Saturday 7 December 2019

Half way up the street!

Enhancement works on Sligo's O'Connell Street half completed as concerns are aired over illegal parking on 'pedestrianised friendly' new pavements

Artist's drawing of what the O'Connell Street enhancement works will look like when completed
Artist's drawing of what the O'Connell Street enhancement works will look like when completed

Paul Deering

It has been dug up more times than people care to remember and Sligo's main street is in the middle of a major transformation at present but fears are already being sounded about illegal parking and enough spaces for loading and buses.

A temporary halt has been made to the €3 million enhancement works for the Christmas period and the street was re-opened to traffic last Wednesday. However, since then, the new widened footpaths, described as pedestrian friendly are being parked on by drivers leading to frustation by shoppers. Not only is the parking illegal and putting pedestrians at risk, the newly laid stone footpaths could break under the weight of cars and vans. Pictures taken by The Sligo Champion and the council show cars, taxis and vans all parked on the newly widened footpaths. Traffic Wardens have been busy moving the vehicles off the footpaths. Concerns have been expressed that there isn't enough loading bay spaces provided under the new enhancement while cars are taking up the bus parking lane on the left. 

A decision was taken some time ago to carry out the works but to have one lane of traffic open but it will mean no one can pull in and park on the city's main street unless the person is a designated deisbaled driver or someone making a delivery. The debate on the pedestrianisation of the street goes back many years and it was initially trialled as traffic free zone but the idea died a death literally when no follow up works were carried out and the street resembled a ghost town.  What support there was for pedestrianisation soon disapated and matters were back to square one until recent funding was sourced.

Parking issues aside, on the whole the street works have had a positive impact amongst the public with many remarking on how much better O'Connell Street looks even if only half the works have been completed. Many on social media have queried the €3 million cost and the length of the time the works are taking with the consequent knock on effect of traffic congestion for the past couple of months. The early break for Christmas caught many by surprise with most expecting the works to last until at least the beginning of December. The council, in a statement, doesn't say if it came under any pressure from businesses to re-open the street now to traffic but said that in conjunction with the traders and Shareridge Limited it had decided to suspend works on the O'Connell Street enhancement Project for the run-in to the Christmas period.   O'Connell Street and Grattan Street, the latter which had been closed in recent days to allow works take place at the junction of Harmony Hill and John Street,  also re-opened to traffic  last Wednesday.  "There is no alteration to traffic flow. Motorists travelling down Harmony Hill must continue to turn left onto John Street.  "The section of O'Connell Street from Grattan Street to Tobergal Lane has been completed, including new road surface, pedestrian crossings, disabled parking bays and bus bay. 

"Trees with appropriate lighting have been installed, which further adds to the vibrancy of the street," said a council statement. With regard to shoppers, the council said: "All pedestrian restrictions have been now been removed.  "Pedestrians and shoppers on the street can now begin to appreciate the increased comfort and ease of movement that the new design affords." The demobilisation of plant and equipment began on the 12th of November and the work crew will return to O'Connell Street on January 6th . The council stressed that the only parking permitted on the street is at two disabled parking bays at Eason's shop and "motorists are asked to refrain from parking on the footpath as this represents a danger to pedestrians, especially people with disabilities." The addition of street furniture and tree boxes may be the answer to the illegal parking on the new pavements. The council statement added:"The understanding and patience of the Sligo business community while these works are being carried out is greatly appreciated."

The works involve the revamp of approximately 200m of existing roadway and footpaths on the street.  In addition, works will take place on the adjoining streets - both north and south - including the junctions at Lower Knox Street, John Street and Grattan Street. The work includes widened footpaths, using granite paving, as well as the narrowing and resurfacing of the existing roadway.

New additional crossing points will be provided, with trees strategically placed along the street.  When the works are complete, pedestrians will be prioritised in this busy shopping district. In addition to the enhanced streetscape, the project will incorporate the construction of a new surface water drainage network and connection to the existing network and new ducting infrastructure for utility services, in addition to the connection to and protection of existing services and the provision of road markings, street furniture and signage. As the works progress, ShareRidge will install all new service utilities and lay new paving. The final phase will involve installing new traffic signals, resurfacing of the work area and application of new line markings. During the works ShareRidge will put a traffic management system in place where necessary, and will communicate with all parties every step of the way. "We want to make this project as seamless as possible for the business community, residents and shoppers, while at the same time creating a vibrant and revitalised inner-city streetscape that the people of Sligo will be proud to call their own," Mr Tony Geraghty, Commercial Director with ShareRidge Limited said.

Plans for Sligo's main street have been ongoing for many years and moves towards pedestrianisation were made in earnest when the street was closed to traffic in August 2006. But, with the economic downturn striking at much the same time, progress towards creating a credible streetscape ran into trouble. It came as no surprise that almost three years after this failed attempt at pedestrianisation, the street was opened to traffic once more despite strong support from shoppers and traders alike to keep traffic off the city main street. Councillors had passed a motion directing the then county manager Hubert Kearins to re-open the street  to traffic on the basis that the estimated €4.5 million cost of carrying out the long-awaited enhancement works was unlikely to become  available in then current economic climate. The debate on pedstrianisation of the street was bitter and protracted and was ultimately lost by those in favour of keeping traffic out by the fact no street enhancement followed its shutting down.

Tumble weed blowing down a deserted street akin to a Western film was often used to describe Sligo's first attempt at pedestrianisation. Basically, the street remained the same apart from a couple of tree boxes. The same uneven footpaths and road surface remained and it wasn't in the least bit pedestrian friendly. It remains to be seen if the 2019/2020 version of the street's enhancement will be a winner given that it is open to traffic all be it one lane.   Pedestrians in particular will have to keep a sharp lookout as with the widened paths and the road practically at the same level it could lead to accidental stepping out in front of cars. By allowing one lane traffic to use the street, Sligo is bucking the trend of other major towns and cities where plans are to pedestrianise the shopping districts and to keep vehicular traffic away.

Sligo Champion