Limerick has a very car-centric city centre, even by Irish standards. Compared to Cork, Galway and Dublin our streets are given over to private vehicles. And yet, in spite of the fact that the retailers in those other Irish cities fare very well, many people in Limerick argue that we should be even more accommodating of cars. They reason that if we want city centre to compete with the out of town shopping centres (the Crescent, Parkway, Childer’s Road, Jetland, etc) then we must provide free and plentiful parking in the centre too. More cars must equal more customers. It’s a compelling idea, but the problem with it is that it isn’t supported by evidence. In fact, research tells quite a different story, and the experience all around the world is if we want our retail sector to do well (and we certainly do) then we’d be better off focussing on measures that are proven to deliver customers to the door. There are two very effective strategies.
- Invest heavily in bus and bike infrastructure, simply because these are more effective at getting more people into the centre than cars are. [The Limerick Chamber of Commerce recognises this fact and recently encouraged shoppers to use use public transport in tandem with park and ride schemes – http://limerick.life/2017/11/29/christmas-shopping-set-to-boost-limericks-economy/ .]
- Create people-friendly streets rather than car-friendly streets.
Numerous studies have found that pedestrian traffic tends to increase significantly after a pedestrian friendly area is created (TEST 1989). “Shoppers are drawn by the pleasant shopping experience, safety, improved air quality and low noise levels” (Newby, et al. 1991, Forest 1981). And increased pedestrian footfall inevitably leads to increased sales. The same study notes that far more pedestrianisation schemes have had a positive effect on retail turnover (49%) than a negative on (2%).
An example is Herford, Germany (population 67,000) where footfall increased on streets closed to through traffic 31% after one year and 40% after four years since the change was made. (Hass-Klau, 1993)
In Germany a study of ten towns and cities who had removed traffic from their streets, showed that 28% of hotels, 63% of restaurants and 83% of retailers had reported increases in turnover. This compares with turnover increases of only 20% of hotels, 25% of restaurants and 20% of retailers in the same towns who were not on streets that were restricted to traffic. (Hass-Klau, 1993)
A study of vacant retail units in Leicester, UK (population 348,000) showed that streets with lower traffic rates had lower vacancy rates. Streets with zero traffic had the lowest vacancy rates (3.1%) and vacancy rates increased with traffic flows on that street (low-trafficked streets: 6.4%; medium-trafficked streets: 10.4%; high-trafficked street: 15.1%) . (Edward Erdman Research, 1989)
Traffic calming and pedestrian improvements on the main street of Lodi, California (population 62,134) resulted in retail vacancy rates dropping from 18% before the project to 6% three years after the project, with retail revenue (measured by sales tax receipts) increasing by 30% (Drennen, 2003).
The evidence is conclusive. Removing cars from streets is very good for retailers. And we know that, besides the benefits to this sector, there’s a whole load of other good reasons to do so. So what are we waiting for in this city? Progress has been painstakingly slow. We await the LUCROC (O’Connell Street Revitalisation) project proposals but the indications are that it will fail to grasp the nettle and is set to deliver only modest improvements to our principle street. As an urban realm upgrade William Street was a disappointing failure. As were Davis and Parnell Streets. In all of these projects we have been far too accommodating of private cars, in spite of the evidence that doing so isn’t in our best interests.
We have a number of other city centre streets with fantastic potential but which we use for on-street parking or as short cuts from one traffic artery to another, and this really is killing them. The likes of Cecil Street, Glentworth Street and Catherine Street could be transformed by simply blocking through-traffic and reducing on-street parking. [It wouldn’t require €9 million from the European Union to make these changes.] Even Roches Street has vastly greater potential as a retail street than it has as a thoroughfare for cars and busses, which is what it currently is.
Here’s an image summarising how prioritising streets for cars isn’t the best thing to do if you want a lot of people to come to it.
Hass-Klau C, 1993, Impact of Pedestrianisation and Traffic Calming on Retailing: A Review of the evidence from Germany and UK, Transportation Policy, Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp. 21-31 (PDF link)
Drennen E., 2003, Economic Effects of Traffic Calming on Small Urban Businesses, MA thesis (PDF link)
Edward Erdman Research (1989) Traffic free shopping, London: Edward Erdman Research (6 Grosvenor Street, London Wl, UK) (broadsheet), cited in Hass-Klau C, 1993