White picket fences barricade the entrance to South William Street where it meets Exchequer Street on Saturday 29 August.
Three men stand in high-viz vests waving cars, letting drivers know that this street is not accessible by car.
On the street, people use the newly freed space by sitting on the granite steps of some of the buildings and at the outdoor tables that Dublin City Council (DCC) has permitted restaurants to put out.
Similar scenes could be found on Duke Street, Anne Street South, Drury Street and Dame Court from the weekend of 25 July to 25 August as DCC rolled out pedestrianisation trials as part of its Covid-19 Mobility Programme.
According to a DCC online survey of 1,588 people, 95.9 percent were in favour of keeping the area around Grafton Street pedestrianised permanently. Other parties said their surveys, which were much smaller, had produced more mixed feedback.
A Welcome Change
“It has certainly drawn more people to the street,” says Shawn Callahan, manager of Gotham Cafe on St Anne Street South.
Callahan says that the trials brought an increase in footfall. “It drew a lot of curiosity to our business. There were people stopping having a look or if they saw we were full outside they would come inside.”
Callahan wants to see the pedestrianisation continued, he says. “It brings a good bit of buzz to the streets especially on the weekend.”
Working out the impact of pedestrianisation is perhaps tricky, given the wider context of the global pandemic. Council figures show footfall on Grafton Street – and on Henry Street on the northside – ticking up, but still way below pre-Covid levels.
Meanwhile, DublinTown, a representative group for 2,500 businesses in the city centre, did its own survey on the pedestrianisation trials.
“The business community is supportive of the pedestrianisation and I think that there is certainly scope for bringing that forward,” said Richard Guiney, CEO of DublinTown at the transport committee on 2 September.
Of 300 respondents, half said they wanted pedestrianisation to continue permanently while 35 percent want the measures to continue just at weekends, according to the DublinTown website.
Dino Rafik, manager of Moroccan restaurant Dada on South William Street agrees that it should be permanent.
“I think that it has been a great idea,” he says. He has noticed an improvement in his business since the trials came in but only on the weekends, he says.
Not Seeing Improvements
Another survey was conducted among businesses, who are all part of a WhatsApp group chat led by Martin Deniau, owner of MonteCristo Antiques in the Powerscourt Centre.
Deniau set up the group chat after he heard about the pedestrianisation trials. He felt that he had not been properly consulted on it, he says.
Of 45 respondents, 17.8 percent said the trial improved their business, while 28.8 percent said pedestrianisation harmed their business.
Mary Whelan, the manager of Eirlooms, a design and craft shop on Lower Stephens Street, said that the last few months have been tough for businesses.
“I don’t have a problem with pedestrianisation. I want to say that from the outset and I think there is a lot going for it,” says Whelan.
Whelan asks most of her customers how they get into town, she says. “Nine times out of ten they’ll say, ‘Oh we drove in. We’re not comfortable using public transport.’ ”
The pedestrianisation trials make it harder for these customers to drive into town, she says.
Pedestrianisation brought a certain type of shopper into the city that only benefited particular businesses, says Hillary Murray, owner of Nutri Health Food Store in George’s Street Arcade.
“It brought a few people back but it brought kind of a younger group of people, going to the restaurants or sitting outside. It didn’t bring people back into shops,” says Murray.
Pedestrianisation works for some restaurants because the on-street tables and chairs increase their seating numbers, she says. “For retail outlets I’m not sure that many of them have received much of a bounce.”
Pamela Fitzmaurice found that the on-street seating did not work for her shop, Blazing Salads, a deli, and grocery store on Drury Street.
“We found that it put up a barrier to our shop. When the pedestrian was walking along the street having a nice time the flow didn’t come into our shop,” Fitzmaurice says.
On that Saturday, business was down 20 percent in comparison with previous Saturdays, she says.
Fitzmaurice contacted the council to ask them to remove the picket fences, she says.
A spokesperson from DublinTown said that 45 responses wouldn’t be a representative sample size given the number of businesses in the area. “In our survey more than 45 businesses stated that they did not want the pedestrianisation to continue,” they said.
The trials worked better on some streets than others, says Ciarán Gilligan, manager of The Duke pub on Duke Street, one of the areas where the trials took place.
“See what they did on Anne Street [South] I think that is the most effective,” said Gilligan.
The council extended the footpath on the street which gave outside seating to businesses that didn’t have it before, he says. “It gave [vehicles] access but it also gave you outside space.”
Gilligan would like to see this style of pedestrianisation on his own street so that his pub could have outside seating, he says.
Some businesses would like to see the council taking other approaches as well as pedestrianisation to increase footfall.
Whelan of Eirloom says: “If we don’t get a decent Christmas, a lot of us will not be in business by January.”
Dublin City Council Press Office hasn’t responded yet to a query about whether the pedestrianisation measures will now be made permanent.