Free late-night parking will be introduced in Cork’s two public car parks from next weekend in a bid to secure the afternoon car ban on the city’s main street.
City officials unveiled the measure last night after days of criticism about the time-regulated bus lanes on St Patrick’s St, which were reintroduced on August 9.
While some traders claim the daily 3pm to 6.30pm ban on private cars has hit trade and created a ‘ghost town’ on weekday afternoons, most city councillors said more complex issues are at play and the council cannot be blamed for the general decline in retail.
“The council cannot indemnify businesses that are failing,” said Sinn Féin councillor Chris O’Leary.
He made his comments during a lengthy council meeting on the car ban.
Figures released by the council show that weekly footfall on the city’s main street has remained steady since August 2 and that footfall in the 3pm to 7pm window has increased from 175,807 in the first week of August to 259,629 in the last week of October.
The statistics also show that usage of the city’s two publicly owned car parks has increased marginally in the period compared to the same period last year.
Bus Éireann figures show passenger numbers have increased by 311,000 or 14% in the first 12 weeks after the car ban compared to the same period last year.
However, in a report to councillors, council chief executive Ann Doherty said that, following requests from business representatives, the council now plans to introduce free parking in its car parks to promote late evening shopping.
Parking in Paul St car park will be free from 5pm to midnight, and free in North Main St from 5pm to 9.30pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
The incentive kicks in from next Sunday, when the city’s Christmas lights are switched on, and will run until January 12.
Fianna Fáil councillor Tim Brosnan welcomed the parking deal but cautioned against reading too much into the figures, given that they can only be compared to the first week in August. He called for the suspension of the car ban for Christmas.
“A picture is being painted that the city is buzzing but that’s not entirely accurate. We cannot pretend that everything is rosy in the garden,” he said.
Independent councillor Paudie Dineen called for the scheme to be scrapped.
“The city has put the horse before the cart on this one, and now it’s flogging a dead horse,” he said. “We need to listen to traders and go back to the drawing board. We need to open up Patrick’s St and get things going again.”
However, every other councillor backed the bus lane project.
Solidarity’s Fiona Ryan said: “We cannot be beholden to organised business where they dictate the terms and development of the city in full.”
Fianna Fáil’s Terry Shannon and Sinn Féin’s Shane O’Shea said the idea that a three-and-a-half- hour car ban could be affecting trade to the extent being suggested does not make sense.
The council’s deputy chief executive, Pat Ledwidge, said, in order to support the city’s retailers, the council must drive demand by bringing more offices, hotels, and student and residential accommodation into the city.
He said they have failed in one area — delivering city centre residential accommodation — and he also pointed to the delay in certain large-scale projects following appeals from traders. “I am not questioning the validity of their appeals but it needs to be pointed out,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bus Éireann is planning to expand services to and from the city in the run-up to Christmas, including a doubling of frequency on the 220 route between Ballincollig and Carrigaline, and an extension of the park and ride bus hours later in the evening and to include Sundays.
A major transport plan, which will shape transport infrastructure in the city for the next 30 years, is to be published in coming weeks.
Footfall steady in first 12 weeks of car ban
Footfall on St Patrick’s St, Cork, has remained steady every week since the introduction of its bus lanes in August, new figures show.
However, because the city council has only been tracking pedestrian movements since August 2, comparisons can not be drawn with previous years.
However, usage of the city’s public car parks can be compared and the data shows that usage is up 1% in the period August 2 to October 31, 2018, compared to the same period last year.
Officials said they will make all the data public and confirmed plans to publish the figures online every quarter as the monitoring continues.
The news emerged last night as officials released the results of analysis of the weekly pedestrian movement on the street across the 12 weeks since the car ban was reintroduced on August 9; the data on pedestrian movement on the street between 3pm and 7pm during the same period, and data on usage of its Paul St and North Main St car parks.
The council is using the Springboard pedestrian counting system to track footfall on the street northbound and southbound using six cameras which have been deployed on each side of the street at Daunt Square, on Academy St, and at the northern end of St Patrick’s St.
The data shows 545,461 pedestrian movements on the street for the first week of August, before the car ban kicked in on August 9.
The figure was up 15% to 627,212 the week after and it hasn’t dipped below 600,000 since.
The figure jumped to just under 800,000 in the last week of October, which coincided with the Jazz Festival.
The weekly figures show the footfall in August was up 22% and 23% for the last two weeks of the month, compared to the pre-bus lane week, with 672,726 pedestrian movements seen on the street in the period August 23-29, the week before children went back to school.
The figure for the first week of September, August 30-September 5, was 640,626, up 17% compared to the first week of August, but down 5% on the previous week.
The week September 6-12 was up 22% compared to the first week of August, with the following weeks up 17%, 21%, and 23%, again compared only to the first week of August.
The trend continued through October, with the figure for the week October 4-10 up 18% compared to the first week in August, and up 15% and 23% for the next two weeks, and up a phenomenal 41% from October 25 to 31, which included the Guinness Jazz Festival.
A breakdown of the figures between 3pm and 7pm shows 175,807 pedestrian movements in that time for the week before the afternoon car ban.
The figure increased 23%, to over 215,000, the week after and has stayed above 200,000 since, peaking at 259,629 for the last week of October.
The figure for the first week of October was up 40% on the first week of August, to 246,138 pedestrian movements on the street between 3pm and 7pm.
Usage of the two council car parks has also increased marginally.
In 2017, a total of 218,440 people used car parks between August 2 and October 31. The figure from August 2 to October 31 this year is 226,998, up just 1%.