Moves got underway to pedestrianise several areas of Dublin on Monday as cities around Ireland prepared to shift as much summertime activity as possible outdoors.
Despite being the product of pandemic necessity, efforts to rid the streets of cars and expand seating areas may have captured enough public support to become an increasing part of urban life.
Council workers began to strengthen outdoor dining options with measures to either partly or fully pedestrianise Anne Street South, South William Street, Drury Street, and Dame Court.
Weekend pedestrianisation trials over six weeks last summer paved the way - Dublin City Council said that according to its own market research, 95 per cent of almost 1,600 online responses were in favour of the new urban reality, backing its permanency. Public consultation last November also yielded a 97 per cent support rate, it said.
While the move will allow for more on-street socialising, it is hardly catastrophic to private car users with the loss of just 34 parking spaces. Access to existing car parks will remain in place.
A spokeswoman for the council said further pedestrianisation projects will be made known soon but what is happening in the capital city is reflective of similar moves elsewhere in Dublin and further afield.
How successful they are seen to be depends on where you look. The Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI), many of whose 3,000 members hope to gain from the innovations, say Dublin and Cork have led the way but other urban areas have yet to start planning.
It has also warned that in locations where outdoor licencing systems are lacking, there is the threat of some hospitality businesses grabbing large areas of valuable space.
"It seems to be a complete mish-mash around the country," said RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins. "Some local authorities appear to be extremely good at what they are doing and some don't have a clue what they are trying to achieve and haven't engaged with local businesses."
The Association is of the view that a single outdoor dining tsar should be appointed to oversee a national al fresco revolution but at this stage, any such overarching management appears unlikely.
In the meantime, piecemeal planning becomes ever more apparent moving close to the height of summer. Plans for Capel Street are due to be expanded while Dun Laoghaire is set to reclaim its main street, ridding it of traffic from July 5th not just for dining but for cultural events.
Efforts are spreading much further into the Dublin suburbs too. To the north, Fingal County Council is eyeing more outdoor dining space in numerous towns including Skerries, Howth, Balbriggan, Swords and Blanchardstown.
Local authorities in Limerick have announced details plans to close streets for additional space over the summer, many of them from 6pm to midnight with a focus on the weekends. There are also plans for 19 extensions or "build outs" by city businesses.
"We need to think differently and try new things as we all start out on the path ahead following the Covid restrictions," said Limerick Mayor Michael Collins. "The buildouts will help to create a positive and welcoming atmosphere in Limerick as we aim to attract more people here."
Cork City moved early, announcing increased pedestrian hours on Oliver Plunkett Street and surrounding roads from May 4th. Following last summer's pedestrianisation and an "overwhelmingly positive reaction" to the initiative and subsequent public consultations, it was agreed to permanently pedestrianise 17 streets.
In Galway, city officials said they were currently planning this summer’s strategy, “committed to delivering an outdoor summer”, and had received over 100 applications for space licenses.
“[A number of] road closures were announced recently and closed for public consultation at the end of last week,” a spokesman said.
“Feedback from the public will be reviewed and the final plans announced shortly. The plans will continue to be developed and installed over the summer and we will introduce changes as we review the impact.”