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Could town centres become pedestrianised?


THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX? Could pedestrianising streets like Bridge Street in Westport help businesses to adhere to strict social distancing guidelines once they re-open?  Pic: Conor McKeown

Council urged to radically alter town layouts to aid businesses reopening

Edwin McGreal

Making some town centre streets pedestrian only are some of the changes Mayo County Council need to examine in order to facilitate businesses reopening in the coming weeks and months.
That’s what is being proposed by Westport-based Cllr Peter Flynn (FG) who has tabled a motion to the council urging wholesale changes to town centres in the county.
In the wake of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s announcement on Friday of a road map for the phased lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, Cllr Flynn is calling on the council to make the changes to allow as many businesses as possible make use of public spaces on footpaths and streets.
Cllr Flynn has tabled a motion to be discussed at next Monday’s monthly meeting of Mayo County Council calling for the council ‘to make adjustments to pavings, streetscapes, traffic flow, public areas and carparking 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’.
“No decision made will be perfect but we have to be brave in our decision making,” Cllr Flynn told The Mayo News. “The days of taking a conservative approach are gone. We have to do what’s humanly possible to get back to some form of normality and observe the social distancing requirements,” he added.
“Every town in Mayo needs to be looking at this. We need to be talking to businesses and engaging them and see what exactly is it they want. You cannot just push a button on the day after the Government ease certain restrictions. We need to act now,” he continued.
The Government’s roadmap has set June 29 as the planned date for reopening of cafes and restaurants where social distancing can be maintained. That’s phase three while phase five plans for the reopening of bars and pubs on August 10.
Lane reduction
In terms of Westport, Cllr Flynn suggests reducing Bridge Street to one lane of traffic during the day and making it pedestrian only in the evening. He said these measures would facilitate the use of outside space for restaurants, cafes, pubs and all retail stores where queues might be required.
“If you take butchers, a lot of them are very small where you could only have one or two inside and if you’ve a queue outside some of the butchers in Westport, there’s no room for anyone else on the footpath in terms of safe social distancing.
“A lot of cities in Europe are making certain streets car free after 5pm or 6pm in the evening, particularly for restaurants, that allows them to expand out onto the street. The weather is obviously the challenge, there’s no getting away from that but I do think we need to think about how do we get covering on the street, outdoor heating and so on.
“It is all well and good saying restaurants need to enforce social distancing but they need to have a certain volume of customers to make it economically viable. To expect them to operate with a third of the capacity they already had when many of them were already struggling is asking a lot. We need to make space available for them. Hopefully it is only a year, 18 months max. This has to be seen as a short-term fix.
“We’re in a world that has changed dramatically. Volumes of cars on the streets has dropped drastically and will remain low.”

Chamber discussion
The matter came up for discussion at last Thursday’s online meeting of the Westport Chamber of Commerce where it received broad support.
“We are in the process of consulting with all our members to see if this is something they would be in favour of,” Helen Gavin, President of Westport Chamber told The Mayo News. “This is not a permanent solution, it is a response to the current situation. How exactly it would play out has to be teased out.
“It is a suggestion that came in from members. There has been support from those who we spoke to so far,” she said.
Ms Gavin said any proposal would have to allow for access for deliveries on the streets.
“The important thing here is that this does not impede trade but helps it,” she said.