Capel Street’s Car-Free Status Is Up for Debate Again

The decision to make Capel Street car-free should be reviewed, some councillors said at a meeting Tuesday morning.

“It’s great to hear that it is one of the coolest streets in the world and people are enjoying themselves eating outdoors,” said independent Councillor Christy Burke.

But some local residents on nearby streets are “tortured with traffic and illegal parking outside their doors”, he said.

At a meeting of the Central Area Committee on Tuesday, Dublin City Council managers presented a positive report about the initiative, which was introduced in May and which many councillors fully support.

But, before the meeting that morning, Richard Guiney, CEO of Dublin Town, a group that represents businesses, had emailed councillors to say that most of the businesses on Capel Street want cars allowed during the day.

“Businesses continue to believe that they have been presented with a fait accompli and that their concerns were not fully considered,” he wrote.

Councillors at the meeting said the decision to remove traffic from Capel Street and open it up to pedestrians and cyclists was due for a review after six months – so, very soon.

But they differed as to whether the review was meant to be aimed at making changes and improvements to the scheme, or at fully reassessing the plan to go car-free – and possibly bringing back cars to the street.

On 27 April 2022 when councillors agreed to make Capel Street car-free, the language used indicated an understanding that the changes were not yet permanent.

“This is an initiative worth starting, putting it in over the summer and reporting back in September,” said Brendan O’Brien, head of technical services with Dublin City Council.

“And really at that stage we will start to get a feeling – is this something that is going to be permanent?”

Tortured with Traffic

The council report presented Tuesday says there has been an uptick in pedestrians and cyclists using Capel Street and a 93 percent reduction in vehicles on the street.

The report says that on most of the neighbouring streets traffic has reduced, but that it has increased by 6 percent on Church Street and 5 percent on North King Street.

Some councillors said they could not believe those figures. Independent Councillor Nial Ring said the changes have resulted in “a major increase in traffic on Church Street”.

Labour Councillor Joe Costello said he still supports the pedestrianisation of Capel Street. “I think it’s been a great initiative and I hope it is extended onto Parliament Street.”

But the knock-on impact on traffic in surrounding streets is much more severe than the council report indicated, said Costello. “Coming up to Christmas there should be consideration made for the car parks and people coming into town.”

Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam, who chairs the Central Area Committee, said he uses nearby roads to go home, and the traffic is so bad that he drives out of his way to avoid the area.

“If you are trying to get home to Stoneybatter it is now quicker going via the North Circular Road, then it is going via Constitution Hill, Brunswick Street, Queen Street,” he said.

The whole traffic-management plan needs to be looked at, McAdam said at the meeting. He said by phone Tuesday that he continues to support the pedestrianisation of Capel Street but there are several issues with traffic that need to be resolved.

The council report says that changes to Jervis Street and King’s Inns Street should help to free up traffic. Making a section of Jervis Street two-way, from the Jervis Street car park to Great Strand Street, should provide an additional route for cars heading south, it says.

The council hopes to trial that change next month, ahead of any additional Christmas traffic plans, said O’Brien, the council’s head of technical services,

The report also proposes making King’s Inns Street a two-way street for cars.

Feedback from Businesses

“The majority of the feedback received so far has been positive with people enjoying the atmosphere and more welcoming feel to the street,” says the council’s report.

“We plan to continue this process of engagement to allow Capel Street to fully realise its potential and become the street most people want it to be,” it says.

Ring, the independent councillor, and Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan said at Tuesday’s meeting that they had received negative feedback from businesses.

“It’s not all nicely, nicely and everything is working out fine,” said Boylan.

Ring said that the email from Guiney at DublinTown, sent that morning, told a different story from the council report.

“Most businesses on Capel Street are disappointed with current levels of trade,” Guiney says in the email. The majority of business owners would prefer if traffic could access the street during the day, and it was pedestrianised in the evening, he said.

Speaking by phone on Tuesday, Guiney said that DublinTown had surveyed the businesses on the street.

He said he didn’t know exactly how many businesses, but said they went door-to-door to get feedback. “We were up and down the street.”

The footfall on Capel Street is similar to what it was in 2019, he said. But business people – including some who initially backed the pedestrianisation – are saying that their trade is down.

“The first couple of weeks were good but then it fell into a pattern below where people had expected,” Guiney says.

DublinTown supports the pedestrianisation of some streets, including South William Street, and “we are not opposed to the pedestrianisation of Capel Street”, he said.

But business owners on Capel Street feel they were not fully consulted, whereas on South William Street pedestrianisation was introduced through a process of engagement with the business owners, he says.

“Better engagement would have been beneficial,” says Guiney.

Dublin City Council ran a public consultation ahead of the trial, which got 1,766 submissions. Of those, 56 identical submissions came from businesses, all objecting, mostly from businesses in the Jervis Centre. Six objections from businesses on Capel Street were received, says a council report.

Green Party Councillor Janet Horner said that Capel Street is still in the bedding-down phase, “but we can see at this stage the huge potential that the project has to transform the city”.

“Capel Street is an example of what sustainable inner-city streets could look like,” she says. “A lively mixture of retail, hospitality and residential, lots of small local businesses and prioritising cycling and walking.”

Up for Review?

Back in April, all the Central Area councillors who spoke said they were in favour of the plan to close most of Capel Street to traffic, and make space for pedestrians and cyclists.

At the meeting on Tuesday, McAdam, who chairs the Central Area Committee, said the decision to make Capel Street car-free was up for review six months on, which would be October.

Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan said the plan was always to review the pedestrianisation after six months.

But O’Brien, the council’s head of technical services, said, “I don’t think we ever agreed to it being a six-months trial.”

And Social Democrats Councillor Cat O’Driscoll said: “My understanding is this was a permanent scheme.”

Horner said that it depends on what is meant by a review. To her, the review was to make changes to the scheme to resolve any problems that arose, not to review the decision to go car-free.

At the April meeting of the Central Area Committee, available to watch online,the council managers used language that indicated the pedestrianisation of Capel Street would be reviewed.

“If we want to change the city we have to start and this is a really, really good place to start,” said O’Brien. The proposal had emerged from the public, he said and has a lot of public support.

He proposed making Capel Street car-free over the summer with a review in September. “And really at that stage we will start to get a feeling – is this something that is going to be permanent?”

Said Karl Mitchell, director of services with Dublin City Council: “We have to let the scheme happen to be able to debate its merits.”

“If the report in September proves to be successful and it’s working and operating fantastically well the likelihood is that it is going to stay,” McAdam said at that meeting back in April.

[Clarification: This article was updated at 1.48pm on 14 September to add a quotation from Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam, to make it clearer the route diversion he was talking about and the scope of area involved.]

Author:

Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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