Saturday last was an ideal occasion to be vox-popping in the city centre. The sun was splashing its rays pleasantly upon the mid-morning shoppers, while the sounds of Abba lilted through the air thanks to an accordion player pitched on John Roberts Square.
Stopping people on the street to ask them a quick question is made all the less conspicuous when your recording tool of choice is a notebook as opposed to a microphone.
Considering that I do my utmost to avoid clip-boarded types whenever I venture up the town (for fear anyone considers me frugal, I’m a signed and sealed donator), it’s a task I derive little pleasure from.
However, the reaction I received from the 100 or so people whose days I briefly interrupted, be it yay or nay to my question, acted in a near redemptive-like manner to this particular discipline.
Whether it was the vast majority in favour of retaining Barronstrand Street’s current pedestrian zoning or the 20-odd citizens who wanted a motoring freeway restored to the area, all were happy to give of their time.
“Why would anyone want to bring cars up here again?” questioned one respondent.
“What the authority has done here is to their credit. It’s wonderful to walk around here without fear of a car or a truck zipping past you. It’s made Waterford an altogether more European city.”
Another friendly soul, one in favour of re-opening the street to wheeled traffic, referred to the haphazard carry-on that’s become a feature of the area in recent years.
“I’m regularly confused when walking around here,” he said. “I understand there’s got to be time set aside for loading and unloading from lorries and vans for the businesses on the pedestrianised streets, but it seems to go on ‘til about noon most days.
“And there’s got to be some people taking advantage of this. You only have to go down George’s Street in particular where there always seems to be a raft of private cars coming off O’Connell Street.
“I mean the place is either pedestrianised or not and right now it seems to be a bit of both, so why not leave cars back on it full-time?”
And on they went, volunteering their views, mostly against re-opening the area to traffic and making the whole task quite enjoyable.
“Re-open all this to traffic?” queried a woman I spoke to near The Book Centre. “I think we should have even more pedestrian streets than what we have already.”
In my view, re-opening any of our paved streets to vehicles, in the hope that it would generate increased levels of commercial activity in the area makes little, if any, sense.
As Waterford Chamber Monica Leech told Tom Young in our report this week, there’s no research which suggests that taking such a step would yield any positive results.
However, our pedestrian streets are regularly devoid of any life beyond 6pm daily, the lack of atmosphere in the city centre singling Waterford out among this island’s larger urban centres.
Just look at the buzz Spraoi creates around this area of the city each year. Just look at the wonderful sight the Carousel provided kids and shoppers with during the Christmas period in John Roberts Square. Even the Grinches among us acknowledged its tremendous presence.
As Monica Leech points out, “a bit of imagination” is called for from all interested parties to this great debate.
Had we the weather for it, the ‘café bar’ proposal mooted by Michael McDowell (remember him?) had tremendous merits, with the city centre streets tailor made for outdoor dining.
How about this: covering our pedestrian streets with tasteful transparent roofing, thus converting the city centre into a galeria might be costly, but it’s surely worth examining.
So let’s face reality here: pedestrianisation is here to stay and we’ve got to champion its benefits rather than moan about any of its perceived drawbacks.