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Westport on the back foot about pedestrianisation

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SUMMER GRIDLOCK Ed Moynihan, a visitor to Westport this summer, made the following comment on Twitter when sharing this picture: ‘Westport is a great town, a nice, vibrant atmosphere around the place, but it’s ruined by the sheer traffic carnage on every street. Surely some should be pedestrianised?’

Survey reveals general support for changes to gridlocked streets

Áine Ryan

TOURISM town Westport has been left behind as other Mayo towns successfully trialled the pedestrainisation of some of their streets this summer. That is the view of sustainable transport group, ‘15-Minute Westport ’, which has released compelling statistics from a survey confirming that local people and businesses support some significant changes on their gridlocked streets.   
Eighty four percent of those who responded gave a resounding thumbs-up to the trial pedestrianisation of the Octagon, whilst 87 percent agreed the town needs more pedestrian space.  
The survey, which was conducted online and in-person during July, also confirmed that 82 percent supported a trial pedestrianisation of Bridge Street. Meanwhile,
75 percent of participants also said they would cycle more in the town centre if there were dedicated lanes and better access provided.
In a statement announcing the results, the organisers noted: “The lack of safe routes was found to be the single biggest barrier to walking and cycling in and around Westport. The dominance of motor traffic on Westport’s streets was also cited as a major barrier to walking and cycling.”
They argue that Westport has now been left behind as the trialling of pedestrian streets in Castlebar and Ballina progressed over this summer: it is part of a national trend towards creating more pedestrian space in urban areas.
“These survey results should serve as a wake-up call for Westport,” said Conor Brennan of 15-Minute Westport. “We are seeing towns across Mayo and across Ireland creating more space for pedestrians and cyclists, but we’re not seeing similar progress here in Westport.
“Pedestrian streets have proven to be a success almost everywhere they’ve been tried, bringing with them a raft of benefits in terms of health, environment, accessibility and increased footfall. They create attractive urban environments that people want to spend more time in, and they’re great for business too,” he continued.
“Local people are fed up with the traffic situation and actually try to avoid town because of it. The survey shows there is a desire to reimagine how our streets and public spaces are used. It suggests that the Westport community will support those who act now to address this,” Brennan added.
Meanwhile, Cuala McGann, also a member of the group, highlighted ‘the disconnect between the Greenway and the town centre’.
She said: “Westport is famous for its Greenway and has a reputation as a cycling destination but the irony is that it’s not safe or attractive to cycle in the town centre, and most of the children in Westport are being driven to school, instead of being enabled to walk or cycle.”
The compelling results of the survey have led 15-Minute Westport to now call on Mayo County Council to implement a trial pedestrianisation in Westport as soon as possible, similar to what has recently been done on Tucker Street in Castlebar and Pearse Street in Ballina. Transport’s cause of greenhouse gas emissions is another key concern of the group.

Public representative support
FOR Fine Gael councillor and sustainable travel advocate, Peter Flynn, a key point about this survey is that ‘it was predominantly locals and business people who participated’. “Local social media accounts and the Chamber of Commerce distributed it amongst their members,” Flynn told The Mayo News yesterday.
“This should not be a waiting on the bypass versus pedestrianisation issue. This is about widening our footpaths, reducing our on-street carparking spots, allowing our businesses to expand into the public realm. Look at the success at the Quay,” Cllr Flynn said.
“Unlike Castlebar and Ballina we are going to have a new bypass next year and we need to be thinking ahead, using our imaginations about the future of our town,” Flynn added.  
Independent Cllr Christy Hyland said: “I support the trialling of pedestrianisation at the Octagon over weekend periods. When the Northern Relief Road, [the bypass to Newport and Achill] is opened next year, we will have to sit down and discuss the traffic management of Westport as there will be new opportunities for the town.”
When asked about the pedestrianisation trials in Castlebar, Cllr Hyland said: “The trial is down a very quiet street in Castlebar. There is more to be considered in Westport as the N59 goes through the town. Meanwhile, we need a serious look at our footpaths and we need to up the ante to ensure our beautiful town is in the game.”

Council response*
IN response to Mayo News questions on the issue, a spokesperson for Mayo County Council, issued a statement in which it was asserted that the current layout of Westport ‘does not lend itself to successful pedestrianisation’, as the N59 passes right through the town.
“In about a year's time we will have a northern by-pass when the current N5 major scheme is complete but a southern by-pass is needed before we could consider the
pedestrianisation of main streets,” the spokesperson said. "Mayo County Council will be engaging consultants to prepare an active travel plan for Westport as part of an NTA programme and will then look at pedestrianisation opportunities and traffic implications.”

*This statement was received after the print edition of The Mayo News went to press.

 

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