The head of transport in Cork city says officials will not “stand down” in their duty to modernise the city despite renewed calls for the so-called Pana car ban to be scrapped.
He also stressed that there are ways of addressing concerns about the impact of the time-regulated afternoon bus lanes on St Patrick's St that will not have a negative impact on the perception of the city.
In a robust defence of the contentious traffic management measure, the city council’s director of services in transportation, Gerry O’Beirne, said the council has a responsibility to modernise, drive and develop the city, which is growing and needs a better and more modern transport system.
Responding to calls from several councillors for the measure to be either watered down or scrapped, Mr O’Beirne said the creation of bus lanes is a vital part of that modernisation process, with the urgency of developing them accelerating in recent years due to a surge in the scale and level of commercial development in the city centre.
“Developments happening right now in the heart of the city have the potential to drive the economy of the city for years to come. Our responsibility is not to lose that opportunity, to modernise the city. St Patrick’s St is a critical part of that process,” he said.
Speaking at Monday’s council meeting, he said the use of language in the debate on this issue was important and he said City Hall hasn’t banned motorists from the city, but has created time-regulated bus lanes.
He pointed to bus passenger numbers which have surged from 10m in 2013 to 14m last year, which proves that if the bus service improves, people will use it.
He said he didn’t want to suggest there are not challenges to the ‘high street’ but he said that phenomenon is not unique to Cork.
“The response to those challenges is not to stand down in our duty to modernise the city,” he said.
“We will look at the issues facing the city centre, and work with elected members and the various sectoral interests to try and make it a more attractive and animated space.”
FG Cllr Des Cahill, who is working with Tom Durcan butchers in the English Market, called for the car ban to be scrapped. He said it’s clear that trade starts to fall-off in the city centre from around 2.30pm.
“I am standing behind a counter in the city and whether it’s logical or not, the problem is real. I cannot stand over it any longer while bus routes are being prioritised and none are being put along the quays,” he said.
Independent Cllr Paudie Dineen called for the bus lanes to be suspended at weekends and Bank Holidays in a bid to meet struggling traders “half-way”, while FF Cllr Tim Brosnan called for the entire city centre movement strategy to be scrapped.
FF Cllr Sean Martin said he was opposed to the measure too, and said the idea of "a fella on a bike" going shopping in the city for a suit and a few bags of groceries "is never going to happen".
However, Worker's Party Cllr Ted Tynan backed the initiative fully, while Solidarity Cllr Fiona Ryan said the bus lane initiative was “returning St Patrick’s St to the people, not taking it away” from them.
SF Cllr Chris O’Leary criticised councillors for raising concerns publicly before bringing them to the CORE group which has been working to address this issue for several months, while party colleague, Thomas Gould, said people have to accept that the days of dropping someone off on St Patrick’s St and doing a lap of the block to collect them are gone.
Mr O’Beirne said the CORE group has dealt with traders’ concerns on this issue “quietly and calmly” without a “negative impact on the perception of the city” in recent months, which lead to marketing campaigns and free parking initiatives.
“These are the things that will drive the city centre, make it more animated and more attractive,” Mr O’Beirne said.
“If there are any issues or concerns about transport policy, there are a range of mechanisms available to raise them and we can look at the issues collectively without any negative impact to the perception of the city centre or on its capacity to change, develop and grow.”