WATCH: The public give their verdict as College Green is pedestrianised in day-long trial
College Green in Dublin’s city centre was pedestrianised today for the first of three trial days which may determine whether cars will be permanently banned from the street.
After barriers, which proved initially to be a deterrent to pedestrians, were removed by the council, the temporary pedestrian area filled with people.
The street was accessible to pedestrians and cyclists only, between 7am and 7pm, and will be likewise off–limits to vehicles for the following two Sundays, July 28 and August 4.
Sunday’s trial was focused on family, with Dublin City Council providing a range of family-friendly events in the area, but the street’s closure received a mixed response.
Newly-elected Green Party Councillor for the South-West Inner City, Michael Pidgeon, said that the pedestrianisation of College Green would turn a "hostile space" into an area that families can enjoy.
"This is a space that’s bounded by beautiful buildings, it’s a space bounded by pedestrian areas in Temple Bar and Grafton Street on both sides but it’s a remarkably hostile space," he said.
"It’s somewhere I always avoid if I’m on my bike. I’m sure drivers try to avoid it too, because of traffic chaos. So I think it’s about taking what is a beautiful space and making sure it’s for everyone, not just for people in cars or people in taxis.
"You see kids walking around and their parents... they’re actually just walking around and having a nice time. People are already supportive of this, but a trial like today shows what can be done and shows that it can be a really positive space.
"They’ve seen the potential of the square as somewhere that isn’t just a junction, it’s a place that you can bring your family, wander around yourself, walk the dog and have a nice day."
The closure is part of plans by the council for a pedestrianised plaza in Dublin. Although their 2016 proposal for College Green to be made into a permanent pedestrianised plaza was rejected by An Bord Pleanála last year over traffic concerns, they plan to lodge a new application if the trials are a success.
Jessica O’Donnell, Head of Education at the Hugh Lane Gallery was one of the pedestrians enjoying the traffic-free space. She said that the beauty of the surroundings could be an inspiration, if people could be afforded the time and space to enjoy College Green.
"We’re being inspired by artists like Claude Monet, Walter Osborne, Nora McGuinness and others that moved out of their studio to be inspired by the city, the nature and the world around them," she said.
"It’s a lovely thing to try and I think people seem to be really enjoying it. It works very well in a lot of European cities, where even on a monthly basis some streets are closed and opened to cyclists and pedestrians.
"I think it’s a wonderful thing to try and it’s wonderful to slow down. Normally when we’re going through College Green, we’re going A to B, and we might not actually slow down and look at what’s around us. It’s a great opportunity to do that; to see the beautiful trees, to see the beautiful architecture, the statues, and really interesting objects around us."
The vehicular closure of College Green affected not only traffic wanting to pass through the street but also that around it. Aside from causing traffic problems on diversion routes, it also affected 26 Dublin Bus routes which had to be diverted.
While the street is regularly off-limits to general traffic from 7:00 to 19:00 on weekdays, it is usually open to public transport at all hours. Paul Keane, a Dublin taxi driver, said that his counterparts are not happy with the street being closed.
"It’s a f***ing joke. It’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous," he said.
"It’s the gateway to the whole southside of the city shut down for the whim of a Green [Party] TD and a Green [Party] Councillor. It’s the only way through to Kimmage, Crumlin and most of the southside of the city. The way through is College Green and now it’s blocked off.
"It’s absolutely stupid. Anyone with any sense [would see] that it will affect business badly, because I have to bring customers down the quays now and bring them on a much longer journey than is necessary.
"The stipulation of taxi driving is that we must take our fare by the shortest possible route. We are being barred from taking the shortest route by a totally ridiculous whim. It’s a blow to everybody."
The majority of those at College Green were in support of its permanent pedestrianisation however, after enjoying it void of cars.
Killian from Dublin and his girlfriend Orla from Longford, who were enjoying sitting on the street, said that a pedestrian plaza is exactly what Dublin needs.
"I know it’s been closed off for events in the past and that just brought home for me that Dublin has been lacking a big obvious space like other cities, so I think it’s a really positive step," Killian said.
"I’m really interested to see how it goes this week and the next couple and how people respond to it; if there’s a public support for the potential for having a space like this."
"I think that so many more inner-city spaces should be pedestrianised and I think it’s a brilliant initiative from Dublin City Council to have these trials," Orla continued, "because I think people need to experience a vast piece of space being pedestrianised to really see the benefits of it and it just makes so much sense."
Mark Cronin, a 3D street artist from Shannon, Co Clare, said that having worked on pedestrian areas and streets across Ireland, a pedestrian-only College Green would attract more business for the local area.
"I think it’s fantastic. It’s perfect for people like me; I need a nice flat ground of pedestrianised area, so it’s great for street art and great for the city in general. There are some great spots in different cities but I Dublin quite hard to find a spot and I think this would be great if they pedestrianised it.
"It would do great for the city. If you can get people out of their cars and walking around their city, from an economic point of view people will spend more and people will enjoy it more too."
This opinion was echoed by Eugene Hickey from Donegal, who said that it would encourage him to come to Dublin more often.
"I love the idea, I think it’s great," he said.
"It feels really good and it’s a fantastic space and you get to see the buildings much better. It’s a much more pleasant environment.
"It feels nice to have no traffic around and it’s quieter and you can hear people. It’s just a nice place to be."