The controversial afternoon car ban on Cork’s main street has been suspended until early August.
However, the move comes with a warning that the city faces crippling congestion unless it addresses its increasing transport demands.
It follows a special meeting of Cork City Council last night to discuss ongoing concerns about the new traffic arrangements on St Patrick’s St, which have been prioritising buses from 3pm to 6.30pm daily since March 27 as part of the 2013-agreed City Centre Movement Strategy (CCMS).
Despite early indications that some bus journeys were faster, traders said the ban has decimated afternoon footfall and trade.
In a detailed report last night, the council’s director of services in the transportation directorate, Gerry O’Beirne, said more than 100,000 vehicles enter the city a day, with many junctions operating beyond capacity. Two thirds of those vehicles do not stop on the island, but use it to travel north or south, he said.
“At the same time, the city is experiencing an historic surge in inward investment,” said Mr O’Beirne. “There will be over 5,000 additional jobs in the city centre in the next 36 months.”
It is critical for the future prosperity of the city for the related transport demands to be responded to in a managed way, he said.
“In the absence of an effective response to the additional transport demands the city will experience crippling congestion and the potential for future growth and success will be significantly curtailed,” said Mr O’Beirne.
He said that since the car ban was introduced, bus journey times on the 208 route inbound from the west reduced by 13%, and by 28% inbound from the north. The 205 route also experienced reductions of up to 18%. And when concerns emerged about the impact of the ban, he said the council responded with parking incentives, boosting usage in the council’s car parks by 13%.
However, Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald then told councillors the initiative had created difficulties, and the council had listened carefully to the concerns voiced.
Councillors then voted unanimously to support his resolution to “pause” this phase of the CCMS until August 9 to allow for a comprehensive promotional campaign for the city, and a greater engagement to increase awareness of the CCMS.
Fianna Fáil councillor Sean Martin called for independent consultants to be drafted in to help.
His party colleague, Tim Brosnan, revealed that, during the Part 8 planning process for this phase of the CCMS, no traders on St Patrick’s St made a submission.
“Maybe it just passed them by. But we have to take some responsibility for that,” he said.
Cork Business Association (CBA) CEO Lawrence Owens welcomed the vote.
“We acknowledge that this was a difficult decision for the council, but it was the right one,” he said.
“It creates space and opportunity to sit down collectively, with all the stakeholders, and to take into account our customers’ views, and turn this negative into a positive. We must channel the energy of last three weeks into a positive message for Cork.”
Cork Chamber president Bill O’Connell, who called last weekend for the car ban to be given time, said he hopes the vote will provide space for sensible discussion ahead of an agreed recommencement.
“There is a need for reflection on the lessons learned and for better-quality engagement and communication,” he said.
However, UCC’s Frank Crowley, an economics lecturer at UCC and a research associate at UCC’s Spatial and Regional Economics Research Centre, warned of the long-term cost to the city of failing to introduce public transport priority measures.
“The suspension of the measure has been made with no concrete evidence of any drawback other than the perceived negativity of the ban, which was driven largely by the CBA lobby,” said Dr Crowley.
“The costs of not progressing with such moves for improved public transport are considerable.
"Cork’s comparative advantage lies in the potential to have a liveable, healthy, and creative city over our competitors.
“What has happened in this controversy is actually a resistance to that change and is in fact advocating the opposite of a liveable city model. Cork continues to be more car-dependent and continues to sprawl.”
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