Time for a Treaty City Greenway

In Limerick city we have the good fortune to be able to build an urban greenway throughout our city along one of the most scenic rivers in Ireland. This greenway could be developed along with the improvements to the flood defences throughout the city. The Council should commission a feasibility study into the provision such an amenity. By way of comparison, the Westport to Achill Greenway has been an extraordinary success. In its first year it attracted 80,000 visitors who spent €7 million euro in the region. The greenway cost about €7.6 million and the county has seen an immediate return on this investment. In addition to paying for itself,  the Westport greenway has created more than 200 jobs in the area. The time is right for Limerick to look at developing a greenway. Nigel Dugdale, writing in the Limerick Leader mapped out a potential path for such a greenway in Limerick. This potential Treaty City Greenway would be unique in Ireland.

In Waterford, the recent development of the Deise Greenway, from Waterford to Dungarvan, has seen over 250,000 visitors in 2017. A detailed analysis of the greenway users shows it is benefit both to locals and to tourists. These are significant figures, not least because Waterford has had to deal with many of the same issues Limerick has faced over the last two decades in terms of urban regeneration and unemployment. The Deise greenway is both a driver of community engagement and economic activity. It is used by both locals and tourists in significant numbers.

The recent surge in domestic tourists to Limerick shows that Limerick’s tourist strategy is working. The city is developing a tourist trade but we still lag significantly behind our neighbours in Kerry, and Clare, and are the nearest city, Galway. In urban terms Limerick still lags behind other Irish cities for domestic tourism. The below table shows the significant between tourist figures for Limerick compared to other Irish cities. Limerick is 100km from both Cork and Galway and yet has barely 30% of the number of domestic tourists of either city.

City Numbers
Dublin 1,497,000
Cork 1,113,000
Galway 1,024,000
Waterford 327,000
Limerick 284,000

The above figure is actually a significant improvement. Limerick recorded the biggest rate of increase in the number of domestic trips last year — up 73,000 to 284,000 — an annual increase of almost 35%. When seen in such stark figures it is clear that Limerick is not realising the fantastic potential the city has. A greenway along the rivers in the city would enhance the tourist experience in the city. Crucially, the greenway could eventually link up with the Great Southern Greenway, which connects Limerick to Kerry.

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River in Corbally

Crucially, a greenway could also connect the communities of Mungret, Parteen, Westbury, Castletroy and Annacotty to the city in a way that completely avoids the need for cyclists and pedestrians to share the road with drivers. We could run a cycleway from Mungret to the city centre without having to interact with the Dock road. This would be an extraordinary scenic way to enter the city, via the Clondrinagh bank and Spillane’s Tower.

IMG_2913.jpgLikewise, a cycleway through Clonmacken could connect the city to Bunratty via Coonagh without having to interact with the N18.

The work the council have undertaken to connect the University of Limerick to the city centre via the remodelled Park canal river path needs to be recognised and praised. It has been a fantastic development. This project would serve to extend this excellent work to other areas of the city. It would help develop the tourist business in the city. It would improve the amenities available to Limerick citizens. In terms of costs, we can see that successful greenways cover their costs in terms of return of investments to their region.

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River in Clondrinagh by the Dock Road

In time, the Treaty City Greenway could link up with the other greenways that are currently being proposed.

The council should commission a feasibility study into the possibility of integrating a cycleway to the river banks in the city. Limerick city is improving month to month. This Treaty City Greenway could be another step towards developing Limerick into the city we know it can be, for both local citizens and tourists.

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Developing a riverside city

A perennial issue for Limerick city is how to interact with the Shannon river in a way that protects the river, promotes healthy and safe activities and also protects the city from the risk of flooding that the Shannon presents. While on the face of it these may seem like competing challenges, they also present an extraordinary opportunity for the city. Rather than trying to work out how these interests compete, we should work towards seeing how they can complement each other. Limerick city could be a city with a riverside park running right through it, from Parteen, along the Longpavement, by the Sandy Bank in Corbally, by Clondrinagh and Mungret on the south of the river and by Westfields, Clonmacken and Coonagh on the west of the river. This would be an ambitious plan, but we are an ambitious city and we are able to realise such a project.

In some respects we can learn from approaches taken in other countries. In Australia, for example, the following is given as the various parkland functions that must be considered during all stages of parkland provision include:

  • Sport and recreation: providing for a range of formal (organised sport and structured activity) and informal (exercise, play and socialising) recreation activities;
  • Culture and heritage: preserving places with significant heritage or cultural connections;
  • Environmental conservation: protecting wildlife habitat and maintaining ecological linkages;
  • Landscape and buffer zones: enhancing the visual appeal of urban landscapes, providing green buffers and softening of the built environment;
  • Physical linkages: linking larger areas of open space, natural features and community facilities through walkable corridors and greenways;
  • Environmental quality: ameliorating the impact of urban heat island effect and improving air quality; and
  • Water quality: filtering stormwater and run-off and providing buffer zones for watercourses and wetlands.

Each of the above can be achieved in Limerick, and we can have a city that grows to be the modern city we want Limerick to be. In it is clear that the bigger you want a city to be, the more important the places you don’t build on become. Limerick city is envisaged to grow to between 200,000 and 300,000 people in the coming years. Such growth would radically transform the city but if we are to achieve it, we need to think coherently about how we will structure such growth and what amenities we will provide. The bigger the population, the greater the risk for urban sprawl, for encroachment on green spaces, for exhausting the already existing services. As well as planning where to build, the city needs to decide where it won’t build, and how it will build in a sustainable fashion. These concerns must be addressed if we are to avoid the mistakes that were made in previous developments of Limerick city.

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From Clondrinagh to Clonmacken

Limerick city council are to be commended for the ongoing works they have undertaken to improve the footpaths, cycle paths and walkways by the river. The path connecting the city to the University of Limerick and the improvements to the parklands at Westfields have opened these routes to everyone from Limerick to enjoy. These walkways also remind us just how beautiful the river running through Limerick, and the habitats along the riverbank are. When we see these developments it’s hard not to envisage a time when the river and riverbanks from Ardnacrusha to Mungret and Coonagh will all be connected by parkland, with walkways and cyclepaths for everyone to enjoy. However, for this parkland to become a reality, we need the same leadership the city council has shown to date to develop a plan to achieve this goal.

This parkland would have the twin benefit of allowing for periodic flooding of the river without risking property damage and expensive flood defences. We should develop parkland that can be flooded as necessary, to prevent flooding at areas of the city where housing and commercial stock already exists. The city, and the river in general, has become more prone to flood events, as we deal with decades of poor management verging on systemic neglect. Such parkland has been successfully developed elsewhere and provides both an amenity for the city and a bulwark against devastating, periodic flooding.

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Individual plans that can be integrated into a coherent whole should be developed for each stretch of the river. The council have delivered, and are delivering, on excellent amenities in Mungret, in addition to the works carried out by the Park Canal and works on Westfields to date.

With this in goal in mind, it is crucial that the proposed housing development in Clonmacken does not occur. As a stand alone development it is further urban sprawl on the edge of a special area of conservation. It is on a site that has already partially flooded in recent years, and it is not suitable for housing in any form. The city council could use this land to facilitate an expansion of westfields park. The city has made great leaps forward in the last number of years and we should be ambitious for what we can achieve as a city. By adopting a long term project to develop a riverside park that stretches for miles either side of the city we would be creating something unique for the city, and something that all Limerick people could enjoy. We would also be future proofing ourselves against the risks of flooding. There are significant benefits to the city from developing a park in a manner that were in to flood it need not be devastating. The Trust for Public Land in America has been working on these solutions and have shown the benefits to cities who adopt this approach.

We can envisage a Limerick city where the river and parkland are blended into the city, where the beauty of the river could be enjoyed by all. Where a runner or walker, couples and families could enjoy the extraordinary beauty at our doorstep. We can plan for a future where tourists coming into the city could enter beside miles of riverside parks, where people could cycle with ease from the city centre to Bunratty and onwards towards the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, and out towards the estuary and Kerry on the other. We have the ability to achieve this, our city council have shown they can deliver on high level park projects. We need the leadership to see how a city, riverside and river can blend into a coherent ecosystem.

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Developing the Market Quarter (1)

There is a new vibrancy in Limerick City centre. The streets are busier, new bars and restaurants are opening, people are even back swimming in the river. We are at point in Limerick where we can again start planning and building a city centre around what is the very best of Limerick life. A city isn’t any one experience, at their best they are a fabric of integrated spaces between commercial spaces, recreational spaces, cultural amenities and residential areas. Limerick has the raw materials and the potential to offer all of these to a high standard but it will always struggle to do so until proper plans are put in place to develop each part of the above fabric.  The cultural core of the city could be constructed around the Milk Market, the so-called Market quarter.

The Milk Market was redeveloped and reopened to the public in June 2010. Since then it has taken its place as one of the premier markets in the country, it has won architectural awards, it has hosted concerts and operas and slowly but surely given rise to the idea of a Market Quarter in Limerick. Through all these events, the Milk Market is one of the most successful additions to Limerick’s social fabric and the Market Quarter is the main area of night life in the city.

The council should grasp the opportunity to commission a master plan for the Market Quarter. For all the strength of the Milk Market and the nightlife in the Market Quarter, we need to focus on what the Milk Market could be if further amenities could be provided. We need to learn from what works elsewhere, and what we can develop as unique to Limerick. Taking the Market quarter to be the area bounded by the following streets, Patrick’s Street, Cruises street, Denmark street, Ellen Street, Carr Street, Robert Street, Mungret Street, High and John streets it has the potential to be the core of Limerick’s city centre. The Milk Market has the capacity to be the beating heart of Limerick’s revival, but only if a plan is made and followed. When we think of what we want the city to be, how do we get there from here? How do we design a place that isn’t just the heart of Limerick city but also at the heart of the Midwest of Ireland? If we were to design such a place, what facilities would it have? If not the Market Quarter, where should we provide spaces for our entire community to come together? How should the Opera Centre integrate into the Market Quarter?

The Market Quarter is a ten minute walk from King John’s castle, it is a ten minute walk from the Market’s Field. It is a  thirty minute walk from Thomond Park and the Gaelic Grounds. It is 2.5 kilometres from Mary Immaculate College, 4 kilometres from Limerick Institute of Technology, 4.5 kilometres from the University of Limerick. It is a 35 minute drive from Ennis and from Nenagh, it is a 40 minute drive from Newcastle West. More-so than just the city, it can be the very heart of the region if we have the vision to develop it as such.

The relative lack of development in the streets around the Market Quarter is actually an opportunity to create a unified vision of what that Quarter should be. It is arguable that the Cornmarket building was a missed opportunity to develop this area some two decades ago, we need to be careful to not make the same mistakes. The City Council should begin the planning process to develop new amenities within the Market Quarter such as a new Civic Museum, a new art gallery, a multi-purpose cultural centre (a cinema/theatre/event space) and set the standard that when these buildings are built they themselves inspire civic pride, that the Market Quarter is a place known through out Ireland as a place to visit. The Market Quarter has excellent cultural facilities in spaces such as the Hunt Museum and Ormston House.

The city has the chance to develop the Market Quarter into a leading shopping, social and cultural district outside of Dublin, if it has the vision to grasp the opportunity afforded to it. The lack of development of the Opera Centre is actually a vital chance for the city to get things right. Whatever is built there should meet the following criteria. It should be mixed use. It should ensure that  Patrick Street, Ellen Street and Robert Street result in proper interaction on street level. Too often large developments in Limerick have resulted into one facade of the building being effectively dead space on for the public. Ellen street and Robert street should converge into a public space with a square or plaza. Ideally this space would be used as an expansion space for the Market and for civic purposes.

When we look at the other vacant sites around the Market Quarter, we need to see them as opportunities to make the city something better. We need to think what is the next part of the puzzle that helps Limerick improve. We are at the edge of a fantastic opportunity, if we can take it. Limerick City Council has been taking brave steps to rebuild and reimagine Limerick City, now is the time to take another one and set out what we want our city centre to be and to build it around the Market Quarter.

When we think of the amenities that Limerick city currently lacks, we should see the Market Quarter as their natural development space. An area of the city where the city can come together to celebrate itself.

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Speed Limits through Westfields Park

Limerick City Council have made a huge and successful effort at improving the quality of parks in Limerick over the last decade. The work on the walkways out to the University and through Westfields have added to and improved amenities that the entire city can enjoy. It is somewhat surprising then, that there are plans to increase the speed limit through Westfields Park. The Condell Road bisects one of the most important parks on the Northside of the city. As with any proposal that affects the city, the benefits of the proposal should be weighed against the costs of the proposal.

The benefits are fairly tangible, a driver will save circa one minute traversing the 2.5km of road through the park. This is on clear roads with no traffic. The costs are fairly intangible. The road will be less safe for cyclists and pedestrians and the park itself will be less pleasant. We can say for certain that there will be an increase in accidents. It has been shown in repeated studies that increasing speeds causes an increase in accidents. Based on work by Nilsson in Sweden, a change in average speed of 1 km/h will result in a change in accident numbers by 4% for a 50 km/h road.

Similarly in the UK, based on empirical studies by Taylor, where changes in accident numbers associated with a 1 km/h change in speed have been shown to vary between 1% and 4% for urban roads and 2.5% and 5.5% for rural roads, with the lower value reflecting good quality roads and the higher value poorer quality roads.

The science is clear then, increasing speeds increases the likelihood of accidents. While this unfortunate truth needs to be weighed up with any speed limit increase, it is conceivable that a benefit of an increased speed could be such as to justify the subsequent increase in accidents. Is the speed limit through the park such a circumstance?  Is a benefit of a minute per driver enough to justify the increased risk of accidents in a park used by cyclists and pedestrians.

To place this argument in context, it is useful to consider the impact of accidents at the various speed limits. The European Commission studies make it clear. “Pedestrians, cyclists and moped riders have a large risk of severe injury when colliding with a motor vehicle. The difference in mass is huge and the collision energy is mainly absorbed by the lighter ‘object’. In addition, pedestrians, cyclists and moped riders are completely unprotected: no iron framework, no seatbelts, and no airbags to absorb part of the energy. For a collision between a car and a pedestrian, the following relationship between speed and survival chance was established Ashton and Mackay (1979)”

Car Speed % fatally injured pedestrians
32 km/h 5
48 km/h 45
64 km/h 85

It is worth reflecting on the devastating impact a collision at 64 km per hour has on a vulnerable road user. It is fatal in 85% of incidents. Again, is this the risk that users of the park should be subject to? Even at the current 50km per hour, the consequences of an accident are stark, with a 45% fatality rate.

It is also important to note that driving is a skill where studies show people display a tendency to over-estimate their abilities. Drivers, as a general rule, are not accurate at self assessing their driving abilities. It is possible that many accidents don’t just occur because of bad driving, they occur because people over-estimate their ability which leads to complacency and bad driving.

These studies clearly highlight just how dangerous high speeds are to vulnerable road users. With that in mind, it is important to note that it is for these reasons we prohibit cycling on motorways, likewise, it is why we restrict speed limits in urban areas. While these points are obvious they don’t seem to be prevalent in the debate about the speed limit through the park. We need to have a serious conversation about how safe we want all users of Westfields Park to be, and if the benefits outweigh the risks.

Upgrading Limerick’s Riverwalks

When we talk about a livable city, when we talk about how we want Limerick to be in twenty years time, there is broad agreement that we want to make the city centre a more pleasant place to live. Limerick city centre does not currently make the most of two important aspects of the city. One, of course, is the river, but another, not so often discussed, is the Special Areas of Conservation that lie in close proximity to the city centre. These nature reserves at Westfields and Corbally are areas of tranquility very close to the city centre. Along with the Park Canal walk out to the University of Limerick, these areas have the potential to transform how we see the city.

Limerick city is lucky to have Special Areas of Conservation close to our city centre. We have a city criss-crossed with wildlife reserves and parkland. The council has recently focused on upgrading the cycle and footpaths through Westfields and along the Park canal and out to the University of Limerick. Both projects have been a considerable success and the Council should be commended for the work that has been accomplished to date. Ideally a similar focus could be turned towards providing similar amenities around King’s Island and Corbally. In Limerick we should always consider that we live at the edge of the Shannon estuary and our city is surrounded by areas of tremendous natural beauty.

There is another reason to upgrade these facilities. In 2014 the flood protections around King’s Island failed and caused significant flooding on the Island field. While the council are currently completing repair work by Verdant Crescent, it is clear that at some point in the near future more extensive repair work will be required to the various floodwalls  not just around King’s Island, but also around Corbally. Ideally these flood protections would also have the benefit of improving the current pathways around the city’s rivers.  Is it possible to increase the city’s flood protections while simultaneously increasing the amenities available to the city? As a result of recent flooding along the entire Shannon, the city needs to make sure it is prepared for any future floods.

We should not see the 2014 flood in isolation. The Shannon river has always flooded. Its origin myth expressly warns us that it is a river prone to flooding*. In recent years flooding has been a growing issue all along the Shannon, partly due to climate change and partly due to unsuitable building in areas that were traditionally reserved as floodplains for the river.

Repairing the flood defences is obviously a costly exercise and one that requires significant planning. One factor that should be considered when the flood protections are repaired is to extend beyond the current flood walls but rather turn them into amenities in their own right. Every flood wall could incorporate a cycle-track and a footpath to increase and promote the number of river walks in the city. These paths would open these areas while also serving to protect them from future flooding.

To take the example of the Salmon-wier/Sandy path in Corbally. The Salmon-weir/Sandy path along the Abbey river and onto the Shannon river is an incredible amenity to have so close to the city. This path runs from O’Dwyer bridge around the Lax weir. On one side of the path is a river while on the other is a large nature reserve. It is a shame to see it atrophy to the point where it is only usable when walked in single file and wholly unsuitable for cyclists or people with buggys. It is so hidden away that many people in the city seem to forget about its presence. While this adds a sense of tranquility to the path, it also means that many, perhaps even most, of the people of Limerick can’t enjoy it.

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The path itself is a state of poor repair, with its surface too uneven to be a pleasant cycle. When the flood wall is repaired, the repairs should allow the path to be accessible for all users, and ideally would allow for access to the river to boats, fishermen, swimmers and kayakers. Currently bright blue kingfishers are nesting near the red path in Corbally, the area is a vital wildlife reserve and bird sanctuary and any development should be sensitive to the wildlife living there. It shouldn’t be an either/or debate between those who wish to preserve it and those who wish to utilise it.

An unusual feature of the Salmonwier path is that all the public seats face away from the river, which is understandable when you consider that across from the path was formerly the city dump at Longpavement. The dump closed in 2002 but long awaited plans for its redevelopment stalled during the financial crisis. In that respect it’s not surprising the path has been neglected, its proximity to the city dump would have impeded its popularity.

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Thomond Park in the distance

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We should be seeking to develop a walking and cycle trail the allows everyone in the city appreciate how fortunate the city is to have wildlife reserves so close to the city centre. This path, which joins the red path at the Lax weir (a 12th century weir across the Shannon mentioned in Charters that pre-date the Magna Carta) has the potential to be a significant amenity for the city, and would complement the Westfields and UL paths. As mentioned, Limerick city centre is nestled in amongst areas of natural beauty, it should be open to all to appreciate it.

Over the last decade, the Council have made a serious and determined effort to rebuild and repair the river paths through Westfields park, along the boardwalks and most recently, out the Park Canal and along the river to the University of Limerick. Each of these projects allow users enjoy pleasant walks through nature reserves and along the river. It is easy to envisage a time when the path around Corbally and King’s Island is accessible to everyone, and for the benefit of everyone.

 

 

*Two separate origin myths allude to flooding.

Legend has it that Síonnan, ,the daughter of Lodan (a son of the Celtic God of the Sea, Lír), came to the Shannon Pot in search of the great Salmon of Wisdom. The great salmon was angered at the sight of Síonnan and caused the pool to overflow and drown the maiden. Thus the Shannon was created and still bears her name today.”

and another

“According to the Dinnsenchas, Luimnech is so named from a contest which took place there between two swineherd champions, who were brothers named Rind and Foebur, sons of Smucall, in the employment of Bodb of Sid Femin, the fairy King of Munster, and Ocaill of Sid Cruschan, the fairy King of Connacht. The assembly which has come from the south and north were so engaged in admiring the feats of the champions, that the tide carried off their shields which they had left on the strand. So looking from Tul Tuinne,a hill beside Lough Derg, they exclaimed, “is luimnechda in t-inbuir?” – “the inver is full of shields”. So the inver was named Luimneach.” (Inver in an anglicisation of the Irish for estuary).

 

 

 

 

 

Time to Re-open the Corbally Baths?

In any discussion on what extra amenities Limerick city should have, one that is frequently overlooked is a safe place for open-water swimming near the city centre. It is an unusual situation that a city with a river running through it doesn’t provide a safe place to swim in the city environs. Limerick city used to have such a facility in the Corbally baths, but they have been closed and allow fall into disrepair. It is time for the Council to adopt an action plan for this facility. As the Council works to the improve the amenities available, one simple measure would be to restore the baths to their previous standard.

Open water swimming is perhaps unusual in that the practitioners don’t require a wide range of facilities, what they do require is the assurance that the water they will swim in is safe. At a push, they like a point with an ease of access to and egress from the water. While it is easy to imagine a vastly updated Baths, it is certainly arguable that many open water swimmers would just like the vegetation scaled back and an assurance that the water quality has improved.

The decline of open water swimming in Limerick can be tied to the decline in water quality in the Shannon river from the 1960’s on. Emma Gileece, an Architectural Historian from Limerick has written about the decline of Ireland’s Public baths, including those at Corbally. We have allowed a significant number of public baths fall into a state of disrepair despite the fact that open water swimming has been increasing year on year. There is a large community of open water swimmers across Ireland and Limerick is no exception.

The Corbally baths opened to the Limerick public in 1947. On their 70th anniversary it would be an apt time for the city council to announce the long awaited restoration plans. In their heyday in the 1950’s and 1960’s the baths were a well used and much loved facility. The decline of the baths, and the failure to replace them with modern open water facilities, has the affect that people are unsure where is safe to swim in the city. It has also removed a key social activity in city life.

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Last update, 1 month before the main drainage came on stream

Up until the completion of the main drainage, a staggering 4 million gallons of wastewater was discharged daily into the Shannon and Abbey rivers from more than 50 outfalls. The impact of this wastewater was to render the river unsafe for swimming, and had a significant impact on the environment of the river.

The main drainage project was completed in May 2004 and the water quality of the river has improved significantly since then. Somewhat strangely, it was in April 2004 that Limerick City Council last updated the public on the water quality of the water in the baths. It is unfortunate that in the intervening years, no update has been provided as to the water quality in the Corbally baths.

The action plan for the baths should be multiphase. As a first step, the Council should test the water quality to ensure it is safe for swimming. As a second step, the Council should ensure that there is safe access to and egress from the water, along with the removal of reeds and any hidden impediments to swimming that might cause swimmers to get tangled or injured in the water. A third phase could be the upgrading of the facilities themselves. These upgrades could be minimal or a complete redesign, depending on the nature and needs of the users.

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Current access point

In recent years, more and more activity has returned to the river, with the revival of the annual Thomond Swim through Limerick city centre and the provision of sailing and kayaking on the river by both Get West and Nevsail watersports. These activities are possible because of the success of the main drainage project. It has been a tremendous success and one the City Council should take credit for. It is time for the City Council to take another step and refurbish the Corbally baths. The Baths themselves are only 3 kilometres from the city centre and are an ideal amenity for the entire city to benefit from.

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Open water

The Thomond swim and the Castleconnell triathlon has shown that people want to swim in the river, it is up to the City Council to ensure that they are given the facilities to do so. Even allowing for the health benefits of open water swimming, providing a safe bathing place would allow Limerick people reconnect with the river in a fundamental way. If nothing else, the Corbally Baths are a serene and peaceful point on the river, and one that should be made as open as possible.

In order to fully appreciate the amenity that the river can be to the city, people have to be able to interact with it in a safe manner. When we talk about improving Limerick city, it needn’t be large projects. Small projects that promote increased interaction amongst communities can have the impact of making an entire city a more pleasant place to live.

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Re-imagining O’Connell street

As the momentum for a re-developed O’Connell street gathers pace, it is important to consider how O’Connell street interacts with the entire city. O’Connell street isn’t just the nominal main street through the city. It is the core of the city. It is the major artery through which all aspects of the city must interact.

Limerick city centre’s population has been declining in successive censuses, largely because the city centre is not perceived to be a pleasant place to live. The overall population of the city, city suburbs and county have been rising over the same period, so the population decline is unique to the city centre. Limerick city is a primary driver of the entire Midwest region, any decline in the city will ultimately feed out into the entire region. We need to build a city centre where people choose to live, choose to visit and choose to socialise in, and in order to do so, we need to work out what is currently hampering the liveability of Limerick city centre.

Firstly, Limerick city centre does not have a central public civic space at the heart of the city. There is no central town square or park from which the city radiates. Secondly, Limerick city is bisected by several large roads, that carry people through the city but add little to the atmosphere of the city itself. The obvious, and much called for, solution is to transform O’Connell street into that civic space the city needs.

Depending on how we want the city to develop, we need to examine if we can continue to have our main street as a car thoroughfare above all else. The most important aspect of the redesign has to consider the role of cars in any new design. If we want to revitalise the city centre, and the city overall, we need to make the immediate core of the city a more pleasant place to live but in order to do so we need remove or reduce the primacy of the car on the street.

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(Image copyright Great Limerick Run)

Instead of being a destination in and of itself, the lay-out of O’Connell street ensures that the car is the primary user of the street. It turns the city into a carriageway to be traversed. This function has the unfortunate but inevitable effect of ensuring O’Connell street isn’t a place to spend time on. We effectively have a single direction dual carriageway running through the centre of the city. The impact of a continually moving metal wall of cars prevents the city from having a pleasant core, and the lack of a pleasant core makes the city overall a more unpleasant place to live.

 

Before re-designing O’Connell street it has to be accepted that any new design needs to be either car free or car restricted to a great extent. You cannot have a pleasant main street, and have it function as a dual carriageway. Going further, we cannot develop O’Connell street into a civic space and have the current volume of traffic on the street. The most successful commercial streets in Ireland are car free, so we know it works from a business point of view.

It is easy to imagine the city centre we want Limerick to have but is the political will there to deliver this city for its citizens? It is easy to envisage a city of tree lined boulevards, pleasant restaurants, lively bars and large civic spaces where festivals can be held. It is hard to envisage that city occurring while the main thoroughfare is a dual carriageway. Limerick has the enviable design that allows us imagine wide pleasant streets. That we don’t currently have them is largely because we prioritise car traffic and car parking over having a city centre that is pleasant for all users.

At present, the design of O’Connell street is acting as a barrier to the cohesion of the disparate areas of the city. It segregates the city in such an effective manner that many people don’t realise just how large the impact it has on the city is. O’Connell street’s greatest failure is that the street is seen as just a street and not the civic centre of our city. Apart from the St. Patrick’s day parades, the street is not used by the city as anything other than for traffic. The Munster matches on the big screen showed that it is a significant space that can be used for other purposes.

The obvious counterpoint to this is that there is a reason the cars need to use O’Connell street. It is easy to see that car-free redevelopment of O’Connell street will have costs for other parts of the city, whether it is increased traffic on the inner orbital route or through Thomondgate, or a two way Henry street. The question is how can these issues be resolved while also redeveloping O’Connell street. Any redevelopment will need to address these concerns in addition to the new design of the street itself. For example, while a two way Henry street would ease pressure on O’Connell street, it could have the impact of making Arthur’s Quay park even more removed from the city centre. Any redevelopment will need to consider how we can utilise O’Connell street to ensure effective connectivity between the Market Quarter and Arthur’s Quay Park and between Thomas street and the Quays.

 

Any redevelopment also needs to acknowledge that restricting cars alone will not be enough, we need proper investment in the streetscape of the street. The street needs to encourage people to interact with each other, it needs to be a place people want to congregate and enjoy, and not simply pass through.

The most recent data from the CSO show that while Limerick and the Midwest overall is bouncing back from the worst effects of the recession, Limerick City Centre remains an unemployment blackspot (or several individual unemployment blackspots if you prefer). While there are numerous reasons for the unemployment blackspots, one driver must be the fact that the very core of the city is not considered a pleasant place to live. In time, a properly redeveloped O’Connell street will be good for the city centre, and ultimately, the more attractive that Limerick City centre is, the more attractive the overall city and county will be. It is perhaps a small step towards the revitalisation the city needs, but a crucial one.

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(Image copyright of Limericks Life)

An Interpretative Centre for the Shannon River?

We often hear that Limerick city does not make enough effort to interact with the river Shannon but we rarely hear how Limerick people could interact with the river. The city council have been improving access to the river. In addition to the boardwalks in the city, they have improved the walkways out to the University of Limerick and through Westfields Park. The main drainage has improved the water quality to the point where it is safe to swim in the river again. The next step in this itinerary should be ambitious. The next step should further facilitate the interaction between the city and the river. It should be to build an interpretative centre for the Shannon river in Limerick city.

Limerick is where the river begins to meet the ocean and Limerick developed where it is because it is the first safe fording point on the river that seafarers would have encountered. The story of Limerick is only one part of the story of the Shannon but it is the ideal place to recount the entire story of the Shannon.

IMG_0266People in Limerick often marvel at the majesty of the river as it flows through the city but do we really know enough about the river, its role in our history, its role in our environments? This is a facility that would benefit the entire island, but particularly would benefit Limerick.

The river Shannon is part of the great circulation system of Ireland. It is the largest river in Ireland and Britain. It flows through or by 11 counties,* and countless smaller rivers and lakes feed into it. It is the backbone of the ancient paths through Ireland, and it is dotted with pilgrimage sites from the Estuary river up to Cuilcagh Mountain in Cavan, from Scattery Island to the mythical Connla’s well, passing Clonmacnoise by Snámh Dá Éan. The Shannon has supported both settlement and invasion. The history of Ireland, in part, formed around the river.

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It is time that an interpretative centre for the Shannon river was built in Limerick city. Why interpret the Shannon river? What would it even mean to interpret a river? The Hicira handbook, relating to interpretation centres sets out the following definition.

“Interpretation is a tool which serves to bring the visitor into closer contact with heritage. It employs a code which is understandable to visitors to enable them to connect with their heritage and the setting and to experience and understand what they are seeing. Interpretation involves much more than mere transmission of knowledge and facts, one of the main objectives being to provoke perceptions leading to new sensations.”

Applying this to the Shannon river, we should seek to provide an interpretive centre for the river. We should be able to study the ecology and the geography of the river, we should be able to interact with the history and the mythology of the river. We should be able to see how the river affects our agriculture and our climate. This facility would not just be for tourists, but rather should be an educational facility that schools students from all over Ireland can come to and learn about Irish history in an interactive and engaging manner.

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This facility should be built with access to the river, where visitors to the centre could interact with the river. Ideally, if such a site could be located, it should be built in proximity to where Limerick city was first built, on King’s Island. This would have the advantage of regenerating an area in need of investment, it would provide further facilities for visitors to the island. To place it in context, Athlunkard street derives its name from the phrase Áth Longphuirt, meaning “ford of the longphort,” referring to a 9th-century Viking longphort (defended ship encampment) once located at that ford over the Shannon. It would be a fitting point from which to examine the relationship between Limerick city and the river.The facility should seek to preserve the history of the Abbey fishermen, their culture and boats, and how the community in Limerick interacted with communities along the river.

In addition to the efforts made by the city council, it has been brilliant to see the success of both Nevsail Water Sports and Get West tours on the river. These experiences allow people see the river from a different perspective and show that the river can be a tourist attraction to interact with as opposed to just admire.

The facility should take its lead from the excellent programme that Nevsail Kayak Tours have been developing with the Hunt museum. Nevsail have developed an activity along with the Hunt museum whereby students get to visit the Hunt museum for a set period of time before also getting to kayak on the river. This method of teaching should be employed by any centre so that students can get an appreciation for the river itself while having fun. This all works towards increasing our awareness of the facility on our doorstep. An interpretive centre is the obvious next step in ensuring the river is fully appreciated in the city and surrounding counties.

We are continually asked to engage with the river without ever being given the opportunity to do so. A facility so this nature is the ideal way to introduce the Shannon river to citizens and visitors to the city alike.

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Quick, Duck!

*For table quiz enthusiasts the 11 counties are Cavan, Leitrim, Longford, Roscommon, Galway, Westmeath, Offaly, Tipperary, Clare, Kerry and Limerick.

Park Life (2) – Arthur’s Quay Park

As Arthur’s Quay Park is currently either first or last place many tourists to Limerick see when the M7 Express pulls in, it is worth considering what impact the park makes on visitors to Limerick city. The below are a series of photographs of Arthur’s Quay park in its current condition.

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Arthur’s Quay Park is built on a parcel of land reclaimed from the river. It seems extraordinary to go to the effort of reclaiming land from the river, and then construct a public park on that land, for the park to be left in it’s current condition. Arthur’s Quay Park has never really been adopted by the city of Limerick. Indeed, until recently it had a reputation for being unsafe, something that was resolved by removing the thick foilage and railings which surrounded the park. The provision of flowerbeds in their place has added a small bit of colour to an otherwise park who’s greatest feature seems to be it’s featurelessness.

Is this the image that best serves tourists when they come to or leave our city?

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In addition to considering the impact of the park on tourists, it’s even more important to consider how the park interacts with life in the city. It isn’t hard to imagine the Park was meant to be a public amphitheatre, with considerable space for the provision of temporary seating in a hemispheric pattern around the slightly elevated point in the centre of the park, with the larger tiers at the edge of the park to provide further seating in addition for popular public shows. Indeed, in the early years of the park, it was a venue of sorts to the short lived Paddy Expo, a musical festival held throughout the city. However, apart from the weekend of Riverfest and the temporary Ice Rink in December, the Park is under-utilised for civic events during the year.

Riverfest has had the effect of showing casing what the park can be when it is utilised correctly. The decision to move the Riverfest village into the park has been a success. Ideally, the mooted plan to establish a speaker’s corner in the park will also make the park a greater part of the fabric of Limerick life. However, the city council need to make sure the park is a more pleasant place to spend time in.

It’s not hard to imagine how the park would be more pleasant with the provision of flower beds, grass instead of the brick centre and the provision of a playground. Credit must be given to Chez le Fab for opening an excellent café in the old tourist office. They are utilising the space not just as a café but also as a cultural amenity, hosting diverse nights and bring life back into the city centre. The space outside the cafe and by the old rostrum of the Wild Geese statue could be an ideal place for coffee and a concert on sunny days, but for some reason the fence was maintained between the space in front of Chez le Fab and the park itself. This division doesn’t appear to serve any purpose apart from isolating the café from the park.

Ideally, the success of the Riverfest village will inspire and lead to the provision of a Christmas market in November and December. The Christmas markets of France, Germany or Belgium could easily be imported to Limerick, with the one in Eyre Square in Galway proving a considerable success. The ice rink could be moved back to the Potato market.

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However in order for the park to become a more pleasant place for the city to enjoy, the council should considering refurbishing the entire park. Arthur’s Quay Park is so evidently unappealing that it isn’t too surprising that it is under-utilised. Ideally the entire park would be remodelled, with the brick centre replaced with grass lawns and flower beds, but even the provision of flower beds on the existing green areas would add some colour to the park.

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Hopefully the provision of colourful flower beds on the base of the old railings will be continued to actually providing flower beds in the park itself.

Arthur’s Quay park could be the civic space the city badly requires. It should be the centre piece of civic events all year round, not just for the Riverfest weekend. The city deserves better than the park as it currently is. Even if it is not possible to conduct a refurbishment of the park, it should be possible to make it more pleasant for Limerick people and tourists alike.

Making Limerick a bike friendly city

Limerick, by and large, does not suffer from the same traffic problems as other cities in Ireland so it might seem unusual to say we should make a serious and dedicated effort to transition from driving cars to cycling as the main form of access to the city. The problem is we tend to think only as traffic as a problem if it involves traffics jams. Limerick has a traffic problem in that too many cars pass through the city centre. The issue is that cars are removed from the environment they traverse. A driver doesn’t have the same interaction either the street they drive down, or the city they drive through, that a pedestrian or a cyclist has. The effect of having two lanes of traffic as our main street causes Limerick city centre to be noisier, more polluted and less pleasant than it should be.

The word boulevard comes from the era when the defensive walls surrounding European cities were removed and replaced with wide streets where the walls had stood. It shows, in a minor way, how cities adjust over time. O’Connell street is currently a one-way dual carriageway running through and dividing the city centre when it could be pleasant boulevard. Most major cities are planning for a car-free or car-shared future (where people no longer own cars but rent them as necessary). Limerick is a long way from this point, or even needing to engage with this point, but Limerick city centre remains strangled by the unconscious effects that cars have on our streets. How we choose to develop O’Connell street will impact of the pleasantness of the city centre for the next twenty years.

For Limerick city centre to be a more pleasant place we need to find a way to remove or reduce the number cars that share our civic spaces. While certain road lay-outs and pedestrianisation attempts will make this inevitable, we should try to incentivise people to cycle by making cycling more pleasant rather than just by making driving unpleasant. There will always be a need for some cars to access the city centre, but it should not be the default mode of transport into the city centre, or at least, should not be the default mode of transport for distances that could be walked or cycled. Very often cycling or driving are presented as either/or options. In Limerick we have wide enough roads, and numerous distinct access points that allows cyclists and drivers share the road space. We should encourage people to cycle if that’s what they want to do and make it safe so that that they are able to do so.

How do we make Limerick city a more attractive city to cycle in? By rights, weather aside, there’s very little reason for Limerick not to be a more cycle friendly city. Unlike other cities in Ireland, we have straight, wide roads which should facilitate cycling. The city isn’t particularly hilly, our suburbs don’t extend too far outside the city. Even villages such as Cratloe or Patrickswell are theorically within easy cycling distance. A reasonably fit person would cycle 10 kilometres in 30 minutes or less.

The following table shows the distances involved in cycling to the GPO on Cecil street from various outlying suburbs. Only Patrickswell and Cratloe come anywhere close to the sort of distance that would probably start to discourage the casual cyclist.

Suburb Distance to GPO, Cecil Street (km’s)
Annacotty 7.2
Patrickswell 10.6
Ardnacrusha 7.6
Cratloe 12.3
Raheen 5.9
Castletroy 4.8
Mungret 5.6

However, what the other areas lack is safe cycle routes into the city centre, and any discussion has to call for increased investment in safe cycle paths for cyclists to use. The cycle path to UL and the bike scheme in the city has led to more cyclists around the city, showing that people will avail of facilities if they are provided. The Dock road, Clare street and Musgrave street, in particular have poor cyclist facilities for what are a main access points to the city. The recent facility upgrades by the Condell road through Westfield park should be replicated on the Dock road.

Even if we had the infrastructure to allow people cycle safely into the city centre, would they feel safe in parking their bike anywhere in the city? Limerick smarter travel have set up safer bike locking stations in certain car parks around the city but these stations do not have continuous monitoring and are often in parts of the car parks where it’s possible to access the bikes without being seen by CCTV or staff.

A far more effective solution, albeit one that would be more expensive, would be to establish a monitored bike-only lock up in the city. This lock up would have one entrance and one exit, which would be monitored while the facility was open. Users would be given a barcode which they would later require to remove their bike from the lock up. Once inside the lock-up, users should also use their own locks to secure the bikes.

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Bike lock up in San Francisco

Apart from the cost of having this facility monitored, the equipment needed to maintain such a lock up would be pretty rudimentary. The cut de sac road by the old goods access point to Dunnes stores beside Sarsfield bridge would be an ideal temporary location for such a facility, it is central, it has good access points from Henry street via either Quinn street or the quays. It could effectively be utilised without disrupting the traffic in the city in a meaningful way. It is a straightforward way to making cycling into the city a more pleasant experience. People respond to incentives, if a cyclist could be absolutely certain their bike was safe while they were in the city centre, it is likely that more people would cycle. At the very least a trial run could be arranged to determine the feasibility of a more permanent facility.

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One potential location for such a facility

If this concept was successful, it should, and ideally would, be utilised out by the Gaelic Grounds, Thomond Park and the Market’s Field on match days to ensure people who wished to cycle to the game had a secure place near the stadium to leave their bikes. People already walk to these games in significant numbers, having parked their cars in city centre car parks. This initiative would be an attempt to add another option for people who wish to cycle to games, it would not be an attempt to dis-incentivise people who wish to drive to games.

In addition to this rather simple proposition, the city bike scheme should be expanded out to UL and LIT as soon as possible, and bike stands should be built near popular destinations such as the above stadia, and Dolan’s gig venue and expanded out into the near-lying suburbs. Anyone who wishes to have access to the bike scheme should be able to avail of it, at least within the confines of the Caherdavin, Corbally, Casteltroy and Raheen area.

Limerick has a distance to travel before it could be considered a bike friendly city, but it has the fundamental attributes to make the transition relatively quickly, if the political will is there to achieve it.