On Tuesday morning about 11.30am Derek Marshall is leaning over slightly and peering at a chest-high signpost on Meath Street, near the corner with Meath Place.
On the wooden signpost – put up only recently – is a planning notice from Dublin City Council, announcing the opening of a public consultation on a proposal to revamp the street.
“The plan provides for changes to the public realm including footpaths, kerbs, carriageway, street furniture and fixtures, street lighting and the allocation of parking and loading bays along the street,” the notice says.
Anyone who’s interested can go down to the council’s office on Wood Quay and look at the plans, or look at them online, it says.
The designs, which have been under discussion since at least 2018, mirror, in many ways, the designs for the changes the council has recently finished making to nearby Francis Street.
“I think it’s great,” Marshall says, of what the council’s done with Francis Street, and what it’s planning for Meath Street.
Standing behind a big espresso machine at Meath Street cafe and bakery Bakeology, Silvana Juarez says she too likes the idea of the council doing up Meath Street like Francis Street.
“It’s very nice,” she says of the nearby street.
The council has been working for a long time on this plan to fix up the street and footpaths on this road in the heart of the Liberties.
In 2018, council officials and architect Mike Haslam met with local residents to present and discuss ideas for revamping Meath Street.
In April 2021, they met again with area residents, to present proposed plans and get feedback.
In July of that year they presented those plans to the council’s South Central Area Committee.
The plans available on the council’s public consultation hub online now say they’ve taken into account the feedback they got during those discussions.
“A critique of Meath Street existing public realm would hinge on the car parking dominated streets with a consequently diminished pedestrian space and poor visual environment,” the plans say.
They envision widening the footpaths to make more room for pedestrians, and add “defined zones” for market stalls, new brighter street lights, trees (with “tree pits” around them to catch some rain), and seating.
“Seats and benches are to be provided at regular points along the street,” the plans say. And “at least sixteen mature trees”, they say.
In the part of the street around Engine Alley and Meath Place, “Discrete electrical service points are proposed to serve potential clusters of temporary stalls.”
There would also be new “traffic controls” at the crossing points at the junction of the Coombe with Meath Street, and halfway up Meath Street, at Liberty Market.
“To help define the priority given to pedestrians and to facilitate ease of movement, the pedestrian crossings will be raised to meet the level of the surrounding pavements,” the plans say.
Car traffic would still be allowed through Meath Street, but the number of car parking spaces would be reduced.
The plan “reduces the amount of on-street parking and proposes to discourage all-day parking so that drop-off and pop-in shopping parking are facilitated”, it says.
The number of “standard bays” would be cut from 27 to 12. The number of accessible spots would stay the same: three.
A “permeable finish” to the parking bays, to help drain rain off the street, will be considered, the plans say.
There are now 11 loading bays in the street. “Currently the loading provision coverage around 11 parking bays but they are grouped in 3s or 2.5s and not very well laid out,” says Stephen Coyne, the council’s public-realm projects co-ordinator for the south-west inner-city.
The plans include “10 (double bays)”. This means there’d be double-sized loading bays in five spots along the street, Coyne said by email.
“Certainly a larger vehicle like a lorry would take-up the full double bay, but the trend in the city is towards smaller deliver vehicles and even cargo bikes its likely we’ll see that trend continue,” he said by email Tuesday.
At the moment, delivery vehicles often mount footpaths or stop on double yellow lines, Coyne said.
“The intent of the street design is to restrict this as much as possible by setting all parking areas off the main carriageway through the use of indented parking bays and protecting the footpath through various measures such as trees, cycle parking, bollards etc,” he said.
In addition to car parking and loading bays, there would be “an informal lay-by for a hearse close to St Catherine’s Church”, and the number of bike-parking spaces would increase from 40 to 60, according to the plans.
At a meeting in 2018 about ideas for revamping the street, one man said he was worried the changes would “gentrify” the street, pushing up rents.
Others said traffic, anti-social behaviour and a lack of public bins were issues that needed to be addressed, and also worried that a revamp could change the character of the street.
For years, there’s been only one public bin on the street. “We would expect to add more bins to the street,” Coyne said.
“Its generally the case that bins are added after the work is completed and there is a clearer idea of litter generating spots,” he said. “E.g. on Francis Street we found that the benches generally draw more littering and so we’ve located bins close to them.”
On Tuesday, Miriam Sweeney was minding her brother’s stall at the D8 Arcade on Meath Street, and her top concern was whether cars would be banned from the street – something that has not been proposed.
She was also worried, though, about the removal of some standard car-parking bays. “Where do people stop for the shops? Where do they park?” she says.
If it’s going to look like Francis Street, “it’ll look lovely”, Sweeney said. But “if they’re going to stop the parking, then that’s the problem”.
Marshall though, who’d been reading the planning notice on the sign post, disagreed. “Most people walk around here,” he said. “It’s mostly local people who use Meath Street.”
There are flats and other homes all around it, Marshall said. He’d walked over from the Oliver Bond flats, for example, where he’s lived for 64 years, he said.
Juarez, behind the counter at Bakeology, said she’s not worried about the reduction in standard car parking bays either.
Most of their customers are “neighbours or tourists”, who arrive by foot, she said.
On Monday afternoon, standing outside Fusco’s cafe on Meath Street, Fino Fusco said that if the changes are going to make Meath Street look more like the new version of Francis Street, then he thinks they’re a good idea.
“Oh, no. Yeah, yeah. Geez. The improvement. Yeah, I think it’s good. I think it’s a great idea,” he said.
His question is when it’s going to happen. “It should have happened already,” he says. But he reckons it’ll be years before it finally does.
The next step is the public consultation, now underway. Anyone with views on the plans can submit them to the council until 25 September.
This is a step in the so-called “Part 8” planning process, through which the council grants itself planning permission to build something in the city.
Eventually, the plans will land in front of councillors for a vote on whether it should go ahead. Then, if so, someday, construction.