As the local schools return to normal and the commute roads become particularly laden with vehicle congestion, Town Mayor, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, has implored the creation and implementation of a traffic management plan for the Retreat area, in which three education establishments are located, Marist College, Our Lady’s Bower and Athlone Community College.
“Bus Éireann currently operates 18 school buses into Athlone’s secondary schools with all services dropping and collecting students to and from the Retreat Road area.
“There are approximately another 15 private operators also dropping and picking up children in this area at the same times, both morning and evening.
“However, following on from the recent Government/NPHET announcement which states that all post primary school transport services must operate to a 50 percent capacity to allow for social distancing, the number of Bus Eireann buses converging in the Retreat Road area will rise to approximately 36 buses when this exercise is complete.
“A doubling of the Bus Eireann fleet, converging in the Retreat Road area, twice daily, could potentially bring this part of town to a standstill unless a proper traffic management plan is put in place. Work on this plan needs to commence now and I am calling on Westmeath County Council, Garda Siochana Athlone, Bus Eireann, school management from the Marist College, Athlone Community College, Our Lady’s Bower and representatives of the private bus operators to come together very soon to discuss the options and agree a plan.
“There had been engagement pre-Covid-19 between Bus Éireann and the schools, Gardai and the Council in relation to the possibility of dropping off and picking up pupils in the car-park adjacent to Athlone Town Football Club, but that plan did not materialise at the time. With the dramatic increase in the number of buses now planned for the Retreat Road area, I believe this proposal should be discussed again along with any other possible options.
“Bus Éireann previously stated that the Retreat Road area was so congested that the situation there had become ‘unsafe’. This is a very concerning declaration from Bus Éireann and this was at a time when the company only had 18 buses servicing the area.
“In a number of weeks they intend to operate 36 buses in the area. I am therefore very concerned for the safety of other road users and in particular for the school children attending the three secondary schools in the area.
“I am also very conscious of the long suffering residents in the Retreat area who live through this congestion every day. We cannot allow their road to become a car park and we can not allow the area to remain ‘unsafe’. A well considered and sensible plan is required. All stakeholders need to play their part in devising this plan, after-all children’s safety is at risk until we do,” Cllr. O’Rourke remarked.
Town Mayor welcomes outdoor fitness park
Meanwhile, the Town Mayor has lauded the recent opening of an outdoor fitness park at Athlone Regional Sports Centre.
“I was delighted to have the opportunity to walk the full extent of this fabulous new public amenity. The park was brilliantly designed and affords a range of options, both active and passive, for locals to enjoy in a wonderful outdoor setting in the heart of Athlone.
“The total investment in the new park is in the region of €1m with Westmeath County Council investing €200,000 and €800,000 coming through a very welcome state grant.
“Individuals can come and simply walk or run, play basketball, have picnics, sit and enjoy the tranquility of the area or try out a host of activities like the game petanque or maybe climb the rope web!
“With all the focus now on health and wellbeing and with Covid-19 still a threat, the opening of this brilliant public amenity could not have come at a better time. We are safest when we are outdoors, breathing in the fresh air, getting some exercise, while of course maintaining a safe distance from others.
“I would also encourage parents to consider this new park as a good drop off point for school children in the morning going to the secondary schools in the Retreat Road area. This park has new access points along the greenway and now has very convenient access to the Marist College back gate in particular. All three secondary schools are now very short walks along the greenway which is great news.
“I would like to pay tribute to Liam Cunningham, the Manager of the Regional Sports Centre, who was the driving force behind this project. He saw the opportunity originally and had the vision to make good use of the abundance of land surrounding the Regional Sports Centre.
“In Athlone we now have a world class hub for sport and recreation in Lissywollen, which is the envy of every town and city. All in the one area we have Athlone Town Soccer Club, Athlone GAA, a new tennis club on the way, the Regional Sports Centre, our children’s playground, the skate-park, the greenway and now the outdoor fitness park.
“I hope individuals use this fine facility, enjoy it and of course I trust that people will respect it and ensure that they leave it as they found it,” Cllr. O’Rourke concluded.