centre, says a solution is possible to satisfy different interests.
“We all understand that we have to reduce carbon emissions and that’s going to change the nature of how business is conducted and how we live. And it’s going to be an adjustment.”
However, he says many businesses felt they were handed a “fait accompli” in May without any discussion around practical issues they faced, like waste trucks accessing their establishments and deliveries getting to and from stores during the day.
Mr Guiney says he had a good meeting with the council in June to work through some of the issues, and another meeting will be scheduled soon.
On Sunday, between 1pm and 5pm, the street will be taken over by entertainers, face-painters and other family-friendly attractions to celebrate the Time Out listing and showcase what the street has to offer in a traffic-free environment.
Lord Mayor of Dublin Caroline Conroy said: “We are so proud to see Dublin’s Capel Street named among the coolest in the world and really look forward to a celebration full of fun, colour and culture on September 25th so if you haven’t been to Capel Street in a while or you’re there every day come and join us to celebrate our city.”