A few weeks ago, prompted by the complete lack of motor traffic on Limerick’s streets due to COVID-19 restrictions, I set about creating a number of alternative street visuals to show what could be done if our streets’ sole function wasn’t to move and park as many cars as possible. There wasn’t any strategic traffic plan behind the initial designs as all I wanted to do was widen footpaths, add trees and cycle lanes to create a more human centred design, a place where people might actually want to live. The visuals sparked a discussion and there were numerous comments around the flow of traffic. This regularly happens when people are presented with a concept design – they jump straight into the details and start to query the minutiae rather than focussing on the bigger picture. But in order to justify the removal of 2 or 3 lanes currently used by motor traffic, I decided I needed to add some logic to the thought process so I quickly came up with a traffic circulation plan for the central area of Limerick City. This also helped me decide when and where cycle infrastructure would be needed.
The idea of creating a ‘super-block’ out of Limerick’s city centre has been around for a few years now. The idea is to remove through traffic from the area bounded by Henry St, William St, Parnell St and Mallow St. This is the heart of Limerick City but it is motor car free for all at present. The streets are hostile and uninviting, businesses are struggling and not many people want to live there. But when the general public hear the words ‘pedestrianisation’, they immediately think cars are going to be banned so it’s usually followed by a plethora of “what about” questions as an argument that pedestrianising these streets simply can’t be done. This of course is the reaction from those who don’t want to hear or consider alternative approaches, who believe that what we have now cannot be any different, that car access and liveable streets are incompatible.
So using the super-block idea as a basis to build around, I decided to work on a more detailed traffic circulation plan that would remove through traffic from this area yet at all times retain access to those that need it. In a nutshell, if you need to be in the city centre, you can certainly go there by car, van or truck but if you want to use it as a short cut to get from one side of the city to the other, or even one side of the block to the other, that will no longer be possible.
The main goals of my plan are:
- Create a city centre environment that would attract people to live/work/shop/invest in once again
- Create a quayside for people to enjoy
- Create a more inviting connection between Colbert Station, the city centre and the new Opera development.
- Create a more inviting connection between John’s Castle and the Georgian quarter.
- Stop using the city centre as a massive spaghetti junction
- Always allow access with motor vehicles to the city centre for those that need it.
- Remove the option for motor traffic to use streets as shortcuts.
- Provide easy access to city centre car parks
- Avoid the need to provide segregated cycle tracks inside the ‘super-block’
- Create wider footpaths and line as many streets as possible with trees.
When you look at the overall plan it may look like a bunch of random one way streets but there is some method to the madness. Motor traffic access to the central block usually takes vehicles on a simple loop before bringing them back to an exit point close to where they entered. By doing so, motor traffic that has no business inside the block (ie: through traffic) won’t want to enter as there is nothing to gain by doing so. On the other hand, people that do need access such as business deliveries can do so whenever they like.
The treatment of two junctions in particular is central to the whole idea – Roches St/Catherine St and Cecil St/Catherine St. In order to prevent motor traffic from driving from one side of the block to the other and therefore making it an attractive shortcut for people with no business in the block to be there, we simply divide the junctions to stop people from driving through them. But what about buses coming down Roches Street? No problem, we simply install a bus gate that allows buses to continue straight through the junction with Catherine Street but general motor traffic must still turn right.
Henry Street is two way as far as Shannon Street. This is to allow cars exiting Howley’s Quay and Harvey’s Quay car parks to turn left or right onto Henry St.
Upper Gerald Griffin St. reverts to two-way so that traffic is no longer channelled through Wickham St to get to Upper William Street.
Wickham St traffic direction is reversed from Thomas St to Upper Gerald Griffin St and it is closed to motor traffic from Thomas St to Upper William St. Limited access could still be granted at certain times for business deliveries.
Harvey’s Quay all the way through to Honan’s Quay is fully pedestrianised. As someone granted permission for a hotel car park on Honan’s Quay a few years ago, Bedford Row would have to allow two-way access for cars exiting this car park.
O’Connell St would be closed completely to motor traffic apart from public transport (motor traffic can still cross O’Connell St where necessary). O’Connell St could be used to serve any existing or new bus routes but only city bus services would be allowed to use this street. No coach services should be permitted, be they private or Bus Eireann. Double-decker buses are also banned as they are shit-heaps. Running a modern, electric single decker bus infrequently along O’Connell St will not detract from the street. By limiting the street to public transport, we also avoid the need to introduce all the necessary general motor traffic controls such as road paint, safety bollards, traffic signs, traffic lights etc. And again, if traffic volumes and speeds are so low, we don’t need to concern ourselves with cycle lanes.
The images above are from the city of Brest (France). Rue de Siam is pretty much traffic free apart from trams. The street is full of shops, cafés and offices and people living on the upper floors of the buildings. People can cross the street easily as there are no kerbs or other intrusive pieces of infrastructure required when you introduce high volumes of motor traffic.
But what about all the traffic that uses Limerick city centre as a through route today? Yeah, what about it? Next.
One thing I’m not entirely happy with is William St still remains a direct through route from the Ennis Rd to the Ballysimon Road but no plan is perfect and this is all a pointless exercise anyway so there’s no point sweating over every last detail. There’s probably more I could explain but I’ll be here too long and you’ll get bored reading it so I’ll leave it at that – my amateur effort at a circulation plan for a liveable Limerick.
Update 23/05/20: Removed illustration of Catherine St/Glentworth St junction as it didn’t comply with the plan!