EARLIER this month, Sligo Town followed in the footsteps of the biggest urban centre in the west, Galway, by making the bold move to pedestrianise its main thoroughfare.
O’Connell Street in Sligo is now closed to through traffic and those behind the move will be hoping to replicate the undoubted success of Galway’s pedestrianisation, which has gone from strength to strength since the official launch on Shop Street in Galway in March 1998.
Galway city centre is now a hive of activity with shop owners, publicans, buskers, tourists and the public in general all mixing in an eclectic environment that is now perhaps the west’s best known tourist attraction.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Sligo Chamber of Commerce, Ms Rebecca Stevens, said she is in no doubt that the move to pedestrianise O’Connell Street in Sligo will ‘greatly enhance the shopping experience’ while Mr Tom Brennan, Senior Engineer with Sligo County Council is confident the changes will have a positive effect for all sectors involved.
“Naturally, there may be transitional difficulties as people become acquainted with the new system but we are confident that people will co-operate with us over the coming weeks and months.
”I think people appreciate that by introducing these changes it allows us to greatly enhance the city centre streetscape for the benefit of shoppers and tourists. Major cityscape environmental improvement schemes can now taken place on Sligo’s streets, this in-turn will greatly improve the attractiveness of these streets and the city centre in general to shoppers and tourists and I believe greatly improve business,” states Mr Brennan.
Talk of pedestrianisation has also been doing the rounds in Mayo’s county town for quite a number of years. Padraig Flynn, the town’s last Government Minister, made no secret of the fact that he would love to put a roof over Castlebar’s Main Street and pedestrianise it and make it an attractive shopping area.
This kind of bold proposal made by Flynn well over a decade ago would have seemed overly radical at the time but one now has to ask the question, if Sligo can make such a bold move, then why not Castlebar?
The newly elected Mayor of Castlebar, Cllr Brendan Heneghan, stated in his acceptance speech in July that one of his priorities during his year in office was to address the continuing business decline of the old town centre, where he is himself a business man.
It is now an accepted fact that Castlebar’s main business district is located around the Tesco/Dunnes Stores/Aldi area, so would pesdestrianisation be the ‘shot in the arm’ the businesses in the Main Street/Ellison Street area so badly need?
“Undoubtedly, I believe pedestrianisation is the way forward for the town centre, of course the views of every business will have to be taken on board and it will mean that people will have to change habits of a lifetime, but it has to be seriously considered.”
Cllr Heneghan feels the recent infrastructural addition of the road over Barrack Bridge, which is due to be officially opened in late September, is a huge addition and will eventually result in some traffic beingtaken off Main Street.
“Although that was not the initial intention of the Barrack Street development, it will have a knock-on effect of taking some traffic off the main thoroughfare and there are plans in the pipeline to have a trial pedestrianisation some time next year to coincide with the sewerage scheme works which will necessitate the closure of Main Street to traffic.”
The Mayor does admit that there will of course be a period of ‘trial and error’ in relation to a big decision like pedestrianisation and many people will have serious problems with the proposal. “Shop Street in Galway has been a huge success but there was fierce initial opposition to the proposal. I know a businessman, Sean Hynes of Hynes Shoes, who had serious reservations at the beginning, but everyone can now see the obvious benefits pedestrianisation had for Galway city in general.”
While a fair amount of doom and gloom has been prevalent in recent years in Castlebar about the future of business on Main Street, the last 12 months has seen a number of developments on the Bridge Street/Main Street/Ellison Street thoroughfare which bodes well for future prosperity.
The Royal Bank of Scotland is about to open a new premises, Elverys have bought the old Bolgers building which has been an eyesore for what seems an eternity, there is currently big interest in Kelly’s building on Main Street and Ellison Street is about to undergo a major redevelopment.
“Private investment has brought an air of confidence back to the area and rightly so. The Main Street area is the spiritual home of Castlebar. When people return to Castlebar at Christmas, you’re likely to meet up with them on Main Street on Christmas Eve. The place has a history and I believe that pedestrianisation would go a long way to making sure it remains a vibrant and viable place to conduct a thriving business.”
Of course, Westport has already dabbled with the idea of pedestrianisation and held a trial four day period back in July 2003. Things have been put on the back burner for the time being though as the current road network around the town is clearly not adequate to cope with alternative traffic arrangements. However, it is generally accepted that a pedestrianised Bridge Street in Westport would be desirable for both tourism and business and it is not outside the realms of possibility that both Castlebar and Westport could have pesdestrianed town centres inside the next five years.