TAXI drivers have this week claimed a new one-way traffic flow introduced to reduce the risk of accidents in the city’s busiest night-time district has “made the situation far more dangerous”.
But the head of the Garda Traffic Corps in Limerick, Inspector Paul Reidy, said safety was the primary reason behind the new arrangement on Denmark Street and the head of traffic management at City Hall, Rory McDermott, said the one-way system was introduced following lobbying from various interested groups, including taxi drivers themselves.
Noel Casey, secretary of the Limerick Taxi Association, said his group had been campaigning for three years to have traffic flow on Upper Denmark Street changed from two-way to one-way at those times of night when people socialise in the many restaurants, bars and nightclubs in the area.
“However we were more than a little confused, when Limerick City Council erected the one-way restriction signs half way down the street,” Mr Casey explained.
This meant motorists turning on to Upper Denmark Street from High Street have to do a u-turn halfway down the street during these hours or risk prosecution, he said.
“The street has no turning point, or any alternative route which can be taken, there are no advance warning signs advising motorists of the restrictions before they enter the street.”
“The positioning of the signs cause drivers to do a three-point turn in an area that is already severely congested with late night revellers, cars, taxis and minibuses. Since its implementation, there have been numerous drivers, who having unknowingly entered the street and, finding themselves unable to turn around because of safety or space restriction, continue beyond the restricted point, being stopped and prosecuted with the possibility of having penalty points applied to their drivers licence,” Mr Casey said.
Mr McDermott said the new arrangement was introduced in consultation with the gardai and taxi drivers after various competing interests contacted the Council expressing dissatisfaction with traffic flows and parking arrangements.
Some taxi drivers had complained that the official rank outside Smyth’s on Robert Street was being “bypassed” by other drivers coming in either direction from High Street and Patrick Street and picking fares off the street. These amounted to unofficial ranks being formed by “semi-standing” drivers, Mr McDermott said.
While some taxi drivers were looking for more ranks, restaurants in the area were arguing for their removal to allow customers to park.
A part-time one-way street was “not an unusual parking regulation”, Mr McDermott said, and in relation to the one-way system kicking in halfway along the street, he said the Council could not damage business at the Cornmarket Square car park which offered overnight car parking for €5 for people attending Thomond Park events among other incentives to bring people into the city.
The Market Quarter group of businesses had ambitions to transform the area into Limerick’s Temple Bar and all future options on traffic flow would be examined in the context of the pedestrianisation of William Street and the possibility of linking Denmark Street, through Chapel Lane and William Street, to Thomas Street as Limerick’s entertainment district.
Mr McDermott said he had spoken to Mr Casey but disagreed with him that it was now difficult for drivers to turn back.
Insp Reidy said the gardai had been looking for a solution for “a considerable period of time in that area at a particular time of night”.
Traffic arrangements there had become “chaotic”. Gardai on mobile patrol often had great difficulty accessing the area if called to an incident at night such were the volumes of pedestrians and taxis and other road users coming in either direction.
“Heaven forbid if there was ever a major fire in the areas the Fire Service would have had terrible trouble trying to get in there,” the inpsector said.
“The outflow of people who have been socialising in that area at that time of night causes grave concern to us and we have been trying to come up with a solution for businesses, for pedestrians, for road users, for residents and everybody else in the area. This is something we feel can possibly work, particularly during the rush period,” he said.
On the taxi drivers complaints, he said: “We don’t want to disrupt people who are trying to earn a living, we are not in that game. We are only in it to make it as safe as possible for all users.
“All we ask is that people engage with it and try it. It has been introduced in the hope it will work. If it transpires that it is a disaster, we will of course look at it again.”
Insp Reidy also said the signage and road markings in the area were standard.
““Our great concern is that somebody will get knocked down. If they (motorists) continue past that point, they are the ones putting people at risk through their lack of observation.”