Q&A: Will the ‘cool’ Capel Street lead Dublin in a pedestrian direction?

Now that the recently pedestrianized street has received an international seal of approval, there is renewed impetus in the move of policymakers who want Dublin to be as car-free as possible.

So why is Capel Street the place to be for all self-respecting Dublin hipsters these days?

Because last week it was named by time out as the 22nd coolest street in the world. “You won’t find the glamorous shops of Grafton Street here, nor the tourist-trap pubs of Temple Bar,” the global travel magazine told its estimated monthly audience of 242 million people. “Instead you’ll find a maelstrom of culture and some of the best food in Dublin… [with] really always something new to discover.”

And why has this given a boost to policymakers who want Dublin to be as car-free as possible?

Because it’s been a little over three months since Capel Street was pedestrianized. Dublin City Council (DCC) will see time out’s tribute as an endorsement of her decision, which local Green Councilor Janet Horner claims has “the potential to transform downtown north”.

While DCC will now push ahead with plans to remove traffic from other downtown areas, that debate is far from over – some business owners on Capel Street and elsewhere are warning the policy will have both losers and winners.

What makes Capel Street so special for the totally unhip?

Especially its diversity. Originally developed by Humphrey Jervis in the late 17th century as a vital link between North and South Dublin, Capel Street was named after the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

Unfortunately, Arthur Capell later joined a plot to assassinate King Charles II and was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he cut his own throat. But Capel Street thrived, first as a chic residential area and then as a center of commerce. In recent years it has become home to many quirky pubs, independent shops and ethnic grocers.

One of its most famous champions is drag queen Rory O’Neill (Panti Bliss), who runs the Panti Bar there and sums up the broad appeal of Capel Street: “You can buy a lightbulb, lube and Brazilian rice – [then] Get a pint and go to a trading session.

How did Capel Street become a pedestrian zone?

It’s a legacy of Covid-19. During the summer of 2021, DCC experimented with closing traffic off Capel Street on weekend evenings. This trial program was very popular and was extended three times.

DCC then conducted a public consultation process, which attracted a record 7,000 submissions. In a survey, over 90 percent of visitors, more than 80 percent of businesses, and 75 percent of residents said the pedestrian mall “substantially improved” my experience of Capel Street.

As a result, the change was made permanent on May 20 this year, with only emergency vehicles and delivery vehicles allowed access from 6am to 11am.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Caroline Conroy, Dublin Mayor herald. “I used to cycle down this street to City Hall meetings, dodging the cars. It’s heaven now, day or night… If you haven’t been to Capel Street lately, come into town and see what you’re missing!”

and time out do you definitely agree?

Yes. The magazine’s poll polled 20,000 people around the world and told them they “wanted to know about the places locals love.” It placed Capel Street at number 22 on a list of 33, ahead of streets in New York, Sydney, Tokyo and Madrid (Montreal’s Rue Wellington took first place).

“It may be difficult to spot Dublin’s coolest street right away, but spend a little time here and you’ll find that the buzz of Capel Street is like no other in the city.” time out reported.

Significantly, the author also identified the pedestrian precinct as a key element of Capel Street’s appeal – saying this has made it “the ideal place to sip a pint in the sun and just hang out.”

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Tailor Louis Copeland, one of Capel Street’s best-known business owners

So why isn’t this all good news?

Because while extra footfall can be a boon for bars and restaurants, it’s not so easy for stores that sell bulky goods that are difficult to carry.

Louis Copeland is one of Capel Street’s best-known business owners, a tailor whose prominent clients include Bill Clinton, Pierce Brosnan and Brian O’Driscoll. Last May he slammed the driving ban as “a crazy decision… the inner city equivalent of trying to pedestrianize the M50”.

“No one is going to take a chainsaw on the Luas,” Mr Copeland said The Irish Time. “[Pedestrianisation] will discourage people from coming onto the street if they can’t park outside for collections.” Mr Copeland has since softened his stance but called for some sort of “compromise”.

It’s not just high-end retailers who have reservations. “They have five charity shops down the road, all of which rely on people coming by and leaving donations out of their cars,” Michael Burns, who runs Goodwill Thriftshop, told TheJournal.ie.

“Could you expect an elderly lady to drive to the Jervis Center and come by with boxes of books? That will not happen.”

But is that a done deal now?

Not quite. There is still a possibility of a legal challenge, which Independent Councilor Mannix Flynn predicted at a DCC meeting last May. Mr Flynn recently fought – and won – a High Court case with residents against the proposed Strand Road cycle path in Sandymount.

However, Transport Secretary Eamon Ryan has claimed that a car-free Capel Street will soon be a matter of course. As he points out, no one wants to divert traffic to Henry Street or Grafton Street (both of which were converted in the 1980s) today.

“Every time we went to the pedestrian zone, people were afraid that it would do real harm. We have never reversed any of those decisions…this is the way forward.”

Finally, what’s next on the DCC pedestrian zone agenda?

Pretty much. City Councilors recently voted overwhelmingly to include the fully pedestrianized South William Street in DCC’s new Dublin City Development Plan 2022-2028.

Parliament Street became car-free three nights a week in July and August and Council proposals to make it permanent are unveiled this month.

The big prize, however, is College Green. DCC has strived to transform this prime central location into a European-style public space since 2016, but the project keeps falling behind. In July, for example, a change in EU procurement rules meant that DCC had to terminate the design contract and re-bid.

The clashes will continue – but now that ‘cool’ Capel Street has received an international seal of approval, Dublin’s pro-pedestrian lobby is definitely at the forefront.

https://www.independent.ie/regionals/dublin/dublin-news/q-and-a-will-cool-capel-street-lead-dublin-in-a-pedestrian-direction-41955401.html Q&A: Will the ‘cool’ Capel Street lead Dublin in a pedestrian direction?

Fry Electronics Team

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