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Pedestrianisation a must for hospitality businesses

Comment & Opinion

VISION NEEDED Designer Irene Walsh created this mock-up of how Bridge Street in Westport could look if fully pedestrianised.

Spacial layout of many Westport pub and restaurant interiors an impediment to social distancing

OUR lead story last week created a lot of debate on the possibility of pedestrianising streets in Mayo towns to help businesses with spacing issues once they reopen.
We reported that Westport-based councillor Peter Flynn was to put the following motion before yesterday’s monthly meeting of Mayo County Council: “That Mayo County Council make adjustments to pavings, streetscapes, traffic flow, public areas and car parking as required to facilitate social distancing and pedestrian movement to best position businesses in Mayo to open swiftly once restrictions are eased and that the businesses be consulted in this process.”
We are all all too well aware that social distancing is here to stay for the rest of 2020, and possibly longer, as we attempt to fully free society of Covid-19. Businesses throughout the land are now busily preparing their premises for the lifting of lockdown restrictions, ensuring they are ready for the new way of life.
Monday next, May 18, is the first roadmap date that will see some businesses putting this theory into practice. Over the course of the rest of May, June and July, we will see our towns begin to return to a semblance of normality, with many restrictions lifted in full by August 10.
Cllr Flynn’s notice of motion has the clear intention of doing whatever is possible to try to help businesses firstly to open up and then to remain viable for the rest of the year.
It has particular relevance here in Westport, where the design of the town has meant so many business are located in long, narrow buildings.
Almost every business on Bridge Street and James Street has a narrow shop front. A lot of these buildings are occupied by public houses and restaurants, businesses that have borne much of the pandemic’s economic brunt, as they have been forced to close for their busiest time of the year.
It is obvious that the County Council must help them in every way possible. The pedestrianisation of their streets is a vital aspect of that help. It would mean opening up more space for most of these businesses to operate within, while allowing them to meet their social-distancing responsibilities. Simply put, more space means more customers and more precious turnover, and the difference between viability and going bust.

Summer trial
As it stands, full pedestrianisation is not a runner due to a lack of relief roads around the town to alleviate traffic problems, but surely it would be possible to close off Bridge Street to traffic after 7pm for the summer months of July and August at least?
We know Irish summer weather is unpredictable at best, but it will at least be warm and allowing people to dine and drink outside these premises would help enormously with social distancing. Mayo County Council simply has to make this happen.
It is worth noting that other local authorities have already moved on this.
Cork City Council plans to fully pedestrianise three city streets as part of a programme of measures to be undertaken as businesses in the city begin to re-open.
Paul Street, Tuckey Street and Pembroke Street will be closed to traffic and pedestrianisation measures will be enhanced to ensure physical distancing can be maintained. It will involve the removal of some car parking, the relocation of disabled parking bays, and the removal of bollards.
Some of these changes may also need to be made to Bridge Street, but with a few minor adjustments, pedestrianisation can become a reality this summer. Perhaps it could even become the norm for the summer months in Westport in the long term.
The pedestrianisation of Main Street in Castlebar has long been a talking point ever since it was first mooted by Fianna Fáil TD Pádraig Flynn many moons ago. It certainly worked a treat for the Castlebar Food Festival last year, and again, it may work well during the coming summer months, bringing more footfall to the traditional town centre of the county town.
There are areas  of other large towns like Ballina and Claremorris that could benefit from changes. Consultations between local chambers of commerce and Mayo County Council is needed as soon as possible so that changes can be fast tracked ahead of the resumption of ‘normal’ business.
The first half of 2020 will be a write-off for most businesses, but there is an opportunity to salvage something from the year if proper procedures are put in place for the second half, particularly for those crucial summer months.
Time is of the essence, so let’s hope the council is quick off the mark and makes pedestrianisation a reality soon.