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Wednesday, 13th May 2020

Councillors in favour of closing West Street to traffic

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When West Street was closed to traffic during the Fleadh it gave Drogheda people a taste of what it might be like to have it pedestrianised.

The appetite for the pedestrianisation of West Street has increased in recent years and now, with councillors and traders actively discussing the idea, the Covid-19 distancing restrictions may well provide the push needed to get the project over the line.

In September 2018, just after the first Fleadh in Drogheda, the then Mayor of Drogheda Frank Godfrey raised the issue and Councillors were enthusiastic. Council Chief Executive Joan Martin reminded them that a traffic plan from 2006 had included pedestrianisation but the councillors of the day had rejected the idea. “But” she said, “we can always have another look at it.”

These days, because of C-19 social distancing restrictions, Borough Council meetings are carried out via Zoom and, despite requests, Drogheda Life and presumably other local media, have not been allowed to observe proceedings.

The topic of pedestrianisation has been raised at the last two of these virtual meetings, last month by Fianna Fail Councillor James Byrne and yesterday by Independent Paddy McQuillan.

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“There has been a lot of talk on social media about closing West Street off completely to traffic and making it pedestrian only” McQuillan said after the virtual meeting. Will this work? I don’t know. Is closing West Street off to traffic for a number of hours on a daily basis a solution? That remains to be seen.

Citizens need to feel safe

“What I do know is that Covid 19 is with us for the foreseeable future and we need to have the conversation on how we create a social space where our citizens feel safe when they come into town, and also create an environment where local business can operate in a safe and productive manner.

“We have to change both the way we live and the way our shops, bars, cafes, restaurants do business to ensure the safety of the public and employees” McQuillan and proposed that a committee be established to explore all of the possibilities which, he said, should be made up of members of LCC, elected representatives, An Garda Siochana, members of the public and disability sectors, and local businesses.

Councillor James Byrne said he was delighted to hear that the Council were engaging with stakeholders about implementing measures in the town centre to ensure compliance with social distancing measures as lockdown is eased over the coming months.

It could be on the cards

“Having initiated a discussion on the pedestrianisation of West Street, I believe it could be on the cards if it has the support of traders and the wider public.

“Giving our retailers an opportunity to have the use of outdoor space - facilitated by pedestrianisation- could prove crucial in keeping the heart of the town beating.

Councillor Pio Smith said the people of Drogheda are facing a new reality regarding how we move about in our town centre after the Covid 19 lockdown restrictions are lifted.

“Social Distancing will be with us for at least two years. But how do you socially distance on the narrow footpaths in parts of Drogheda? He asked.

“One solution is to pedestrianise parts of the town centre, for example West Street and surrounding streets to allow more space for people to use and move through the centre of town in a safe manner.

“This could be done from Thursday to Sunday, 11am onwards for the next 18 months. Deliveries could be accommodated up to 11am and after that people could roam the streets freely.

Reinvent our use of the town centre

“There is an opportunity for us to use this pandemic to reinvent our use of the town centre. At today’s meeting all councillors expressed a desire to explore the option of using our open spaces differently. The CE Joan Martin said that LCC were engaging with the Drogheda Development Group on how pedestrianisation might work for the people and businesses of the town.”

Sinn Féin’s Joanna Byrne said that in her opinion people are much more amenable to the part pedestrianisation of West St than they ever were, in the short term at least. “As long as this has the support of traders and businesses in the area I think this is worth exploring” she said.

“However, there are many features that I would want considered; disability access would have to be at the forefront of any plans being implemented, along with strategically placed street furniture which complies with social distancing recommendations, additional lighting, bins, public toilets and bicycle parking.

Potential to revitalise West Street

“I think if we can find the balance there it has the potential to revitalise West St. as a civic space for the community whilst giving bars, cafes and businesses in the town a chance to re-open with the hope of maintaining a normal if not increased level of trade."

Labour Councillor Michelle Hall said that this is time to be bold and make bold changes.

“While it is important to engage with business owners, it is also imperative that we acknowledge the social benefits pedestrianisation can bring to Drogheda. Wheelchair users, cyclists, pedestrians and even cafe owners can hopefully use this space to their advantage.

“I requested that more bicycle parking bays be installed. I also requested more bicycle parking at public amenities such as St. Dominics Park and Clogherhead and Seapoint beaches.  There has been an increased volume of cyclists which is encouraging to see. Not only will less cars on the road have an effect on reducing carbon emissions, cycling is a healthy and inexpensive form of exercise.

Independent Councillor Declan Power told Drogheda life that he supported the concept of pedestrianising West Street but suggested confining it to the stretch from Duke Street to the Thosel.

"I'm also in favour of creating one way pedestrianised footpaths in other parts of the town where footpaths don't meet the required 2m recommendation for social distancing" he said.

Almost a rebellion

Mayor of Drogheda Paul Bell said that the last time this idea was broached Councillors came under severe pressure from traders. “There was almost a rebellion from the business sector" he said.

“Having said that, I am in favour, in theory, of closing the street to traffic from Duke Street to the Tholsel  but there are many questions that needed answering. Questions for example about how public transport could operate and how older people could get into town if the busses couldn’t get into the centre of the town?” 

Read also:

Council to consider pedestrianising West Street?

Facebook discussion from August 2018

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