LCCC Design Statement
‘O’Connell Street as “Limerick’s signature street, a desirable place to live, work and shop which embraces Limerick’s rich Georgian Heritage” Part 8 Planning Report, July 2019, P.2
For too long Limerick has been left behind. Ambition, imagination and creativity in Galway, Cork, Waterford and Dublin have created thriving, successful, buzzy places that are by comparison to Limerick wildly-attractive to visitors, residents, students and high-skilled workers.
Clare County Council are busy imagining an exciting new pedestrian-friendly town right on our doorstep. And the gap between us and our neighbours is widening despite our efforts at renewal.
We have a once in a generation opportunity to reverse this out-dated choice chosen at a time when the city centre was the only route to get across the city as a National Route and when our centre location was not viewed as a place we wanted to encourage people to live. Done well, we could not only catch-up with but even overtake our competition?
Once more, we call for an ambitious redesign that moves Limerick out of the second or even third division of European cities.
LCCC Design Statement:
‘While O’Connell Street is a critical thoroughfare for Limerick City at present, this project seeks to redress this through placemaking along O’Connell Street and its immediate vicinity’ Part 8 Planning Report, July 2019, P.1
Central to the design of this scheme is a traffic management strategy to maintain ‘through-traffic’ on O’Connell Street. #LiveableLimerick submit that the concept of O’Connell Street as a ‘movement corridor’ remains the most significant negative aspect of the proposal as presented. The placemaking solutions offered, which we make observations on below, cannot and will not mitigate against the negative effect of through-traffic on the use of O’Connell Street by pedestrians of all ages and abilities, cyclists, and people with additional needs.
It doesn’t matter how it is dressed up, a ‘movement corridor’ for vehicles is a road and not a destination. The proposal does not and cannot put people to the forefront while through traffic and vehicular modes of transport are a priority in the design.
Shared surfaces/streets can work, but they do not work in this design. The proposals for shared- surfaces in this format are dangerous and a risk to the safety of our most vulnerable street users (examined in detail under item 4. below).
1. Traffic Volume
2. Traffic Speed
3. Public Space
4. Shared Surface Streets
1. TRAFFIC VOLUME
LCCC Design Statement:
The O’Connell Street Revitalisation Project will create a backdrop to more positive engagement with the city through much-reduced traffic volumes’ Part 8 Planning Report, July 2019, P.1
With reference to 4.4.1 and 4.4.2 in your planning report, we do not believe that the proposals in so far as they retain two lanes of one way through-traffic for the duration of the four blocks 270m will reduce traffic volumes in any meaningful way. The visuals presented assume great success in this respect showing a much different atmosphere on the street and only single or single digit number of vehicles in each frame competing for space with other users. But these visual cannot be realised by the current plan.
While one lane is to be converted to a bus lane, this lane can be used by taxis also. Unauthorised traffic using Bus Lanes in Limerick is generally unenforced. This means no significant change in traffic volume.
The objective to have much-reduced traffic volumes might have been a good start to reversing the through traffic-shared surface contradictions if for other reasons in the absence of a mobility plan, it was not possible in 2019 to go the full desirable step.
Indeed, the very fact that it was felt necessary to reinstate the second lane compared to the prior proposals in order to carry a bus lane, by definition suggests that the modelling of traffic after implementation must encounter significant congestion on the single traffic lane option for which the bus corridor is required.
A modelling exercise was carried out on these options and the results showed the current proposal will have the least negative impact on current traffic volumes across the city. Limerick’s current car infrastructure is not ready to accept significant additional car traffic diverted from O’Connell Street. To eliminate cars completely from O’Connell Street would require further analysis of the entire mobility network and potentially significant work to be carried out on streets and roads across the city.
O’Connell Street Revitalisation – FAQs
Negative impact on traffic volumes should not be a priority in placemaking.
The Traffic Modelling carried out by Systra was not included in your Part 8 Documentation. We believe this should be shared in order to allow the public and NGOs to assess these conclusions in their own right. We would call for publication of the current traffic volumes showing the number of motor vehicles which pass through each block every hour? Based on your traffic modelling for example what is the proposed reduction in traffic volumes per hour? How is this projected to change as populations grow or new facilities like the Opera Centre, UL, and Rugby Experience come on line?
The core principle of your proposal is to retain O’Connell Street as a major vehicular route through Limerick City, falling under the definition of an Arterial Street.
DMURS defines Arterial Streets as:
These are the major routes via which major centres/nodes are connected. They may also include orbital or cross metropolitan routes within cities and larger towns. DMURS
The function of this street remains therefore movement of vehicles, and no amount of new paving, seating or water features will change that function while the route is maintained as an arterial street. O’Connell street layout and carriage widths as proposed, is designed for an Arterial street and not a ‘Shared surface street’ suitable for pedestrians to share with vehicles and cyclists, as defined by DMURS, statutory guidelines.
Even if councillors believe in 2019 the arterial route must be maintained, we believe the Councillors should only agree to the proposals if accompanied by a concrete plan with specific steps and deadlines which facilitate reversal of this decision as soon as possible. This plan should include measures added immediately to encourage drivers to use these alternative routes even before the engineering works proposed are implemented and revisit measures to improve the safely of those using the “shared space” in the interim.
Recommendation 1 It is inconsistent with the objective of creating a destination and shared space to allow O’Connell Street to be used as an Arterial Street. We do not believe that this is a requirement in grid-patterned Limerick which presents many more options to cross the city even today. We call on the councillors to reverse this fundamental guiding principle.
2. TRAFFIC SPEED
The one-way traffic system promotes speed.
The use of one-way systems for traffic management should also be approached with caution by designers as they: Promote faster speeds as drivers are likely to drive faster when no risk is perceived from oncoming traffic. DMURS 3.4.1
The current traffic speed on O’Connell Street is 50km/h. You propose to reduce the speed to 30km/h. Currently, it appears that the speed limit on the street is not adhered to, with vehicles driving far in excess of the speed limits, especially in the evenings when traffic volumes are lower. Is there available data on the current traffic speed as it occurs in real time? Reduced traffic volumes without other measures (such as ramping up at junctions on O’Connell Street, which we discuss further below), will in fact contribute to higher speeds on the street, especially at off peak times. If speed limits are not being adhered to currently, how do you propose to enforce a 30kn/h speed limit once completed? We look at traffic speed below as it relates to the shared surface proposals.
Traffic signalling and speed
The proposed scheme does not include any information on traffic signalling proposals. We wish to get confirmation on this aspect of the proposal.
The introduction of four way stop signalling at junctions has for example been discovered to be a much safer way of dealing with cross streets in a shared space environment as it automatically encourages caution at junctions rather than speeding to make lights or race away on green to the next one.
Recommendation 2a. We believe that the proposals in whatever form adopted should include a more significant reduction of maximum speeds to sub 15km. This would apply to cars, buses, scooters and bikes and make it clear to all that vulnerable pedestrian users of the zone must be protected against accidental accidents not by being locked away behind bollards (a design inconsistent with a shared space) but by reduced speed for all. For best success, this limit should be extended immediately to all of the Georgian Quarter so that drivers are clear ALL streets are included, making enforcement easier too.
Recommendation 2b Consider replacement of traffic light signalling at junctions with 4-way stop sign junctions or pedestrian priority.
3. PUBLIC SPACE
The creation of plazas and large areas of public realm will emphasise to motorists on the street that O’Connell Street is a place as well as a link for through movement, and increase visibility of pedestrians and vulnerable road users. O’Connell Street Revitalisation – FAQs
Unfortunately, by the standards of what is happening in other cities, despite the confidence of this answer, this proposal is devoid of ‘plazas’ and ‘large areas of public realm’. It is a two-lane, one-way road right through the heart of our historic city centre, masquerading as ‘shared space’. The concept of the shared space is discussed in more detail in 4. below. The areas in front of Penneys, the Augustinians’ and the proposed Rugby Museum are only differentiated from the rest of the street by the colour of the paving although we do welcome the permanent retention of the wider pedestrian pavement in front of Penneys. The arterial road (movement corridor) runs through all these spaces, where cars and buses are proposed to travel at 30km/h can drive through without any restriction. They cannot, therefore be identified as plazas. Only the area in front of the proposed Rugby Museum has a graded ramp up, which might in some way slow the traffic but again it is designed to prevent significant gathering of people. The decisions to prioritise road traffic and failure to provide public spaces in front of our museums, Hunt, City Museum, City Gallery and now Rugby Experience deprives the city of the gathering places in front of such civic amenities so common in cities across the Continent.
By contrast, if the position recommended above to not treat O’Connell Street as an arterial route for neither cars nor buses were adopted, this would facilitate the introduction of a significant (and real) plaza. Such a change would add real value to the design and also transform the visitor experience and dividend from visitors to the city centre.
The primary objective of this project is to rebalance O’Connell Street as a public space for all citizens. Public spaces influence the daily interactions that take place at community level, and this has been successfully taken on by cities abroad such as Copenhagen, Newcastle, Bristol and Lisbon. What these cities have in common is a convivial and more walkable public realm which has, in turn, resulted in more liveable cities. O’Connell Street Revitalisation – FAQs
Copenhagen’s main street Stroget was converted into a pedestrian promenade in 1962. Between 1962 and 2005 the area devoted to pedestrians in the city grew by a factor of 7, increasing from 15,000m2 to 100,000m2. Jan Gehl, Cities for People’. The conclusion from Copenhagen is unequivocal: if people rather than cars are invited into the city, pedestrian traffic and city life increase correspondingly’. Your proposal bears no resemblance to anything in Copenhagen, in fact your insistence on retaining two-lanes of one-way through traffic moving through our cities Main Street is the direct antithesis of what has been achieved in Copenhagen over the last 57 years.
The regeneration of Newcastle’s Grainger Town is a worthy comparison for a revitalisation of Georgian Limerick, and one that should be studied at in more detail.
‘The plan provided a multi-layered conservation-planning approach designed to complement the architectural and historic character and significance of the area. … The Project funded major improvements to the public realm, incorporating pedestrianisation, laying of Caithness stone paving with granite kerbs and the introduction of new bespoke street furniture.’ English Heritage, Newcastle’s Grainger Town, an Urban Renaissance.
Bristol ‘Old City public realm project – A key element of the public realm improvements strategy in the Old City is the removal of through traffic and parking, to enable the streets to be opened up for more pedestrian friendly uses.’ Nelson Street public realm strategy
When consultations began in 2016, #LiveableLimerick asks that a master plan be prepared for the Newtown Pery as a whole in order to inform the design of O’Connell Street. Your proposal as presented is a stop gap approach, allowing the status quo to continue without any firm commitment to the future use of the street. Again, you reference a great example, but your project does not stand up to ‘good international practice’.
Recommendation 3a Key pedestrianised areas need to identified and indeed be designed as plazas for gathering of people not just as wider pavements to facilitate café terraces or more pedestrian throughflow. Calling them plazas does not make them so.
4. SHARED SURFACE STREETS
Examples in Ireland of ‘shared spaces/streets’ which do not work
Howley’s Quay, Limerick
The shared space on Howley’s key does not work as a shared space. The traffic has priority and the space works as a through road, not a public space. Even during festivals in the city, pedestrians are pushed to the footpaths and cars dominate the ‘shared space’.
GPO, O’Connell Street, Dublin.
The shared space in front of the GPO in Dublin has been a spectacular failure. The two lanes of one-way traffic (a public transport corridor) on each side of a central median, is dangerous to cross and pedestrians have no priority, let alone any ability to share what essentially two road lanes with bumper to bumper double decker buses.
Examples in Ireland of ‘shared spaces/streets’ which do work
Clonakilty urban design and public realm improvement has been a huge success. Key to it’s success has been the significant slowing of car traffic, which can slowly move through it’s street using one lane only.
While shared surfaces can and do work, we submit that you proposal to retain the two-lane, one-way, movement corridor, with traffic moving at 30kn/h, a shared street proposal will not work.
DMURS (Design Manual for Urban Streets and Roads 2011) states:
Shared surface streets and junctions are highly desirable where:
Pedestrian activities are high and vehicle movements are only required for lower- level access or circulatory purposes. This include streets within Centres where a shared surface may be preferable over full pedestrianisation to ensure sufficient activity occurs during the daytime and the evening period. DMURS 4.3.4
Your proposal is not for lower level access of circulatory vehicle movement, it is for ‘through traffic’ via a ‘main thoroughfare’ that is O’Connell Street and until the through-traffic is prevented from using the street, then we submit that share surface is inappropriate and a serious safety hazard for pedestrians.
Traffic speed on the share surface
The key condition for the design of any shared surface is that drivers, upon entering the street, recognise that they are in a shared space and react by driving very slowly (i.e.20km/h or less). DMURS 4.3.4
DMURS also states
Local Authorities may introduce advisory speed limits of 10-20km/where it is proposed that vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists share the main carriageway. DMURS 4.1.1
While a reduction in vehicular speed from 50km is welcome, there is a conflict with the speed limit and the proposal to convert three out of the four blocks into shared-surface streets. We submit that the 30km speed limit is too fast for the shared street. It will be a safety issue for pedestrians, especially young children, older people and those with visual impairment and additional needs. The speed should be 10-20km/h as per statutory guidelines DMURS.
Blue Irish limestone is the selected paving with the addition of coloured recycled glass tiles that reflect the Clonakilty streetscape colours.
We also note that the proposed shared surface runs for three entire blocks without any mechanisms to slow traffic, ramping up Denmark Street and ramping down after the Roches Street junction.
Lane (carraigeway) width on the shared surface
The total carriageway width on Local streets where a shared surface is provided should not exceed 4.8m.
Your propose a carraigeway width varying from 6m to 6.25m and in fact if the street is measured between bollards, the carriageway is closer to 6.85m, a whole 2 meters wider that what is recommended for shared streets. This width is required for Arterial and Link Streets where ‘access for larger vehicles are occasionally required’. Wider street promote faster vehicle speeds.
Your proposal appears to be driven by the requirements of the NTA to keep all your options open for use of O’Connell Street as a transport artery. But this is our greatest street, one that should be a destination in itself. Its use should be for the people of Limerick, visitors, shoppers, workers, residents and as such, pedestrians should be the priority. The current proposal priorities the movement of vehicles, not people, and the blatant disregard for DMURS legislation will put people’s lives and wellbeing at risk.
Recommendation 4a The design objectives for shared spaces, some of which are set out above need to be the primary driver of design choices. The Councillor need to make clear that in the case of conflict, shared space design should win over arterial route not the other way around.
Recommendation 4b We recommend that the proposals should be re-evaluated by an independent experienced expert to ensure they adhere to current best practice, DMURS and shared space design principles (some outlined above) to guide Councillors’ responses to proposed design choices.
Due to the existing one-way system within the city centre, and the limited cycle network, it was not proposed to include cycle lanes on Phase 1 of the O’Connell Street Revitalisation as it would not provide additional cyclist connections over the relatively short length of the scheme. Part 8 Planning Report, July 2019, 4.4.5
We are very disappointed that no provisions have been made to incorporate safe cycling within the scheme. Safe cycling infrastructure is a key component of a liveable city.
LCCC Design Statement:
However, the inclusion of the bus lane on the eastern side provides a less heavily-trafficked lane for use by cyclists, improving ease of movement southbound. Part 8 Planning Report, July 2019, 4.4.5
In order for a safe cycling network to work, it must be safe for an eight year old to cycle unaccompanied. Your proposal that cyclists share an Arterial road with Buses, taxis and private cars is a terrifying prospect for parents of children and teenagers who might use this street. What are your proposals for children to access the cycle racks proposed for O’Connell Street?
Limestone is the traditional material of footpaths in Newtown Pery. The proposal to use 10 different surface finishes in a range of colours and textures colour from silver, buff, grey and pink is not appropriate for an historic street. Clonakilty 400 Urban Design, Ennis Town Centre and Waterford Viking Triangle are good examples of the use of high quality Irish Limestone in historic centres.
Each intervention in Limerick seems to have brought its own choice, brick (eg Cruises Street, various junctions), concrete (still being used opposite Peoples Park and at the Crescent for the most recent interventions), grey stone (Colbert Station), yellow (Bedford Row), and so on depending on the preferences of the individual architect. This is not a desirable way to treat the surfaces particularly in the historic centre.
Recommendation 5a. In the absence of cycle lanes, alternative measures should be introduced immediately to protect users of the street of all ages and abilities on bikes or other forms of vulnerable transport. Implementation of Recommendation 2a. above would be low cost and yet significantly help in this respect by reducing the risk of collision and the impact of same should it occur.
Recommendation 6. Before any final choices are made on such a major location, a historic wide city choice for all surface finishes across Newtown Pery needs to be adopted by the Council and choices here should be consistent with that. The patchwork of finishes throughout our city must stop. We have recommended Limestone as a traditional choice which could also where desirable be complemented (with lighting and other installations) so as to create a more contemporary feel.
Following a lengthy three year consultation process which involved much public engagement and a widespread demand for something transformational and ambitious, #LiveableLimerick are dismayed that this proposal fails to deliver on the Executive’s own stated vision for a transformative project for Limerick’s greatest street.
Admirable objectives have been hi-jacked and made impossible by one single design choice – to impact least significantly on through traffic. True, removal of through traffic would cause some disruption but we believe the negative impact on a small group is much outweighed by the advantages of creating a genuine shared space in that location to surrounding retail, to people living in the city and to those who come to visit and spend time in the city centre in terms of safely from collision and clean air and noise pollution. We also believe that the inconvenienced group (the through-traffic) in a city which is grid-patterned and not very congested also have many other options available even today before any other changes are made or roads built – especially in terms of traffic crossing over the city in a north-south direction.
We appreciate that a huge amount of time has been put into the project to date. However, the proposed two lane ‘movement corridor’, in any of the configurations outlined, remains a transport movement corridor and not a destination. It is therefore likely to fail in its objectives to revitalise the city centre. More worryingly by drawing on design principles from two contradictory objectives, it is at significant risk of exposing users to very dangerous conditions and Councillors need to be very aware of this.
Given the amount of money proposed to be spent and the disruption it will cause to visitors, residents, workers and traders, we call on the Local Councillors to interrogate this proposal, taking into account the recommendations set out above in the paramount interest of the safety of the users of the space. We believe that a better, transformative project is possible for our city.
We call on Councillors to put people to the centre of the design, take the brave decision to design a street to a standard worthy to take its place alongside other national and international cities.
We recognise that the Councillors have to weigh up many different considerations in making their decision and that is their decision. We have tried therefore in making the submission above to be helpful by drawing on the expertise available to us as a group to help inform their decision.
We are available to discuss this with Councillors and officials individually or as a group for further clarification.