From top: Princes Street, Cork last week; Dan Boyle
It remains a cursed virus. Adjusting to a new normal frustrates and infuriates in equal measure. It is difficult to look for positives in what seems to be a negatively evolving situation.
Yet, perversely, positives there are. We are being asked to reconsider how we interact with each other, how we use the public space we share.
In Cork what had been long talked about as aspirations to fulfill, but had remained unfulfilled because the nature of change was too difficult, has become not only possible but has been elevated to becoming a necessity.
It hasn’t been a natural response. The first instinct within the City Council was to depedestrianise some streets to allow motor vehicles back to where they had once been restricted.
Someone had bent ears and whispered distinctly the wrong thoughts into them. I suppose the logic was, as sadly the logic has long seemed to be, that even with lower traffic volumes allowing motor vehicles use more streets would be ‘good for business’.
It took some weeks to realise how flawed this thinking was. The initiative came from those for whom the rationale ‘good for business’ was meant to apply to.
Restaurateurs and cafe owners on Princes Street pressed the City Council to allow al fresco dining onto the street. I was glad to see the Council respond positively.
Soon other streets followed – Pembroke St., Caroline St., Tuckey St., even Oliver Plunkett St. (the street that had been depedestrianised in March!).
The character of Cork City’s Centre has been transformed. While nominally this remains a trial operation, there surely can be no going back.
There is an irony in this. Next year will see the 50th anniversary of the pedestrianisation of the Patrick’s St. end of Princes Street. The first street in Ireland to have been pedestrianised.
There quickly followed the pedestrianising of Carey’s Lane and Frenchchurch St. The eighties saw Paul St. become pedestrian only. There were also a handful of partially pedestrianised streets.
Other than an Owen O’Callaghan commercial development, which in 2009 saw what once was Faulkner’s Lane become Opera Lane, pedestrianisation came to a halt in the city some thirty years ago.
This latest flowering, however unanticipated, represents the greatest level of pedestrianisation ever taken in the city. We are the richer for the potential it has shown us.
These are steps in the right direction, jigsaw pieces of a Cork that can be. Other initiatives need to follow. We need to become to become a more cycle friendly city. We need to make public tranport our prime method of commuting throughout the city.
One proposal that can only enhance is the imminent construction of a cycle lane along the South Mall, necessitating the removal of some more car parking spaces.
Having an island City Centre gives Cork so many potential advantages we have barely chosen to scratch. It is an itch we should be scratching with relish.
Wind and rain may dampen our spirits but it won’t make us lose sight of what our city can be.
This is working out so well we may become even more insufferable.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Pic: Clare Keogh/Cork Beo