Grafton area pedestrianisation: a good start

Grafton area pedestrianisation: a good start

I've said it many times before: I love cars.

They can make things convenient, they can make things fun. But they don't belong in cities.

It has always seemed strange to me that they are allowed in the narrow streets that form the Grafton Street area in Dublin.

See, if we are to buy into the stupid "Grafton Quarter" vision for a second, we need an area that is actually pleasant to visit. Streets like South William Street would be fine if there was a ratio of one car to 10 pedestrians. That's how shared spaces work.

Problem is the street is usually full of pedestrians and full of cars. This makes it awfully crowded, and frankly unpleasant.

The good news is it only took a global pandemic for Dublin City Council to consider pedestrianising the area, starting with a series of trials.

This reluctant decision was made following a severe drop in footfall - more severe than in other shopping districts. (Maybe I'm stating the obvious, but is that not simply because Grafton Street relies on tourism more than other streets?)

I took a look at the first of the pedestrian trials. Here's what I spotted.

Traffic jam by restaurant
Al fresco dining. Here?

The first thing I noticed was just how hard it was to visit the area. As a result of the traffic measures chosen, there was very heavy traffic along Wicklow Street. It was very difficult to cross the road, and the crossing was crowded as a result. It's always bad there, but this was a terrible start.

Fade Street was even worse. The fine architecture and al fresco seating looked like it could be a pleasant place to visit. Except it was absolutely rammed with traffic.

As a city dweller, I am a big supporter of the "Streets Are For People" vision. It describes the sort-of city I might like to visit. And if there's one thing Dublin city centre lacks, it's nice places to unwind.

My complaint with Wicklow Street and Fade Street isn't that the terrible traffic was caused by the diversion, it's that they are exactly the sort-of streets which should have been included in the trial.

Unfortunately (but understandably), Dublin City Council had to tip-toe around other interests, and as a result the trial was not as good as it could have been.

I appreciate there might be reasons why some people think they are needed, but that doesn't change the fact that no street within the area bounded by Great George's Street and Kildare Street is suitable for a modern SUV.

It almost felt reluctant. Like the council didn't really want to do it. This road sign on the diversion - where the council forgot to cover up the turn ban - might be a simple error, but it's a clue to a real lack of attention to detail, a reluctance to do the job properly.

Confusing diversion signs
Confusing road signs usually mean things haven't been thought through.

The actual experience on Drury Street and William Street was exactly what you would expect. Despite the poor weather, outdoor restaurants were full.

I'm sure that on a typical winter's day there wouldn't be so many people around, but you know what, who cares? It was a nice place to roam. The streets weren't crowded, there was less clutter about, more space to breathe.

Closing the streets also revealed what an appalling state our heritage areas are in. Some of the potholes were so deep they are clearly a compensation claim in waiting.

Messy road surface
Dublin's heritage areas deserve better than this mess.

Creating the right streetscape is something Dublin has historically really struggled with. I think that what was done on Chatham Street was fantastic - not perfect, but a real improvement.

Hopefully, if Dublin City Council can be dragged kicking and screaming towards making some changes here, something similar can be done with these streets too.

Until then, it's nice to see South William Street with fewer cars in the way. We'll have to imagine what it might look like with fewer posts, signs and markings.

If you want to tell me I'm wrong or just leave anonymous abuse like half the internet seems to do these days, please use the comments box below.

© 2023 Johnathan Randall

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Travel historian, travel reporter, and radio producer. I love the places people pass through along their journey.

I research and write about how our need to get around continues to shape our world through roads, railways, airports and whole new towns.

My thoughts and/or research have been published by the likes of Truck & Driver, BBC local radio, Daily Express, The Guardian, Mail Online and The Independent (detail).

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Any similarities with real-life events or wealthy international firms is probably coincidental. No products endorsed. I'm powered by Monster Munch.

© 2023 Johnathan Randall.