The over-arching aim of the Church Street enhancement project is to help make the centre of Athlone town a more attractive destination, a place where people want to live, work, visit, shop and socialise.
Currently, the street is not in any way suitable to the above. Narrow streets are flanked by narrower footpaths that in no way lend themselves to comfort or security, particularly to older citizens or those with disabilities. The option of street furniture outside of cafés is almost non existent, bar a few exceptions. The road surface, too, leaves a lot to be desired. All in all, the area is cramped and uncomfortable in its current state for both pedestrians and motorists, and has been long in need of redesigning.
The new plans for Church Street aim to rectify all of these issues. The introduction of the one-way includes the narrowing of the road and thus widening of the paths, making the area more pedestrian friendly. This will particularly improve the very narrow pinch points to the front of St Mary’s Church, on Dublin Gate Street and in the vicinity of Centra.
As well as widening the paths, more space will be created through decluttering the area of existing railings, bollards, and superfluous signage. This will be replaced by a coordinated range of contemporary street furniture, including new public lighting, seats, bollards and litter bins, and the provision of CCTV cameras. Soft landscaping, raised planters and street trees will also be introduced in selected locations.
Traffic calming measures being introduced including smart traffic lights are aimed at reducing traffic buildup in the area, again making it more pedestrian friendly, and safer for cyclists. There will be improved facilities for cyclists in form of bike stands at key locations.
An interesting feature will be the creation of a new public space at the Custume Place end of Church Street. The Custume Place-Northgate Street junction will be remodelled; traffic coming from the west across the Town Bridge will have to turn left down Northgate Street; traffic from Church Street can go straight on westwards or turn right down Northgate street. There will be wider pedestrian crossings and a new public space to the south side of Custume Place with a widened footpath. There will be high quality paving, raised planters, seating, bike stands, trees and improved street lighting.
The east end of Church Street will also enjoy a new public space outside St Mary’s Church with raised planters, updated street lighting, a new plaza area with seating, bike stands, trees, wider footpaths and a major pedestrian crossing. The Dublin Gate Street roadway will be reduced to one lane to facilitate increased width footpaths on both sides.
The provision of this revitalised urban environment is intended to reinforce the retail viability of the street, encouraging both visitors and locals to spend longer periods in the area, contributing to the economic growth of the town centre.