One-way the only way forward for Church Street

Athlone’s Church Street is finally on track to receive a long-awaited makeover, to include a one-way traffic system, wider footpaths, and enhanced public spaces, after the council revealed plans for the street to a crowded public meeting on Monday evening (September 5 ).

After several years of wrangling over whether a one-way system was the most suitable option, it appears the council and members of the local business community are now broadly on the same page when it comes to the need for an overhaul of the town’s main thoroughfare, and with €3 million in funding available, now is the time to act.

Of the options outlined by consultants at the meeting, a westbound one-way traffic system is emerging as the preferred option. This would see traffic approaching from the west side of town over the bridge to turn left down Northgate Street and drive in a ‘loop’ around Station Road to access the town centre.

Design consultant Nicholas de Jong and traffic management specialist Andrew Archer gave a detailed presentation of the four different options on offer: retaining the current two-way traffic system, which would allow for minimal improvements to the streetscape; full pedestrianisation, which it was found would have a detrimental effect on traffic at many of the key surrounding junctions; and either east or westbound one-way traffic flows, with the eastbound option also rejected due to the traffic problems it would create.

Each option was carefully examined in terms of the extent to which it would provide a calm environment and a sense of place, with ease of access for all, and contribute to the economic vitality of the area. Mr Archer also provided video simulations of the impact of each on traffic flow and queuing times at key junctions, including the Crescent and the Northgate Street junction at Custume Place.

Mr de Jong highlighted the potential for Church Street, which he described as “a busy commercial street with traditional character and high quality buildings, mainly independent shops, and a variety of cafés and pubs”. However he said the street is currently dominated by traffic flows, and is not a pleasant and safe environment for users. It does not encourage browsing or social interaction, and there is limited space for outdoor activities, he said.

At its ‘pinch points’, footpaths on Church Street are just 900cm wide, whereas Government guidelines recommend a width of 1.8m.

With the introduction of a westbound one-way traffic system, footpaths could be widened significantly, creating a safer environment for pedestrians and allowing for ‘overspill’ for businesses such as outdoor seating or displays. There is also scope to create an attractive open space at Custume Place to better link the east side of the town across the bridge with the castle and art gallery.

Raised tables and a different road surface would be provided at pedestrian crossings to slow traffic and indicate that pedestrians have priority on the street.

Athlone councillors will formally propose the preferred option at this Monday’s Municipal District meeting, after which a public consultation process will commence. District manager Pat Keating said he hoped that works would commence early in 2017, with the bulk of the project to be completed within the year.

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