It follows almost two hours of rush-hour gridlock in the city centre last night and complaints of a lack of warning signs about the traffic arrangements, which came into effect on the main street yesterday.
Private cars are now banned from the area from 3pm to 6.30pm seven days a week. Access is restricted to public transport, taxis, cyclists, and emergency vehicles during those times.
The move, part of the 2012 City Centre Movement Strategy, is designed to create a time-regulated bus lane along St Patrick St to ensure the almost 1,000 Bus Éireann movements run more efficiently.
While the car ban was introduced smoothly, there was severe traffic congestion on the outskirts of the city-centre island from 4pm.
Motorists endured long tailbacks, particularly along Lavitts Quay, Merchant’s Quay, Cornmarket St, and Washington St.
Philip Gillivan, president of the Cork Business Association, cycled the city during the first car ban to monitor the impact of the system.
He said: “St Patrick St was working perfectly, but it’s what’s happening on the outside seemed to be the problem. But it’s early days.”
Bus Éireann and cycling groups gave a broad welcome to the system.
A spokesman for the bus company said the creation of a time-regulated bus lane on St Patrick St will facilitate a more efficient delivery of public transport services and provide for more reliable buses in the evening peak.
“Over the coming weeks journey times will be closely monitored by Bus Éireann’s control office in Cork to ascertain the impact of this change,” said the spokesman.
Anyone found driving on St Patrick St during the car-ban hours will in due course face a €60 fixed charge fine.
Mixed reaction to main street car ban
Things will have to improve significantly before retailers in Cork’s city centre can support the St Patrick St car ban.
That was the message from Cork Business Association (CBA) president Philip Gillivan yesterday after the 3pm to 6.30pm, seven-days-a-week ban on private cars from the city’s main street kicked in.
While shoppers and cyclists welcomed the move, residents in the historic Middle Parish said there was a significant increase in diverted traffic through their area.
“It’s a main route now, and we told them [city council] that would happen,” said resident Noel Tobin.
“Where did they think the traffic was going to go? It has to go somewhere. It wasn’t going to evaporate.”
Mary O’Brien, from Blackrock, who was shopping in Merchant’s Quay, said there was a very relaxed feel on St Patrick St in the afternoon.
“It’s lovely really, without all the cars and the emissions,” she said. “It would make you more inclined to sit down and enjoy a coffee somewhere.
Waterford delivery driver Martin Hegarty said he would have to change his route entirely to ensure he could deliver to certain premises in Cork before the 3pm deadline.
Richard Jacob, co-owner of Idaho Cafe off St Patrick St, said he welcomes anything that improves the reliability of public transport.
“But the timing of this in the afternoon kind of sums it up,” he said.
“It’s designed to make it easier to get out of Cork. We want people to get into Cork. Before we start banning cars, we need to have a better bus transport system, and then ban cars if you want, but not until we have a decent public transport system.”
Tim Mulcahy, who runs the Chicken Inn in the English Market, said City Hall should do more to highlight the value of its multi-storey car parks.
“There are 1,500 car-parking spaces owned by Cork City Council in the city centre,” he said. “They have to be maintained and promoted.”
CBA chief executive Laurence Owens said it will assess the impacts of the ban over the coming days but sounded a note of caution.
“We have to remember that it’s a quiet day, it’s a school holiday week, and traffic is low anyway,” he said.
“So if we have issues today, we will have bigger issues when the traffic levels increase after Easter.”
Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald urged people to give the new system a chance.
“Crucial to this scheme is the fact that two-thirds of traffic going through the city centre is not stopping in the city centre but is driving through,” he said.
“The City Centre Movement Strategy is about getting these drivers away from St Patrick St so that the huge amount of buses using city centre can move quicker and arrive on time.”
Mr Fitzgerald said transport chiefs are monitoring the impact of the new system, are open to feedback, and will make changes to it, if required.