As Cork commemorates the centenary of the death of Tomás MacCurtain this year, an ambitious multi-million regeneration has been unveiled for the historic street which bears his name.
And transport chiefs and local traders hope the regeneration of a vast area of the north inner city will deliver major benefits for bus passengers, cyclists and pedestrians and will also play a key role in driving economic activity as the city seeks to reimagine itself post-Covid lockdown.
The MacCurtain Street public transport improvement scheme has been published for public consultation today, marking the latest phase of Cork City Council’s City Centre Movement Strategy (CCMS) which includes the most significant changes to traffic movement in this part of the city in more than 50 years.
Several parts of the CCMS, which was adopted by councillors in 2012, have already been implemented, including the city-to-UCC bike lane scheme, upgrades around Parnell Place, Penrose Quay, the Lower Glanmire Rd, Grenville Place and the Middle Parish, and the introduction of time-regulated bus priority measures on St Patrick’s St - the so-called ‘Pana ban’ - which sparked initial controversy.
But there has been a broad welcome for the National Transport Authority-funded MacCurtain St proposals which have been discussed with representatives of businesses on the street as the design emerged over the last two years.
Cork Chamber chief executive, Conor Healy, described the scheme “as perfectly timed”.
“It is fitting that 100 years from the death of Tomás MacCurtain, that the street that honours his name should be set for such a visionary and comprehensive upgrade,” he said.
“MacCurtain St needs to move very swiftly beyond consultation to delivery if it is to play a part in the recovery of the city centre.
“At present every week is crucial for struggling businesses. In parallel with improvements such as the South Mall and Princes St there is every opportunity to build progressive and confidence-inspiring momentum in the city.
“We are currently analysing feedback from 10 sectoral ‘think-tank’ sessions that we hosted as part of our Sustainable Cork Programme and this strand rings true across them all.”
One-way traffic was introduced on MacCurtain St on February 2, 1968 as part of a wider introduction of one-way traffic on Coburg St, Bridge St, Harleys St, Brian Boru St and Brian Boru Bridge, which are now all set for significant changes.
MacCurtain St will see the most significant changes, with plans for a complete upgrade of its public realm, with new and wider footpaths, bus priority measures, street resurfacing, new public lighting, additional street furniture, the planting of new trees, and the conversion of the street from a one-way westbound system to a two-way traffic flow system, with a reduced speed limit of 30 km/h.
The area has undergone a mini-renaissance in recent years and city officials said they hope the scheme will make the area and several adjoining streets more accommodating for shoppers, pedestrians and cyclists, and help create a new destination in the city centre.
They said the reorganisation of traffic flows will significantly reduce traffic volumes on the street, creating a more attractive environment, with the new and upgraded footpaths and cycling routes creating a pleasant space for visitors and a safe environment for the thousands of students who attend the many schools in the area.
It is hoped that the improved bus service and bike lanes will encourage more people attending or dropping off at the schools to switch to more sustainable forms of transport.
But the scheme also includes several significant upgrades and traffic management changes to a number of nearby streets and the quays, with new bus lanes proposed in several areas to reduce journey times and improve reliability, with Leitrim St, Coburg St, Bridge Street, the lower section of St Patrick’s Hill, St Patrick’s Quay, Brian Boru St, Merchant’s Quay, Anderson’s Quay, as well as Cathedral Walk and part of Mulgrave Road, all earmarked for significant public realm upgrades.
The scheme includes plans for a two-way segregated cycle lane along St Patrick’ Quay and Camden Quay, for a two-way segregated cycle track on Merchant’s Quay and across Christy Ring Bridge, and for new cycleways on Leitrim Street.
They will improve connectivity between the existing cycling infrastructure around Kent Station and Penrose Quay in the east, and at Pope’s Quay at the western side of the city centre, as well as Mary Elmes pedestrian and cycling bridge, in addition providing the connectivity needed to link to other planned cycling infrastructure, including along Horgan’s Quay, the South Mall, and into the south docklands.
The existing public bike stations will be retained but will be realigned to better suit the new street layouts, and additional bike parking will be provided at key locations.
The scheme will facilitate the rerouting of some bus routes, including some services which travel down Summerhill, which will now be able to drive onto MacCurtain St westbound and on towards Coburg St.
And there are plans to reorganise the city’s coach parking arrangements, which are currently concentrated on St Patrick’s Quay. While some coach parking will be retained here, most will be relocated to new purpose-built designated set-down areas on Anderson’s Quay, Lower Glanmire Rd and Alfred St.
The City Council’s director of infrastructure development, Gerry O’Beirne, said the proposals are essential for the improvement of public transport in the city centre and for the more efficient management of traffic.
“The National Planning Framework 2040 envisages that Cork would become the fastest growing city region in Ireland with a projected 50% to 60% increase in its population up to 2040,” he said.
“This growth is very positive but it means that new approaches must be adopted for the management of traffic in Cork
“The changes which are being undertaken in the city centre at present as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic give a sense of a future look and feel to the city which appear to resonate well with the public.
“There is no doubt that the city has to be reimagined and that the status quo can no longer apply.
“The Cork Metropolitan Area Transportation Strategy provides a coherent integrated and sustainable policy framework for the delivery of the transport infrastructure necessary to support the development of the greater Cork area.
“It gives a sense of the scale of the changes required but it also gives a sense of the exciting future which is envisaged for the city.
“I hope people engage with the public consultation process on the scheme which is reflective of a new emerging vision for the city.”
The scheme is now open for public consultation, with submissions accepted until September 11.
The project documents are available to view electronically through the council’s online consultation portal: consult.corkcity.ie/en
Because of the various Covid-19 restrictions, the council has enhanced its online consultation portal to provide a more interactive experience.
It is hoped that a report on the public feedback will be ready for city councillors in October, with a decision on the Part 8 planning expected soon afterwards.
It is hoped that work could start on the scheme by Easter 2021. It will be done in phases to minimise disruption, with work to the quays scheduled to start first, and could take up to 18-months to complete.
Complete public realm upgrade, wider footpaths, set-down spaces which can be converted into outdoor sitting areas under licence
Change from one-way eastbound to two-way; the pedestrianisation of Harley St; provision of a night-time taxi rank
Public realm upgrade; road resurfacing; new bus stops; a 24-hour bus lane; new footpaths
and change from two eastbound general lanes to one westbound traffic lane and one eastbound; bus-only right turn from Coburg St onto Bridge St at a new paved junction with enhanced pedestrian facilities
Replace a northbound traffic lane with new southbound 24-hour southbound bus lane, public realm upgrade
Replace one of its two eastbound lanes, which lead onto the N20, to one westbound 24-hour bus lane
Replace southern footpath with a two-way cycle track; Remove eastbound contraflow bus lane on northern side; upgrade junction with Christy Ring Bridge; replace a section of existing northbound cycle lane with a new, two-way off-road cycle track between the bridge and Pope’s Quay
Provide two eastbound general traffic lanes on Lavitt’s Quay; introduce a right-turn restriction except for buses from Lavitt’s Quay onto the bridge; provide a two-way cycle track on east side of Christy Ring Bridge at the expense of one existing northbound traffic lane
Reduce two southbound traffic lanes to one; provide an inbound cycle lane, and an outbound cycle track between Hardwick St and North Link Rd Devonshire St; and replace existing eastbound lane with westbound lane; provide a westbound 24-bus lane
Reverse traffic flow on the hill between St Patrick’s Place and MacCurtain St from southbound to northbound (uphill) only; relocate parking on this section from west side to east side of the street upgrade pedestrian facilities and provide new crossings on St Patrick’s Place; and Wellington Rd; and a raised pedestrian table at Sidney Hill junction
Provide new two-way cycle track on southern side of the quay; relocate some coach parking to Anderson’s Quay, Lower Glanmire Rd, and Alfred St
Replace one westbound general traffic lane with an eastbound lane; replace a section of eastbound cycle lane with a new two-way off-road cycle track; introduce a right-turn restriction for all traffic except buses travelling between the quay and St Patrick’s Quay
Convert one lane from south-bound traffic flow to northbound; convert a section of the central southbound lane to a northbound right-turn bus lane on the street; convert a lane on the bridge from southbound to northbound flow
Provide a bus-only right turn onto MacCurtain St westbound
Provide coach set-down bays and shelters along the northern side of the existing bus lane
Replace westbound traffic lane with eastbound lane from junction with Clontarf St to Custom House St
Buses will get priority at key junctions, with bus-only right turns introduced for buses turning from Merchant’s Quay onto St Patrick’s Bridge, from Lavitt’s Quay onto Christy Ring Bridge, from Brian Boru St onto Lower Glanmire Rd, and from Summerhill North onto MacCurtain St